Welp, here’s the thing. You may well be reading this on your smartphone as you sit motionless in traffic on the interstate. And if that’s the case, you probably already know about what I’m going to say next. I offer my sympathies.
The big news this morning is that a large section of the old Hopple Street off ramp from I-75 collapsed last night. Tragically, a construction worker died after he was pinned under the rubble. A semi-truck driver was also injured when he collided with the fallen concrete on the highway. Crews had been preparing for the ramp’s demolition before the incident, which city officials are calling a “catastrophic pancake collapse." It’s unclear what caused the failure, but that didn’t stop some national news folks from jumping on Twitter and immediately calling it a sign that infrastructure spending is woefully inadequate. I mean, I agree, but you gotta realize they built a brand-new off ramp right up the highway. That’s little solace for those whose commute takes them down I-75 south. Officials say it could take up to 48 hours to clear the thousands of tons of concrete and metal from the highway. The section is closed until work is finished. So yeah, maybe take an alternate route. So glad I bike to work.
• Another Cincinnati neighborhood is getting a brewery. Nine Giant Brewery has announced plans to open in Pleasant Ridge’s central business district on the corner of Montgomery and Ridge Roads. The brewery is part of a larger planned development for the corner that aims to take advantage of the area’s Community Entertainment District designation, which it received in 2010. That designation allows for up to five new liquor licenses in the neighborhood.
• Oof. How do you steal from Big Boy? That guy is huge and terrifying.
Officials with Walnut-Hills based restaurant Frisch’s suspect one of the
company’s executives named Michael Hudson, a quiet guy who spent 35
years with the company working his way up through the accounting
department, stole millions from the company over the years.
Hudson told company attorneys he gambled that money away, though an
investigation is ongoing into whether Hudson has stashed some of it. Hudson abruptly shut off his computer and walked out of his job
after a routine audit discovered discrepancies in the company’s
financials pointing to his thefts. The company alleges Hudson reworked
payment software to kick him hundreds of thousands of extra dollars a
• Who knew Rep. John Boehner was a Taylor Swift fan? The House Speaker (or more precisely, his communications staff) has taken to using gifs of the pop star to snipe at President Barack Obama’s recently announced proposal that would provide two years of community college education to eligible Americans. Obama hasn’t released many details of the plan just yet, but is expected to soon. Swift… errr, Boehner… is up in arms about the plans’ costs (or is just trying really, really hard to be cool and connect with the young folks and convince them that free college is somehow not in their best interest). A caption under one of the gifs points to a counter-proposal of sorts, or at least five vague talking points about lowering taxes. Basically, this is just like when your uncle asked you if you like the new Miley Cirrus video at Christmas dinner.
• Tonight is President Obama’s State of the Union Address, and it’s sure to cause all kinds of cheers from Democrats about all the things he won’t be able to accomplish as a lame-duck president and jeers from Republicans who believe he is some kind of socialist bent on destroying the United States. In other words: grade-A television drama. Tune in and try to survive one of the following drinking games I've devised: take a shot every time Boehner rolls his eyes, or take one every time Obama mentions something he’d like to achieve that is completely politically impossible given the current makeup of the House and Senate. Fun!
Hello all! Happy Monday. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and there are a number of things going on around the city in commemoration of the civil rights leader, including a march from The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to Fountain Square at 10 a.m. and a ceremony at Music Hall at noon. This is the 40th year Cincinnati has celebrated MLK Day, so if you’re not stuck at work like I am, maybe head out and take part. More news:
Cincinnati’s City Prosecutor Charlie Rubenstein retired Friday. Recently, Rubenstein has been the center of controversy around alleged prosecutorial overreach stemming from a case over the summer where a suspect was accused of stealing $200 worth of candy from a convenience store and putting it in his pants. A security camera was running at the time of the incident and the suspect’s public defender was able to get a copy of the tape. The prosecutor’s office, however, waited too long to request a copy and the store’s owner erased it. After the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office refused to release its copy, Rubenstein had a judge issue a warrant allowing him to search the entire public defender’s office, which of course was not well received. Head public defender Ray Faller fired off a letter to city officials in October accusing Rubenstein of violating the rights of accused suspects.
Councilman Charlie Winburn in October called for a Department of Justice investigation into Rubenstein’s actions. It’s unclear if Rubenstein’s sudden retirement has anything to do with the controversy. He had held the job, which prosecutes misdemeanors in the city, since 2011. He’d worked for the city since 1979. The city has named Assistant City Solicitor Heidi Rosales as interim prosecutor until a permanent replacement can be hired.
• Two of Cincinnati’s conservative congressmen are taking heat for supporting fellow local guy House Speaker John Boehner. Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, both among the most conservative members of the House, have been getting an earful from tea party-affiliated constituents about their support of Boehner during his re-election for House Speaker, the top perch in the chamber.
If you’re not familiar with this plot point in the ongoing soap opera that is Republican politics of late, a brief synopsis: The tea party hates Boehner because he hasn’t done enough to roll back federal spending, Obamacare and the liberal agenda in general. Whatever that is. Anyway, a few conservatives in the House signaled they were backing tea party affiliated challengers who lined up to oppose Boehner in the election for speaker, but mostly at the last minute. The gestures had little affect, and Boehner still won easily. Chabot and Wenstrup both point out it would have done little good to vote against their fellow Ohioan, and besides, they say, his challengers came too late and didn’t signal they were serious.
• The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear arguments about gay marriage bans in Ohio and other states this spring, lining up what could be a precedent-setting legal battle over Ohio’s ban. In November, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati upheld those bans, though other circuit courts across the country have struck them down. That court’s logic was that any ban should be removed by democratic process, not by courts. Ohio voters approved a 2004 amendment to the state’s constitution banning gay marriage, though some public opinion experts say mainstream values have changed since that time. Opponents of this logic liken marriage equality to past advances on civil rights issues which took federal intervention and court decisions to bring about.
• Will Ohio tap more private prison companies in response to a possible prison overcrowding crisis? It’s a possibility, state officials say. The number of prisoners in the state’s prison system has begun growing again. The state had been seeing declines due to changes in the way those convicted of some crimes are sentenced. Beginning in 2009, Ohio eliminated more than 2,000 spots for inmates across the state. But a recent increase in the prison-bound, especially non-violent drug offenders, will once again stretch the state’s capacity to hold prisoners.
Prison officials say the state either needs to find new ways to house those prisoners or commit to community-based programs that can mitigate the need to house people in state penitentiaries. But those programs can take time to work. In the meantime, the state is looking at ways it can house more inmates, potentially through contracts with private companies like Corrections Corporation of America, which runs a private prison in Youngstown and elsewhere in the state. Audits have found the company does not always comply with state standards. The company also has a rocky history. CCA’s Youngstown prison shut down for a few years after a number of inmate deaths and injuries focused scrutiny on the facility. Efforts to meet state standards at the prison proved too costly, and it was shuttered. It reopened a few years later as a temporary prison for those awaiting federal trials.
• Speaking of Ohio and Republicans, here's just what we need: more national Republicans in our fair state. The GOP announced this weekend that it will hold its first debate between candidates for the party’s presidential nomination in the heart of it all. The debate will take place in August. No specific location has been set yet, but the announcement is yet another sign that Ohio will be a huge focus for the 2016 presidential election. The GOP is holding the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Democrats are mulling putting theirs in Columbus and the NAACP will hold its 2016 convention in Cincinnati.
• Finally, I saw the headline for this story from the Associated Press and thought “I wonder if that’s in Ohio.” My suspicions were confirmed. Turns out that back in December, a couple folks tried to smuggle heroin into the Hamilton County Justice Center via a bible. What kind of joke can I make about this that won’t be horribly offensive? Just going to leave it right there and walk away.
Heya! I’m gearing up to spend a couple days in Chicago, so no morning news tomorrow. However, I’m leaving ya with a bunch of crazy stuff today, so check it out.
First, something’s in the air here in Cincinnati lately. Yesterday I told you about Michael Hoyt, the West Chester bartender who threatened to kill House Speaker John Boehner, possibly during a bout of mental illness. Today, we learn about Chris Cornell. No, not the long haired, goateed grunge singer. Different guy. Christopher Lee Cornell was arrested yesterday morning after buying two semi-automatic weapons from a gun shop in Colerain Township. Cornell had been on the Internet for months talking about a violent Jihad, it seems, and had even met up with a person who turned out to be a government informant a couple times here in Cincinnati. The plan Cornell reportedly hatched involved pipe bombs and a shooting spree at the U.S. Capitol building. When he and the informant made concrete travel plans for D.C., the FBI swooped in. Here’s the criminal complaint filed against Cornell in federal district court.
• The tangled, confusing fight over renovations to Over-the-Rhine’s Emery Theater continues as nonprofit group the Requiem Project sues the University of Cincinnati over the historic venue. Let’s recap, in the simplest way possible. Since 1969, the University of Cincinnati has owned a historic, 1911 building on Central Parkway that was once home to the Ohio Mechanics’ Institute but now houses downtown’s Coffee Emporium location as well as some luxury apartments. Know the building? Of course you do. I see everyone and their mom at Coffee Emporium. Anyway, in 1999, UC signed a 40-year, $40 lease with a for-profit group called the Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership that allowed ECALP to renovate the building for use as 59 market-rate apartments. Still with me? Good. That group then spun the theater portion of the building over to the Emery Center Corporation, a non-profit charged specifically with renovating the theater. THAT group, ECC, in Sept. 2010 entered into a partnership with the Requiem Project, which was started by Tara Lindsey Gordon and Tina Manchise, who moved from New York to undertake the project. Flash forward a few years, and after some 35 fundraisers and some renovation, the Requiem Project was locked out of the building in August 2013. They were told UC would have to sign off on their contract with ECC, something that was not originally revealed to the nonprofit. A move by UC to sell the building to ECALP never materialized, and now Requiem is suing all parties involved for the rights to continue renovating, as well as $25,000 in damages. Phew.
• Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter will be in court again over the eight felony counts an earlier jury couldn’t agree upon last year. Hunter was convicted on a ninth count, having an unlawful interest in a public contract, but she has appealed that conviction and her six-month sentence has been suspended until that appeal goes through. The other eight counts that prosecutors will again try Hunter on involve misusing a court-issued credit card, tampering with court documents and other alleged misdeeds. Hunter and her attorney say she is a victim of politics and did not do anything wrong in her courtroom. The case has been incredibly controversial in Cincinnati. Hunter was the juvenile court’s first black and first female judge, and she came into office promising to reform the county’s juvenile justice system, which she says is racially biased. As Hunter's trial goes on, others have made similar accusations about the county. Recently, the Northern Kentucky-based Children’s Law Center sued the county over its treatment of juveniles. The Center alleges racial bias in the county’s juvenile justice system, including incidents where young people of color have been held without charge for weeks at a time.
• Good news for cigar aficionados, and an interesting moment in history for everyone: The United States has formally announced it is easing travel restrictions for folks wanting to go to Cuba. Many U.S. visitors will no longer need to apply for a special license from the Treasury to visit the island nation, will be allowed to use credit and debit cards, will not have restrictions on how much money they spend on the island, and will be allowed to bring back up to $400 in stuff, including $100 in alcohol and tobacco products. There are a number of other rules that have been loosened or done away with as well. The move is the government’s first practical step since President Barack Obama announced he was seeking to repair relations with the communist country, which the U.S. has embargoed since the 1950s. The important question is, will those cigars taste as good now that they’re not forbidden?
• Finally, say you’ve just been elected president. You’re about to be sworn in and start serving your four years at the most stressful but also most prestigious job in the world, and you just want to take some time, kick back and savor the moment. What’s an appropriate victory meal? If it’s this day in 1909 and you’re then President-elect William Howard Taft (the notorious WHT) visiting Atlanta, you sit down to a huge possum feast. Taft’s a giant in this town and his historic home is right down the road from my historic home (one of the two is a museum; you can probably guess which). I had no idea about this. Possum: for the good times.
Cincinnati City Council today changed a rule that stipulates which public employees must live within city limits. The move effectively exempts embattled Director of Water and Sewers Tony Parrott from having to move to the city after he was punished in June for misleading officials about his residency.
Under the new rules, only the city manager, assistant city manager, city solicitor and police chief will need to live in the city. The 6-2 decision came with some argument, however. Councilmen Kevin Flynn and Wendell Young voted against the rule change. Flynn said he felt it wasn’t fair to make concessions for someone who deliberately misled the city. Young had broader qualms with the change, saying he thinks all high-level city administration employees should have to live in the city from which they get their taxpayer-funded salaries.
“I have great difficulty with people who are in the higher part of the administration who help to create the rules and in many cases enforce the rules, and then are not subject to them,” Young said. “I don’t understand how the city of Cincinnati is good enough to work in, good enough to provide your income, but isn’t good enough to live in.”
Councilman Charlie Winburn, however, said the situation was actually the city’s fault. In 2012, the city-run sewer district merged with the water works department, which serves both the city as well as most of Hamilton County and parts of Butler and Warren Counties. Winburn says the residency requirements for Parrott’s job should have been updated at that time, since it is now effectively an agency that serves the greater region.
“Are we going to split Mr. Parrott in two now?” Winburn asked. “Do we have to get Solomon in on this thing?”
Other council members, including Councilwoman Yvette Simspon, voted for the change on legal grounds. Ohio law forbids residency requirements for some city employees, and there are questions about whether the city’s former rules complied with those laws. City solicitor Paula Boggs Muething said she believes council’s change today falls within the state’s laws.
Parrot, who has served as head of the Metropolitan Sewer District and Water Works, had listed his residence as a property on Westwood Avenue that turned out to be an empty lot he owned. Meanwhile, he was actually living in Butler County. City officials found out about the discrepancy in June and disciplined Parrott by docking him 40 hours of pay and requiring him to move into the city within 180 days. That time had elapsed and Parrott still hadn’t moved back. Parrott was granted a 45-day extension at the end of the six-month period as the city decided whether to fire him or change its rules.
Wound up in the questions about Parrott’s residency is the city’s court-ordered, $3.2 billion sewer project, a huge undertaking that will stretch into the next decade. The city was ordered to update its sewer system after a lawsuit by homeowners and environmental groups. Some council members say Parrott is integral to that ongoing process. Others, however, say that doesn’t excuse his actions.
“I understand the desire to keep this person in place,” Flynn said, acknowledging Parrott’s big role. “But I cannot support keeping someone who has been dishonest with the city and has continued to be dishonest with the city. I think that does a disservice to the rest of our city employees and to our citizens.”
Parrott has told City Manager Harry Black that he doesn’t want to live in the city for personal reasons but does want to remain at his job.
Morning Cincy. Let’s talk about the news.
• The big story today is that House Speaker John Boehner’s country club bartender has been indicted for threatening to kill the powerful West Chester Republican. Michael Robert Hoyt was fired from his job at the Wetherington Country Club in West Chester last year, after which he sent a rambling email to Boehner’s wife saying that if he had wanted to kill Boehner, he could have slipped something into his wine many times. Hoyt, who has a history of mental illness, later told authorities investigating his email that he was Jesus Christ and that he needed to kill Boehner. Hoyt indicated he had a pistol, which was later seized by authorities. Killing a dude doesn’t sound very Jesus-y, but I digress. Hoyt is currently being held in a federal mental health facility for evaluation.
• An audit commissioned by Hamilton County slams former Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr.’s handling of the department. The audit compared the sheriff’s office to something from the 1950s, and one of its authors, attorney Scott Greenwood, said the department was “held together with smoke, mirrors and absolute secrecy.”
Among the problems the audit found were unguarded evidence rooms, single deputies overseeing up to 100 inmates and a lack of computerized recording keeping at the county’s traffic and other departments. Former sheriff Leis has said the audit is politically motivated and that he stands by his record. Republican County Commissioner Greg Hartmann has also come to Leis’ defense, saying the sheriff did the best he could with the resources available to him. Hartmann says the report seems to be a push for funding increases for the sheriff’s office, something he and fellow Republican commissioner Chris Monzel say isn’t possible.
The audit was highly critical of several resource shortcomings within the department, an issue that is still at play in the political fight between current Sheriff Jim Neil and county commissioners.
• Cincinnati is one of 15 destinations across the world highlighted in Jetsetter Magazine’s list of places to go in 2015. Jetsetter highlighted downtown’s arts district, including the Aronoff Center for the Arts, the Contemporary Arts Center and 21C as well as the city’s upscale dining scene and forthcoming bike path expansions. If they think that stuff is neat, wait till they get a look at our really rad warehouse punk shows and our awesome chili. Or maybe they’re not as into that kind of stuff. Cuba, Taipei in Taiwan, Kauai in Hawaii and Bordeaux, France, also made the list.
• Speaking of lists, Cincinnati is the tenth-best city in the country for jobs in science, technology, engineering and math. A study by personal finance site Wallethub.com found Cincinnati among the top cities in the country for STEM jobs. The site measured job openings in STEM industries, wages for STEM workers, expected growth of related industries in coming years and other factors. Houston and Austin, Texas and Raleigh, North Carolina rounded out the top three. Columbus bested us by one spot, landing at number nine on the list.
• The Ohio Board of Education voted on a new president Monday, selecting Gov. John Kasich ally Tom Gunlock. Gunlock is one of eight at-large members on the 19-member board. While the other 11 members are elected to represent a district, Kasich appoints at-large members. The board looks to be the site of some serious fights this year over charter schools, common core, the 5 of 8 rule and other contentious issues. Though Democrats got battered in nearly every other state election, they came out with three more seats on the board in November. They’re still in the minority, however. Nearly all the Dems on the board backed Cincinnati’s Pat Bruns, a newly-elected board member, to head the board. Bruns and her fellow Democrats have promised push-back on charters, calling for more accountability for the private, state-funded schools. They’ve also signaled opposition to elimination of a rule that requires all schools to hire at least five out of eight kinds of specialists, including librarians and art teachers.
• The Obama administration is beginning to outline ambitious plans for the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Last week Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx previewed a thirty-year plan for his agency ahead of a comprehensive report on the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs due later this year. Foxx said the report will focus on the inter-reliance of America’s many interwoven transit systems. He highlighted big population growth in the South and West as drivers of a need to update the nation’s systems, as well as the increasing number of people moving back to urban centers. Foxx said seemingly small factors such as increased reliance on bikes and walking shouldn’t be overlooked in the planning process, suggesting the department may pay close attention to urban areas where those changes are slowly coming about.
“What people are viewing as this cute, cuddly bike and pedestrian movement could be a real game-changer,” Foxx said in a Friday talk in Washington, D.C. about the upcoming report.
Hit me up with news tips, marriage or business (or marriage business) proposals, or inquiries for booking my one-man singing hackey sack musical at email@example.com or on the twitters: @nswartsell.
Morning y’all. I know, I know. I skipped our news rundown yesterday, but I had a good excuse: I spent some time at City Hall finding out about poverty-related challenges facing Cincinnati in the new year and efforts to address those issues, which I’ll be reporting on in-depth soon. In the meantime, let’s play catch up.
There’s a new parking plan for Over-the-Rhine floating around, and while it will cost less than Mayor John Cranley’s initial proposal to enact the highest residential parking fees in the country, some folks still aren’t happy about the impact it could have on low-income residents in the neighborhood.
The earlier plan, which floated a yearly $300 fee to park in OTR, was aimed at funding streetcar operating costs. Now those costs have been accounted for, but parking in the neighborhood is still kind of a mess. So the city’s transportation department has a new plan: a $108 yearly permit for residents, who will be limited to one car per person and two permits per household. Residents living in low-cost subsidized housing would pay $16 a year for their permits. Four-hundred-two spaces would be made available to permit holders in the neighborhood. Another 646 would have parking meters and the remaining 199 would be up for grabs by anyone at any time, completely unregulated. Those spots are aimed at OTR workers who commute in every morning. Vice Mayor David Mann questioned whether those spaces would really go to workers in the neighborhood. Others, including OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer, raised concerns about low-income residents in the neighborhood. Messer pointed out that not all of the neighborhood’s residents who are low-income live in subsidized housing. The city is hoping to get the permitting program running by spring.
• Staying in Over-the-Rhine for a moment, let's talk about an international game design competition coming to the neighborhood later this month. Local startup ChoreMonster will host the Global Game Jam Jan. 23-25 at The Brandery headquarters in OTR. Past events have attracted game designers from 485 cities and 73 countries. Competitors are given 48 hours to design a game around a prompt given the opening day of the event. That game can run on any platform — mobile app, Mac, PC, or even the oldest-fashioned game platform of all — a kitchen table or dorm room floor. Yes, board and card games are allowed.
• Well, it happened, you already know about it, it was huge, etc., but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Ohio State University’s college football national title win last night. They upset Oregon, everyone in the state is wearing red and gray and so forth. And oh yeah, predictably, a bunch of people in Columbus set fire to a bunch of couches and stuff, knocked down goal posts at the OSU stadium, got arrested, etc. Here’s a handy AP style/word-usage note I’ve picked up from journalists covering the unrest: Apparently these kinds of things aren’t riots if they’re over football games. Instead, they’re “revelry.” Noted. Meanwhile, a furniture store that ran a promotion promising free furniture for customers if OSU won by more than seven points will pay more than $1.5 million in rebates after yesterday’s win, which maybe explains why people were burning all those old couches.
• So, will Ohio’s conservative Gov. John Kasich back a plan put forward by President Barack Obama to provide two years of free community college education for Americans? It’s too soon to say for sure, but the governor’s office released some cautiously almost-supportive language in response to the idea and said the gov is interested in the details. States will be footing a quarter of the bill for the plan and must opt-in for residents to be eligible for the proposed program. If conservative governors like Kasich were to support the plan, it would be a major bipartisan moment, since anything Obama does usually causes howls of socialism from the Republican party.
• Speaking of Kasich, he was sworn in yesterday for his second term as governor of Ohio. His 45-minute speech had few surprises, though he did kind of tear up a couple times (Ohio Republicans are an emotional lot, if Kasich and Rep. John Boehner are any indications) and took what seemed to be a passive-aggressive jab at the state’s legislature. He thanked the body, which is dominated by his fellow Republicans, for helping him expand Medicaid back in 2013. The joke is that the state legislature fought Kasich all the way to the end on the expansion. Perhaps it’s a sharp elbow from the governor as Ohio considers this year whether it will renew its acceptance of federal funds for the expansion.
• Finally, I’ve noted on this blog before that 90s throwback steez (my use of the word “steez” is proof of my late 90s slang savvy) is at an all-time high. We’re even going to have a repeat of that whole Y2K panic. It seems we’re all too fast for the planet and we’ve gotten ahead of the earth’s inconsistent rotation by about a second. That means we’ll need a so-called “leap second” this year. OK, no big deal, just count down to zero on New Year’s Eve 2015, right? Well, it’s a bit more complicated. Turns out computer software hates it when you just go tacking extra seconds onto reality. The last leap second in 2012 crashed Yelp, Reddit, Gawker and other big websites. That actually sounds like a wonderful way to start a new year. Software engineers have worked out a fix to the problem, but the question is whether that fix will be implemented across all the various programs that like, run the Internet. I just hope Tumblr is OK and Buzzfeed is not.
Hit me up with news tips, frostbite prevention tips or just tips (paypal accepted): firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter before it crashes: @nswartsell.
Hey all. It’s Friday! But you already knew that. Here are some things you may not already be aware of.
Today is full of statewide and national news, but there’s at least one interesting local story happening right now. A Cincinnati company is following in the er, tire tracks of rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft, offering rides via an online reservation system. The difference is, Drivr Green Transportation Company is using all-electric Tesla luxury cars to squire you about town. Founders and Cincinnati natives Brandon Beard and Nick Seitz figured out they could run the service with lower overhead if they didn’t have to pay for gasoline. They tested the concept with three Tesla Model S cars on Uber’s network in August. Now, they’re running those three cars 20 to 22 hours a day while looking to lease 10 more cars and find 30 more drivers. The two say they’re not trying to compete with Uber and Lyft, but rather to fill an as-yet unmet demand for green luxury transportation.
• A bill giving more than $7 million to substance abuse programs and jails in Kentucky to help deal with the region’s heroin crisis passed the Kentucky Senate yesterday, the Associated Press reports. The bill also exempts heroin users from minor drug charges when calling 911 for a heroin overdose in an attempt to encourage people to reach out to emergency personnel during overdose situations. A sharp spike in heroin use and overdoses that has swept the region has hit Northern Kentucky especially hard.
• The state of Ohio has temporarily halted executions while it figures out its lethal injection method, as we reported yesterday. The state is abandoning the two-drug method it has used since 2011 after an execution last year took 26 minutes, resulting in audible struggles for breath from inmate Dennis McGuire while he was being executed. That incident sparked a lawsuit from McGuire’s family. The state has been using the sedative and painkiller mixture since 2011, when production of a third drug called thiopental sodium ceased in the United States. Ohio has announced it will go back to using that drug in its lethal injection procedure, though it has not announced how it intends to source it. The execution of Ronald Phillips, which was scheduled for Feb. 11, has been suspended until the state can source the third drug. Officials say other pending executions may also be pushed back.
• Ohio’s Senator Sherrod Brown is proposing an alternative for low-income folks who might otherwise avail themselves of high-interest payday loans. Brown’s plan would let Americans get short-term cash advances on their future tax returns based on tax credits for which they are eligible. Brown has been vocal in his opposition to payday lending companies, which charge huge sums to borrow small amounts of money and which often throw low-income people into a long-running cycle of debt.
"Ohioans shouldn't be trapped with a lifetime of debt from predatory loans – particularly if they have tax refunds waiting for them," Brown said in an emailed press release yesterday. "Three-quarters of Americans who turn to costly, high-interest payday loans may have money that they can claim each tax season in the form of the Earned Income Tax Credit.”
• Gas prices are crazy low. Like, lower than they have been in years. If my car worked, I’d be hyped. But when the prices are lower and sales don’t spike to make up for that, the government’s receipts from the tax on gasoline also go way down. That’s not bad by itself, necessarily, but that money pays for some pretty important things infrastructure-wise. The tax hasn’t been raised in 20 years, and Americans are still paying 18 cents per gallon toward maintaining the nation’s roads, highways and bridges. Meanwhile, a staggering number of those roads and bridges are in need of repair or replacement. See: the Brent Spence Bridge, the Western Hills Viaduct, and thousands of other structures across the country. So, with Americans paying less for gas, it does sort of seem like an opportune time to think about raising the gas tax, no? So, you know, we still have roads to drive on and so we don’t have to wait for the river to freeze to get to Kentucky, right? Nah, Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, says. Not going to happen. Boehner proudly pointed out yesterday that he’s never voted to increase the tax and wouldn’t vote for an increase this time around if it were to come up in Congress. It’s not all the House Speaker’s fault, of course. As the orange one points out, there probably aren’t enough people in Congress (read: Republicans) willing to vote for this seemingly sane, rational decision about the nation’s infrastructure. Awesome.
• President Barack Obama will propose offering two-year college educations to American workers funded by the federal and state governments in a speech later today in Tennessee.
"Put simply, what I'd like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for anybody who's willing to work for it," Obama said in a video preview of his speech filmed ahead of his Jan. 20 State of the Union Address. "It's something we can accomplish, and it's something that will train our workforce so that we can compete with anyone in the world."
The plan is going to have to make it through Congress, of course, and it’s unclear how willing the Republican-led bodies will be to help the plan off the ground. Republicans including Speaker Boehner have sounded a skeptical note about the idea. A spokesman for Boehner’s office said the proposal sounded "more like a talking point than a plan” without specifics on cost. The president has promised more details and a cost estimate will be delivered during the State of the Union and in his budget proposal, which is due in early February.
In the sudden realization that like, hey, maybe we shouldn’t put people to death if we don’t really know what we’re doing, Ohio has dropped its two-drug execution method and will delay an imminent execution.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction today announced that it will stop using the method utilizing a combination of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone, which came under fire last year when it took 26 minutes to put convicted killer Dennis McGuire to death. Witnesses said McGuire was gasping for breath during his execution. His family is suing the state, claiming the execution caused needless pain and suffering.
Another execution in Arizona last year using the same method took more than two hours.
The state has said it will again use thiopental sodium, a sedative used until 2011, for executions. Ohio stopped using that drug because it is no longer produced in the United States. It is unclear how Ohio plans to obtain the drug, though compounding pharmacies, or labs that produce such drugs, could supply the state.
The announcement delays the execution of Ronald Phillips, who was convicted in the 1993 rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl. Officials say other executions may be delayed as well as the state sources the third drug or an alternative.
Morning y’all. I’m not going to comment on how cold it is this morning, because you probably already know. Instead, I’m just going to say I cannot feel my feet.
Anyway, what’s up today? Glad you asked.
One of the protesters arrested at a Nov. 25 rally in solidarity with Ferguson, Mo., pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct yesterday. Rhonda Shaw was one of the seven activists arrested on I-75 after protesters briefly made their way onto the highway. Shaw was the only one not eventually released on bond in the aftermath of the arrests. A judge removed a requirement that six other protesters who had already paid bail wear electronic monitoring devices, after which they were freed. All six still face disorderly conduct and inducing panic charges and will be in court this month. Shaw did not pay bail and was not released. Hamilton County Judge William Mallory dismissed another more serious charge of inducing panic in Shaw’s case. The disorderly conduct charge is a minor misdemeanor punishable by a fine.
The protest mirrored similar actions around the country over the lack of indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown. The event drew more than 300 people and led to a long, winding march through downtown, Over-the-Rhine and the West End.
• Councilman Chris Seelbach took a moment to remember Kings Mills transgender teen Leelah Alcorn during yesterday’s City Council meeting, reading an emotional statement addressed to LGBT individuals who are struggling with feelings of isolation. Alcorn committed suicide Dec. 28.
“You can survive the pain,” Seelbach said after reading from Alcorn’s suicide note, which she posted on Tumblr. “You can survive the isolation. You can because you're exactly who you're supposed to be. You're the person God made you to be, and you have the strength to persevere. It will not be easy. It may not get better with every day, but you can do it — I know you can.”
• A couple days ago, I told you Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld appears to have started raising money for a shot at Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s seat in 2016. If that’s true, he’d better start his hustle. Portman already has almost $6 million in the bank for the race, according to a campaign email. He’s also touting endorsements from a number of high-up Republicans including Gov. John Kasich. It’s unclear if the early saber-rattling is meant to scare away possible far-right primary challengers or send a message to an eventual Democratic contender for his seat, but it’s clear Portman has a big advantage at this early juncture.
• Officials yesterday released the full-length security video showing the Cleveland police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, including the troubling aftermath of that shooting. The beginning of the video, which was released shortly after the incident, shows a Cleveland police cruiser rushing into the park where Rice was playing, which was across the street from his house. Officer Timothy Leohman jumps out of the passenger side of the cruiser and immediately shoots Rice, who a 911 caller said was brandishing a pistol that was “probably fake.” That much we already knew. But the extended video also shows two officers tackling and wrestling Tamir’s 14-year-old sister Tajai Rice, eventually forcefully hustling her to the police car. Meanwhile, no officers attempt to assist Rice, who is lying in the park bleeding to death. It takes nearly 15 minutes for officers to remove Rice from the scene on a stretcher. He later died at the hospital.
Loehman was fired from the Independence, Ohio police department in 2012 because he exhibited signs of being emotionally unstable and was subsequently passed over for jobs at a number of other departments before getting a job in Cleveland. Last month, the Department of Justice released an unrelated, year-long report slamming the Cleveland Police Department for its use of force and an apparent racial bias in its policing.
• Finally, a Columbus suburb is getting what can only be described as a monumental honor. The city of Westerville will soon be home to the tacocropolis, aka the capitol of crunch; in other words, the country’s most expensive Taco Bell location. Westerville officials call it a great redevelopment project, and the development company says they see the upscale Taco Bell as an investment.
“Westerville is a very discriminating city about what they want done and how they want it to look," Hadler Company President Stephen Breech said. "Sometimes you get subpar looks from a fast-food building — but this isn't that kind of a facility. It has a lot of brick on it and things like that."
The developer won’t divulge how much the project will cost, and Taco Bell will only confirm that it is the chain’s most expensive location, building-wise, in the country.
A lot of brick on it, indeed. I really hope the “things like that” he’s referring to are giant, gold plated monuments to the Cheesy Gordita Crunch, one of mankind’s greatest inventions.
A few words on this week’s cover story about Ohio’s changes to the General Educational Development (GED) test. The piece first appeared in the Cleveland Scene, and it's a great, well-researched read. We did some significant reporting to localize it for Cincinnati, not all of which made it into the final article.
The GED is something a lot of folks don’t really think much about, and I admit I didn’t know a whole lot about it before digging in for our reporting. But the test is a vital lifeline toward a better life for folks who for one reason or another never got a high school diploma.
Seven-hundred-forty-seven people took the test in Hamilton County in 2014. That's down from 2,388 in 2013.
As you’ll read in the cover story, new changes that took affect in 2014 have made it more difficult and expensive to take and pass the test and move on to a trade school, a community college or a better job. New standards require higher levels of interpretive abilities and background knowledge to pass the GED. What's more, students must practice for and take the test on a computer — a big challenge for some students struggling with poverty — and the base fee the state charges for taking the test has tripled.
I went to the East End Adult Education Center to find out more about how the test is getting harder and who is taking it. While I was there, I also learned a lot about what is at stake for folks trying to pass it. I’d like to introduce you to a few of them here. Even though all of their stories didn’t fit in the cover piece, I think they’re important to talk about.
DaniJo Doud, 32, was sitting with head tutor Marty Walsh and practicing for the test when I walked through the door of the center on Eastern Avenue.
Doud got pregnant when she was 16 and ended up repeating the 9th grade three times before dropping out of school. She later struggled with heroin addiction, though she can tell you the exact day she stopped using: May 28, 2012. Now, she’d like to go to a nearby community college to eventually become a drug counselor.
“I always thought I was dumb,” she told me, “but I’m not. I came here and started out on a fourth or fifth grade level. I’m now on a 12th grade level on everything. I’ll graduate this year, I’m sure of it. I want to do the work. I love coming here. I don’t miss a day.”
The center is one of just a few in Cincinnati that offer GED study and testing services. Others, including Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, also provide these services, though often to large classes instead of one on one.
The East End Adult Education Center runs on grants and doesn’t charge students. It even offers scholarships to some students who can’t afford some or all of Ohio’s GED test fee. Adele Craft, the center’s executive director, says nearly all of the people who come here to study are facing economic challenges, or have had life hurdles that kept them from completing high school. Some are refugees.
You’ll read more about Sy Ohur in the cover story. Ohur came to the United States from Sudan in 2004, when the country was gripped by a bloody civil war that killed several hundred thousand people. Ohur fled here knowing almost zero English; Craft said he and other refugees who came around that time didn’t even know the alphabet. Ohur is now an American citizen with strong English skills. He has passed two parts of the GED previously, but then the test was redesigned and he’s had to go back to square one.
In the next room, 17-year-old Chris was studying math with his tutor Mike, going over some equations that — full disclosure — I didn’t really understand. Chris has been coming for a year. At first, he was compelled to come by court order due to problems he was having with truancy. Attending Riverside High School just wasn’t working out for him, he said, though he admits part of the problem was he had a hard time getting up early enough.
“But then I started coming here and started wanting to learn,” he says. “The teachers at school, they tried to help me out, but it wasn’t getting through to me like here. They’ve showed me different angles, different ways to look at things. It’s helped me out a lot.”
Chris, who lives just down the road, shows up every day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. He hopes to take the test soon. His immediate goal is to go to Cincinnati State and eventually transfer to a four-year college to become an architect.
The East End Adult Education Center, one of just a few in Cincinnati that provides test prep and allows students to take the actual GED onsite, sees about 100 students a year. About 20 pass the test each year. As Craft shows me the phone book-sized study guide students must contend with, she tells me passing the test is sometimes a multi-year effort.
That effort has been getting more difficult in Cincinnati and across the state. Craft said holding students to a higher standard and getting them prepared for college is a great goal and that the new test does that well. But she doesn’t like that people looking to better themselves have a harder road ahead of them.
“It’s just a lot, lot harder,” she said of the new test. “It’s going to take us a lot longer.”
Hello Cincy. You know what time it is. Yep, news time.
It’s become a dependable, even comforting, routine. On Thursday mornings, I sit down and tell you all about the ways in which City Council bickered over the streetcar in its Wednesday meeting. The tradition continues. A discussion yesterday about proposed Over-the-Rhine parking plans, which have been bandied back and forth for months, quickly devolved into a debate over the streetcar’s operating budget gap. Mayor John Cranley has been using that gap, which could be as high as $600,000 a year because of shortfalls in revenue and advertising receipts, as a reason council should pass his version of the OTR parking plan.
Cranley, who formerly proposed $300-a-year parking passes for residents in the neighborhood, now wants the passes to be valued at a market rate determined by the city manager. Meanwhile, Councilman Chris Seelbach has another idea: Cap the costs of the permits at $108. Seelbach’s plan calls for 450 permits, plus 50 non-metered, non-permitted flex spots for bartenders, waiters and the like who work in the neighborhood. Cranley’s plan calls for more flex spots. Either proposal would likely yield the highest-cost neighborhood parking permit in the country.
At issue is a philosophical debate: Cranley wants OTR residents to shoulder more of the cost of the streetcar. He also says the city has done enough to subsidize residents in OTR, citing tax abatements on many properties in the neighborhood and the fact that metered spots on the public streets around them would bring in more money than the permits do. Streetcar supporters like Seelbach and Councilwoman Yvette Simspon, however, say the streetcar is about economic development and that it will benefit the entire city, not just OTR residents. They say it isn’t fair to place its financial burden so much on those living in the neighborhood. Seelbach also points to residential parking permits in other neighborhoods, which are priced much more affordably than Cranley’s OTR plan.
• There was also a big hubbub about whether or not the streetcar will get in the way of major downtown events on Fifth Street like Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati. Mayor John Cranley yesterday railed against, as he said, “the idea that the city was secretly trying to discourage these events from maintaining their historic location,” and touted measures by city administration to make sure it doesn’t happen.
The backstory: In 2014, then-City Manager Scott Stiles released a memo stating that no special events could disrupt the streetcar’s operation. Depending on what you take “special events” to mean (i.e. is something that has been scheduled every year for at least a decade a special event?) that could mean the streetcar would take precedence over some beloved Cincinnati traditions. However, an agreement between streetcar operators SORTA and the city also signed later in 2014 allows streetcar operations to be disrupted for events up to four times a year. Sooo, yeah. Were those events ever actually in danger of being moved for the streetcar? Unclear.
• Citizens for Community Values President Phil Burress thinks defeat may be at hand, at least in the short term, when it comes to the looming Supreme Court case around same-sex marriage. Springdale-based right-wing CCV has pushed a number of anti-gay rights measures over the years, and Burress was instrumental in engineering Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. That law is part of the current SCOTUS case. Burress told the Cincinnati Enquirer he’s “not very optimistic” about Ohio’s ban withstanding the court challenge, mostly because he says some of the justices are biased and don’t respect state sovereignty. But Burress also promised that the issue “won’t go away” anytime soon. You can read our story about case, and the local folks who are making history as the plaintiffs, here.
• The Ohio House of Representatives last night passed a record-breaking two-year budget for the state that looks much different than the one Gov. John Kasich suggested. The proposed budget spends more than the state ever has, while taxing top-tier earners less than it has in the past three decades. The proposal would put Ohio’s top income tax rate below 5 percent for the first time since 1982 but forgoes Kasich’s more regressive plan to lower income taxes by 23 percent and use a sales tax hike to pay for the cuts. The $131.6 billion spending package, the largest in state history, also zeroes out much of Kasich’s proposed reform to education spending. Kasich is not exactly stoked by the budget.
“After the fiscal crisis subsides people think it's OK to slip back to old habits,” Kasich’s office said in a statement to press. “The governor will do everything possible to prevent that from happening."
The budget isn’t a done deal. Next it heads to the state Senate, which is cooking up its own budget anyway.
• After those long-winded updates, here's a quickie or two: Is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush really the cuddly moderate he's been made out to be, and, if not, does that open up a window of opportunity for Ohio Gov. Kasich in the GOP 2016 presidential sweepstakes? Despite being a proponent of Common Core and having some less-than-hardline views on immigration, ol' Jeb does have some harder right tendencies as well that make him more complicated to consider. This article gives some good examples.
• Finally, as a person who recently transitioned to Microsoft Office 365 for all my workaholic email needs, I really appreciate this hilarious Washington Post article about the company's new ad campaign. I really do love working while I'm also sleeping face down in my bed.
That is all. Tweet me. Email me. Or don’t. Actually, just go outside and enjoy the sun. But bring your smart phone just in case.
Good morning all. Hope your weekend was rad. Let’s get down to business on this news thing.
The city of Cincinnati plans to ask the federal government for some cash for a network of bike trails branching off the proposed Wasson Way route between Avondale and Mount Lookout. The city is preparing to apply for Transit Investment Generating Economic Recover, or TIGER grants, that would help finance the network of commuter bike paths. The city applied with a narrower plan that only encompassed Wasson Way itself in 2014, but didn’t win one of the highly competitive grants. A lone bike trail doesn’t stand much of a chance in the application process, which favors transportation projects that provide a bigger impact over a wider area. The city hopes it can win some of the billions of dollars the federal government has awarded for such projects with its new plan, which will spread out through a number of Cincinnati neighborhoods. Mayor John Cranley has made bike trails a priority during his time as mayor, often over on-street bike lanes, which Cincinnati’s last city council preferred and which some bike advocates say are better for commuters.
• Let’s keep talking about transit projects for a second, shall we, because we never talk about transit and it’s an incredibly benign topic that no one could ever get upset over. (That is sarcasm, by the way.) Anyway, if you want to hear some, let us say, spirited civic debate, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority is hosting the first of two public hearings about Cincinnati’s streetcar operating procedures and fare structure tonight from 6-8 p.m. at the main branch of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library. See you there! If you can’t make that one, there’s another one next Monday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Over-the-Rhine Community Recreation Center on Republic Street.
• Here’s the latest on the planned redevelopments around Findlay Market in northern Over-the-Rhine. Developer Model Group has announced it will forgo 35 of the apartments it originally planned for the area and will instead build nine condos. Seven of those have already sold. Model’s plans still include 23 apartment units. The shift signals a new turn for the northern part of OTR, which hasn’t seen as much condo development as the neighborhood’s southern portion. The move seems likely to fuel fears about gentrification in OTR as the neighborhood’s property values continue to skyrocket.
• Speaking of gentrification, it’s a serious topic, right? We’ve covered it a bunch here at CityBeat, and think it’s always worth discussion. However, this story is a bit mystifying. It seems to suggest that the spike in poverty in Covington is at least in part caused by development in Cincinnati neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine. Sounds fascinating. The only problem is, there’s absolutely no evidence presented that supports that.
Here’s one of the many puzzling questions that comes from assuming poor from OTR are heading to Covington en masse: Poverty has been rising across the region, including in Cincinnati, which saw a 5.1 percent increase in its poverty rate since 2009. Covington saw about the same boost. What’s more, the increases have been happening since at least 2000, well before much of the city’s current development boom. If both cities’ poverty rates are rising at the same rate and have been since before development started in earnest, doesn’t it seem like Cincinnati isn’t just pumping all its poor and displaced into Covington, and that a larger systemic issue is at play?
A much more likely scenario: Specific factors like the heroin crisis (which is mentioned in the article) and a general widening of income inequality nationally (which is not mentioned) are creating a greater divide between the middle class and the poor. Meanwhile, poor folks displaced by high prices in center-city places like OTR are heading off to an array of areas, some in the more obscure and distant parts of the city limits, some outside of it, creating small, incremental ticks in those neighborhoods’ and municipalities’ poverty rates.
• Briefly, in case you didn’t hear about it: A group of Muslim students in Mason wanted to have a (voluntary) day where other, non-Muslim students were encouraged to wear hijabs (head scarves) as a way to foster a broader cultural understanding and build bridges between students. Instead, that event, called “the Covered Girl Challenge” has been cancelled after an outside group called Jihad Watch raised a huge fuss about it. The group seems to be claiming that the student group has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, a militant Islamic group. Jihad Watch says hijabs are oppressive to women and that Mason’s public schools shouldn’t be promoting them. The main trouble, according to the school, is that an invitation to the student-organized and led event was sent out in an official school email, something that comes across as promotion of a religion. That’s why the event was cancelled, school officials say. Jihad Watch has cheered the cancellation, because there’s clearly nothing scarier going on in America today than a young woman in a public school choosing of her own free will to wear a scarf on her head for a day in an attempt to understand the experiences of other young women at the same school.
• If a provision recently included by state lawmakers in Ohio’s budget passes, many of the state’s college professors will lose the ability to bargain collectively over salaries and benefits. The law would reclassify any professor who is involved in planning curriculum or other decisions as management, making them ineligible for band together and negotiate their terms of employment. As you might guess, a number of college faculty are up in arms over the sneak attack, which smacks very much of the state’s attempt several years ago to eliminate public employee collective bargaining rights with HB 5. That bill was defeated after statewide protests.
• Gov. John Kasich was hanging out with powerful Republican groups in New Hampshire last week, where he made his strongest signals yet that he's running for president. He hasn't announced yet, but he's told big GOPers to "think of me" as they mull their choices.
• Finally, got a hot tip about Democratic presidential possibility Hillary Clinton? U.S. Sen. And Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul wants to know. You can send tips about fundraising activities at the Clinton Foundation, Bill and Hillary’s charitable organization, from a form on Paul’s website. The outspoken libertarian-leaning Republican has been hinting for a while now that some big bombshell about the Clinton Foundation is about to fall and hobble Hillary’s campaign. Those bombshells are supposedly contained in a new book due out next month by author Peter Schweizer. The New York Times, Washington Post and Fox News all have exclusives ready based on information in the book, apparently, but Paul’s casting about for tips on the Internet does not inspire great confidence that he’s sitting on big info. A suggestion: Have you tried the Craigslist missed connections section? I can see the listing now:
“You were at a fundraiser for my presidential campaign. You whispered something vague but titillating in my ear about foreign donors and Hillary. Please contact me via my website, where you can also buy an awesome T-shirt.”
Good morning, y’all. Before we get to the news this morning, I want to plug a cover story we have coming up in a couple weeks. I've been working on it since February, and I really hope you all will take a look when it goes up April 29. It deals with one of the city's forgotten neighborhoods, a group of people fleeing incredibly difficult circumstances and a place where cultures from around the world mix in an incredible way. The folks in the story deserve your attention for their courage and patience. That's all I'm going to say for now. I hope you'll check it out.
There is a lot to talk about today, so I'll stop promoting and get to the news.
Let’s start with the positive stuff first. Cincinnati City Council yesterday declared April 28 John Arthur day in honor of the late Over-the-Rhine resident and gay rights activist who passed away in 2013 from ALS. Arthur’s husband Jim Obergefell has since fought the state of Ohio to get his name listed on Arthur’s death certificate, a battle that will find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court April 28. The case will almost assuredly be a history-making event. Look out next week for our feature story on the battle that could determine the future of same sex marriage.
• Council also locked horns, once again, on the streetcar yesterday. Councilman Chris Seelbach proposed a motion that would direct the city administration to prepare a report on possible funding for Phase 1B of the transit project. Sound like a small step? It is. But oh, what a fuss it raised. The next hour was dominated by arguments over the project, including recent revelations that revenue won’t be as high as anticipated, Mayor John Cranley again touting a residential parking permit plan as a way to make up some of the difference and calls from at least one council member to can the project entirely. After all the fireworks, the motion passed 5-4. You can read all about it in our coverage here.
• What else is new around town? Well, our own Nick Lachey, of 98 Degrees fame, wants to turn over a new leaf (heh see what I did there?) as a marijuana farmer. Lachey has invested in a ballot initiative by marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio. In return for putting up money for the effort, which needs to collect more than 300,000 signatures by this summer to get its proposal on the November ballot, Lachey will become part owner of a marijuana farm in the city of Hudson, which is in northeastern Ohio. That farm will be one of 10 under ResponsibleOhio’s plan, which would restrict commercial cultivation to a select number of sites. The group also tweaked its proposal after some criticism, and the current plan would also allow home growers to grow a small amount for personal use. Critics, however, including other legalization efforts, still say the plan amounts to a monopoly.
• Representatives from some area school districts, including Princeton City Schools, are lobbying in Columbus today in protest over state budgetary moves that would cut millions from their budgets. Princeton serves Lincoln Heights, Glendale, Woodlawn and much of Springdale and Sharonville in addition to other areas. Some school employees have taken personal days off from work to protest the proposed elimination of a state offset for the so-called Tangible Personal Property Tax. TPP was a big part of funding for many schools like Princeton. It was eliminated by lawmakers in 2007, but the state continued to funnel funds to schools to make up for the loss. Now, with Ohio’s new proposed budget, that offset will gradually be eliminated. Princeton receives nearly a quarter of its budget from the payments. It’s one of a number of schools on the chopping block from the new budget, which is a milder form of Gov. Kasich’s proposed financial blueprint for the state’s next two years. Kasich’s plan would have cut half of the districts in Ohio while increasing funding for the other half, mostly low-income rural and urban districts. State lawmakers have eased some of those cuts, but the prospect of losing money has caused ire among schools like Princeton, Lakota and others.
• There are a lot of other things happening in the state house today. Lawmakers are mulling whether to eliminate funding for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, tests. The state’s GOP legislators would like to eliminate the $33 million used to administer the tests, effectively killing them off. Part of the reason lawmakers want to eliminate them is that they’re tied to so-called federal Common Core standards. State Republicans are generally opposed to the standards, though Gov. John Kasich supports them. The tests’ roll-out this year has also been rocky, marked by complaints about glitches and difficulty. But there could be a big price tag for the political statement being made by eliminating the tests: the loss of more than $750 million in federal money for education in Ohio, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
• Elsewhere in the state house, the GOP is raising ire among its own with other measures in the state budget. Republican State Auditor David Yost has cried foul at an attempt to remove oversight of disputes about public records requests from his bailiwick. State lawmakers say that the auditor’s office is responsible for financial accountability of state offices, not their public records. They want to remove the auditor’s power to receive complaints about public records requests and issue information and citations about such requests. Yost says removing his office’s power to oversee public records request issues weakens his ability to hold other public offices accountable and is unconstitutional. The Ohio Newspaper Association has also come out against the move. Reporters file a lot of public records requests, after all, and I for one don't want to have to sue someone every time I want some information that YOU should be able to know.
• What’s going on in national news, you ask? Stories about Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s Chipotle trip continue, revealing little other than the utter intellectual bankruptcy of some of the national political press. The initial story about the stop in the Maumee, Ohio, Chipotle earlier this week was a bit of a campaign stunt in and of itself (Hillary’s campaign staff tipped off the New York Times about the stop, leading to this incredibly important breaking news) and now we’ve just spun down into the dregs of mindless chatter about a burrito bowl. Not even a real burrito! Burritos are for eating, not for think-piecing. Why do you folks get paid to do this, again?
Meanwhile, Kasich is getting some interesting press that could boost his chances in the Republican 2016 primary contest for the presidential nomination. National publications are calling him everything from the "GOP's Strongest Candidate" to the "GOP's Moderate Backstop." Ah, national media. Gotta love it.
Cincinnati City Council today passed a motion asking the city administration to draw up a report on possible funding sources for the planning and construction of phase 1B of the streetcar.
But the relatively small step caused a firestorm of controversy, illustrating how politically divisive the transit project remains. The motion, authored by City Councilman Chris Seelbach, launched a contentious hour of debate among council members about whether it was appropriate to look ahead to the next phase of the controversial transit project when the current phase, a 3.6 mile loop around downtown and Over-the-Rhine, has yet to be nailed down.
The motion passed on a narrow 5-4 vote, with council members Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann, and Wendell Young voting for the measure. Council members Charlie Winburn, Kevin Flynn, Amy Murray and Christopher Smitherman voted against having the city produce the study.
Seelbach said the idea was to gather information to make an informed decision about next steps.
“This motion doesn’t say we’re ready to study Phase 1B of the streetcar,” Seelbach said. “All it says is we want some facts on paper about opportunities we may even want to pass up. I think that’s a very fair conversation we want to have. But let’s at least get the facts on paper.”
Seelbach cited the availability of federal TIGER grants, $500 million of which have been made available for fiscal year 2015 to cities proposing transit projects that spur economic development. Supporters of extending the streetcar say the city should start planning now so it can apply for future federal money that would help pay for a route extension.
But streetcar opponents, including Mayor John Cranley and Councilman Christopher Smitherman, said the focus now should be on the project’s beleaguered current phase. They pointed to a recent revelation that the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority projects revenues for the streetcar will be well under earlier expectations.
“I guess my question is, 'Why aren’t the supporters of the streetcar leading the $500,000 new deficit that we discovered yesterday,' ” said Cranley. “Where is the plan to solve the revenue gap we discovered yesterday? Let’s make Phase 1 a success. Instead people want to write more checks and spend more money on Phase 2.”
Early estimates placed revenue from ridership and advertising sold on the streetcar at $1.35 million in the first year. But adjustments in the way passengers will pay fares (by time spent on the cars, not on a per-ride basis), factoring in subsidized rides for low-income riders and revised advertising revenue estimates mean the streetcar is likely to pull in just $781,000 in its first year, SORTA told council yesterday. That means the transit project may have to tap into a $9 million fund provided by the Haile Foundation to help fund the streetcar’s first decade in operation. Opponents like Cranley and Smitherman say the project's first phase is a financial mess that will leave tax payers holding the bag.
Cranley used the opportunity to again propose a residential parking pass for residents of Over-the-Rhine. In the past, he's floated proposals to charge as much as $300 a year to residents who want to park in the street in the neighborhood. Citing the number of new high-price condos springing up in OTR, Cranley said the owners of those high-price abodes should have to foot some of the bill for the amenity running past their doors.
But supporters of the project fired back, saying the project is meant to spur economic development and must be looked at through that lens. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said investment spurred by the streetcar,
including new development in Over-the-Rhine, would far outweigh the expenditures the city will make. She chalked up continued opposition to
the streetcar, and the motion to produce a report, to politics.
“I think it really comes down to leadership,” said Simpson. “We made a commitment to a project, and there are times when there are challenges. The campaign is over. Our ability to put our best foot forward on this project will really determine the success of the project.”
Originally, the streetcar was intended to run from The Banks to a location uptown. However, after Gov. John Kasich eliminated millions in state funds from the project, it was scaled back. The route now ends near Findlay Market. Supporters, however, including many who pushed the streetcar through a contentious three-week pause in 2013, haven’t given up hope that the second leg can be completed into the area around the University of Cincinnati and the area’s major hospitals.
The debate over the motion once again opened up old arguments.
Councilman Charlie Winburn called once again for the streetcar to be halted entirely, saying it should be “scrapped altogether.” Winburn told City Manager Harry Black that he didn’t have to follow the motion, which doesn’t have the force of law, and asked the city administration to disregard it. The city solicitor confirmed that the motion was non-binding, and it is unclear whether the city manager will direct city administration to produce the report.
Morning all! Let’s get started on this news thing right away. I’ll be brief today.
Good news for transit drama junkies: The next episode of the streetcar soap opera just dropped, and it’s a double feature. Turns out the 2013 pause in streetcar construction while Mayor John Cranley railed against the project and Cincinnati City Council mulled pulling the plug could end up costing the city $2 million. The city has already spent about $1 million on costs associated with the pause, and now the team responsible for the streetcar is negotiating with a consultant involved in the construction of the streetcars over how much it owes for other costs related to the work stoppage. The cars themselves will be delayed six months because of the three-week pause, the streetcar team says, since the company making the cars thought the project was dead at the time. That cash will have to come out of the streetcar’s contingency fund, which will have about $1 million left after payments related to the pause are made.
Meanwhile, estimates for how much money the streetcar will rake in every year are down, according to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority. Adjustments in the way passengers will pay fares (by time spent on the cars, not on a per-ride basis), factoring in subsidized rides for low-income riders and revised advertising revenue estimates mean the streetcar is likely to pull in just $781,000 in its first year, much less than the originally-estimated $1.35 million. That means the transit project may have to tap into a $9 million fund provided by the Haile Foundation to help fund the streetcar’s first decade in operation.
• We’ve known for a while that the current site of the Anna Louise Inn, an historic women’s shelter downtown near Lytle Park, is slated to become a luxury hotel. Now we know which luxury hotel. Marriott announced yesterday it is bringing its Autograph Collection hotel concept to the site. Autograph Collection hotels are high-end, boutique accommodations. Others include European palaces and swanky hunting lodges. Plans have been in the works to relocate the century-old women’s shelter after a protracted and contentious legal battle between the city, Anna Louise Inn operators Cincinnati Union Bethel and insurance giant Western & Southern ended in 2013. A new CUB facility is being constructed in Mount Auburn.
• Here’s a quick one: Two Cincinnati lawyers have filed a lawsuit hoping to legalize prostitution in San Francisco. Lou Sirkin and Brian O’Connor of Cincinnati-based firm Santen and Hughes have filed in a California U.S. District Court on behalf of an organization called the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Education and Research Project. Three sex workers and a prospective client of sex workers are named as plaintiffs in the suit, which Sirkin and O’Connor say is a constitutional issue. Sirkin has worked on a number of constitutional and individual rights cases across the country.
• Lebanon City School District is facing a civil rights complaint from the mother of one of its students. Heather Allen has filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that issues of racial discrimination and bullying haven’t been taken seriously by the district. Allen says her biracial children, as well as other black children in the district, have been subject to racist jokes, taunting, repeated use of racial slurs including the n-word and an alleged threat from another student who Allen says had a knife. Nine incidents total are listed in the complaint, which comes a few weeks after an Instagram photo surfaced from a district student bearing racial slurs and a threat toward a black Lebanon student. The district thus far has not responded to media inquiries about the complaints, though it did address the Instagram photo, saying it didn’t have jurisdiction over that issue since it happened off school property.
• Former death row exonerees took to the capitol yesterday to advocate for changes to Ohio’s death penalty. Six men who had been wrongfully convicted of murder and who spent time in prison for their wrongful convictions gathered to urge lawmakers to adopt 57 recommendations for changes to the way the state administers justice made by the Ohio Supreme Court Task Force on Capital Punishment. Among them was Ricky Jackson, who was finally freed last November after spending 39 years in prison for a murder in Cleveland he didn’t commit. Jackson was exonerated thanks to the work of UC’s Ohio Innocence Project, an initiative co-founded by Mayor John Cranley in 2003. The Innocence Project is the subject of this week’s CityBeat news feature — it just won a new trial for three other Cleveland men who may have been wrongfully convicted in another murder. Check it out.
• Finally, your 2016 update: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida entered the presidential fold Monday, declaring he’ll seek the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, there is noise about who former secretary of state and current Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton will tap for vice president. Will it be former San Antonio mayor and current Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro? Some think-piece writers think so. It seems clear that Castro, along with his brother, U.S. Rep Juan Castro, are both being groomed by the Democratic Party for bigger things. The Castro brothers are promising stars in the party, to be sure, but there’s also a pretty calculated element to the speculation: Rubio is strong with Hispanics thanks to his own Hispanic background, and Castro as VP could be a way to counteract that, political pundits say. Ew. Politics is gross.
That’s it for me. Tweet at me. Email me. You know the drill.
Hello all. What’s up? Let’s dive right into the news today.
If you live uptown and frequently need to hop on I-75 north, I have some bad news for you. It’s going to be another, oh, five years before the already years-old ODOT project to revamp I-75 makes it easier to access the highway from uptown. Let’s ruminate on that length of time for a minute. It’s an entire high school career plus a year of college. Or the amount of time it takes the average person to put 65,000 miles on a car. Or for some folks, multiple long-term relationships. The hang-up comes from a proposed connector bridge that will allow for easier access from I-74 to the area around Cincinnati State College. That construction is in the same area as the planned new northbound ramp, meaning the latter will have to be put off until 2020. That leaves uptown residents wanting to head north with the option of two complicated workarounds that probably add at least a few minutes to commute times. Happy driving y’all.
• In more positive news, it sounds like the city’s July 14 parade for the MLB All-Star Game is going to be something else. Usually, these kinds of things are limited to a few pickup trucks full of ball players on the way to field from their hotels, but Cincinnati Reds COO Phil Castellini says this year will be different. Floats, music and other festivities inspired by our annual opening day parade will fill the mile-long parade route, which goes from the Westin Hotel downtown past Fountain Square to Great American Ballpark. The All-Star Game is a big deal for any city to land — estimated economic impact for the city is somewhere in the $60 million range.
• Over-the-Rhine business course MORTAR will graduate its first class of entrepreneurs today. Locals William Thomas, Derrick Braziel and Allen Woods founded the group last year with a focus on increasing socio-economic diversity in the city’s startup culture. When you picture a startup entrepreneur, you might immediately think of a young white middle class male, which would be understandable since that demographic makes up a large percentage of entrepreneurs, especially in hot new markets like tech. MORTAR’s mission is to go beyond that, founders say, and to extend the opportunity to start a business to anyone in the city with a good idea. Tonight at Elementz, on the corner of Race and Central Parkway, the first class will take their ideas public during a series of presentations lasting from 6-9 pm. First year participants include Black Owned Outerwear founder Cam Means and soap maker Evie Cotton.
• I knew y'all were smart. Cincinnati is among the most literate cities in the country according to a study by Central Connecticut State University President Dr. Jack Miller. Miller measured literacy in America’s 77 biggest cities by studying bookstores, libraries, newspaper circulation, education level and Internet usage to come up with his ranking. Cincinnati ranked 12th, just above Raleigh, N.C. and just below Portland, Ore. We are far and away the best Ohio city on the list — runner up Columbus ranked just 21st. Minneapolis took the top spot this year after a four-year run in the top spot for Washington, D.C., which finished second this time around.
• The Ohio Board of Education voted yesterday to end the state’s stipulation that school districts have at least five of eight specialty positions in each of their schools. Those positions included librarians, music teachers and physical education teachers. The rule change has been hotly debated among educators and officials. Opponents say it will mean that students in many low-income schools will no longer be guaranteed arts, music and other important humanities education. Boosters of the rule change say it allows local school districts more autonomy with how they spend their budgets.
• Is Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal dead? Looks like its prospects are grim, especially when it comes to the tax boosts the governor suggested to make up for his proposed $5.7 billion in income tax cuts. The GOPers in the Ohio General Assembly love the cuts, but hate the offsets, which include a sales tax hike. State lawmakers are expected to tweak Kasich’s budget to cut about $1 billion in income taxes while forgoing the sales tax hikes and some other big measures in the budget. Kasich’s plan has taken fire from both the left and the right. Progressives point out that shifting the tax burden from income toward sales taxes puts a higher proportional burden on the state’s low-income workers and that cuts to taxes on businesses and the tax bills of the state’s top earners is a regressive move that favors the wealthy. Conservatives, on the other hand, say the sales tax hike would encumber businesses and slow the economy. Both the state House and Senate will have to vote to approve a final budget agreement.
• Big news here: While Hillary Clinton was driving around in her Scooby Doo campaign van yesterday, she passed through Ohio and stopped for some Chipotle. Surprisingly, this news story says, no one in the Maumee, Ohio, Chipotle recognized her, probably because they were too focused on their double barbacoa double cheese double sour cream burritos. Dude, when I’m eating a burrito, the wailing ghost of James Brown could come in spitting fire and singing "Poppa’s Got a Brand New Bag" and I probably wouldn’t take much note, but then the wailing ghost of James Brown isn’t running for president in 2016 (unfortunately).
• Finally, new revelations have surfaced in the shooting death of Walter Scott, North Charleston, South Carolina man, by police officer Michael Slager April 5. North Charleston police have released audio recordings taken immediately after the incident in which Slager tells his wife he shot Scott while the man was running from him and then later laughs about the adrenaline rush to a supervisor. Scott was black, Slager white. The incident is the latest racially charged police shooting to capture the nation’s attention in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., last summer.
Hello all. I hope you got out and enjoyed the weather this weekend, which was spectacular. I took a nice six-mile hike organized by Imago, a Price Hill-based nature preserve and environmental education organization and Park and Vine, the planet friendly general store on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. It was pretty great to spend the day hiking through the OTR, the West End and the Price Hills.
On to the news! The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has announced it’s bringing incredibly popular OTR light show LumenoCity back Aug. 5-9, but it’s going to be a lot different this year, at least when it comes to admission. The two-year-old event has up to this point been a free offering to the public. The first year, the light show was open to anyone who wanted to drop by. Last year, however, organizers sectioned off the park and required show goers to claim free tickets online, citing massive demand. More than 30,000 people showed up for the four nights of the show. Those tickets sold out in a flash, and some ended up on eBay for pretty crazy prices. This year, organizers have set up a lottery for tickets. Those who are randomly selected from the lottery will pay up $20 for tickets, which will be limited to four per household and 6,000 per night.
• So this is kinda hilarious. It looks like Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters is down one really killer Halloween costume after a recent magistrate’s decision. As you probably know, a year ago, a group of Greenpeace activists staged a protest at Procter and Gamble headquarters over the company’s use of palm oil, the harvesting of which they say has lead to the destruction of rainforests. As part of this protest, one of the activists repelled down the side of P&G in a tiger costume. For whatever reason, Deters wanted that costume. He wanted it bad. He asked a Hamilton County Court magistrate if he could keep it (it had been held as evidence), but the magistrate recently told Deters to give the dang tiger suit back to the dude.
• Normally, the flow in Washington when it comes to making the big money is that you serve in the government side of things, as a legislator or on a legislator’s staff, then move on to the lucrative lobbying positions that big interests groups hire to gain influence in D.C. But it works both ways, apparently. Here’s an interesting piece about how some national politicians with local ties are hiring former lobbyists to join their Washington staffs. Which seems weird and a little shady, right? Well, it’s not illegal, and the former recipients of big corporate cash swear they’re only working for their bosses (read: us) when they make the move to a legislator’s office. Hm.
• Heroin is a big issue in both north and south of the Ohio River. But the legislative ways Ohio and Kentucky deal with the crisis are very different. Kentucky has recently passed a raft of new laws that look to alleviate the drug’s hold on the region, including making things like needle-exchange programs easier. It’s also ramped up penalties for traffickers bringing the drug into the state. But police officers in Ohio are more likely to carry overdose recovery drugs like Narcan, while many Kentucky police departments are still weighing the drug’s benefits against its costs and possible dangers. What’s more, Ohio is poised to pass more measures ensuring addicts leaving prison get the anti-addiction medication they need. Will the two states ever get on the same page? Unclear.
• The Ohio Democratic Party on Saturday officially endorsed former Gov. Ted Strickland in his campaign for U.S. Senate, tilting the party’s primary further away from Cincinnati City Councilman and Strickland primary opponent P.G. Sittenfeld. That wasn’t entirely unexpected — Strickland has statewide name recognition, polling that shows him trouncing incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman by nine points at this early point in the campaign, and the endorsement of former president Bill Clinton — but it stings all the same. Especially brutal is what Strickland said at a meeting of the state party’s executive committee of delegates Saturday.
“This isn’t a Little League Baseball Game,” Strickland said, probably muttering a condescending “son,” under his breath. “This is a U.S. Senate race.” Dang. It’s getting heated in this thing.
• Is cursive making a comeback in Ohio? No, no, not Cursive, the band I spent many of my angst-ridden teen years rocking out to. I’m talking about the squiggly script students used to be required to master in grade school. These days, districts decide whether or not they teach the handwriting method, but that could change with a new proposed law that would make it a mandatory part of public education. I’m against it. Art is hard and so are those loopy letters. Full disclosure, however, my handwriting is absolutely awful.
• Quick, but important and kind of scary: Remember last summer when we had that gross toxic algae thing in the Great Lakes, in part due to industrial fertilizer runoff? It shutdown Toledo's water supply for a minute, and it could be a big problem again this year.
• Finally, Hillary Clinton is officially running for president again after her Sunday campaign rollout. The former secretary of state and Democratic frontrunner is already on the campaign trail, hitting up Iowa as we speak, reportedly road-tripping in a black van she’s dubbed “the Scooby Doo Van.”
Hello Cincy, let’s talk about the news today.
The big story, of course, is the death of Lauren Hill, the 19-year-old Mount Saint Joseph freshman who very publicly and courageously battled inoperable brain cancer. Hill inspired many across the country, continuing to play basketball with Mount Saint Joe even as her illness weakened her. Through her advocacy, she raised $1.4 million for cancer research with nonprofit cancer research agency The Cure Starts Now. Hill passed early this morning.
• Cincinnati’s next big brewery has set its opening date. Northside’s Urban Artifact brewery, located in the historic St. Pius X church on Blue Rock Street, will have its grand opening two weeks from today on April 24. The space will also be a concert venue, and has a unique business model: live music every night of the week that will be recorded, if the artists wish, and streamed on the space’s website. Eventually, Urban Artifact will offer a restaurant at the location as well.
• Local high school students in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren Counties will be able to take a free college class and get a textbook free of charge this summer at Cincinnati State Technical Community College, the school announced yesterday. The offer is open to 2015 graduates and those who will be freshmen in the fall at Cincinnati State as well. Cincinnati State President O’dell Owens says it’s a way for the school to give back to the community while hopefully enticing area students to enroll at the school in the future.
• Cincinnati schools are making strides in terms of educational achievement by students, but those gains aren't universal and highlight glaring racial and economic gaps, a new study from Cincinnati's Strive Partnership has found. You can read the full study here. Look for more coverage on educational inequality in Cincinnati from us in the near future.
• There’s a pretty interesting wrinkle in the race for the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Rob Portman in Ohio. Democratic challenger Ted Strickland has polled nine points ahead of Portman and many points ahead of his primary foe Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. But Strickland has actually raised less money for his campaign than either of them. Portman has raised over $2 million for the race, Sittenfeld has raised $750,000 and recent campaign filings show Strickland has pulled in about $670,000. That’s not far off from Sittenfeld, and Strickland has much more name recognition from his stint as governor of Ohio from 2007 to 2011. Strickland announced his campaign later than Sittenfeld, a fact his campaign manager says explains why he’s trailing right now.
• Here’s a really informative rundown on the upcoming Supreme Court battle over marriage equality that centers around Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and gay marriage bans in several other states. The case will almost certainly be precedent-setting, and momentum is on the side of marriage equality; many federal circuit courts have struck down other states’ bans, but the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has upheld bans in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Tennessee. That’s created a conflict in federal court rulings, something the Supreme Court will have to sort out with its decision. The nation’s highest court already struck down a federal ban on gay marriage two years ago, and now advocates on both sides are holding their breath for this decisive battle. Arguments before the court kick off April 28.
• Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to announce her candidacy for president Sunday in New York City, according to a number of national news outlets. Clinton is the decided front runner for the Democratic nomination; so much so that some have accused her of a rather blasé approach to the campaign thus far. Clinton has a strong fundraising network and big support from high-level Democrats, though. But she has already had to tussle with a potential scandal: the revelation she used her personal e-mail account for State Department business while she served in that position. That wasn’t illegal at the time, and Clinton has turned over thousands of those e-mails, but critics say there’s no way to know whether she has turned over all of them. Despite these early stumbles, there are few other Democrats who seem feasible challengers. Those on the left in the party have been pushing Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run, but she so far has declined to entertain the idea. More recently, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with Democrats, has made noises that he might be interested in the race. It’s unclear, however, how Sander’s very progressive politics (he’s an avowed socialist) would play with the mainstream Democratic base.
• Finally, a measure designed to prevent businesses who contract with the federal government from discriminating against LGBT individuals kicked in Wednesday. The law, which stems from an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in July, means that those companies can’t consider sexual orientation when they hire. Outside this measure, which only applies to companies who do business with the federal government, there are not laws against employment discrimination against LGBT individuals federally or in Ohio.