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by Nick Swartsell 02.12.2015 105 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Taft's Ale House

Morning News and Stuff

Dems won't come to Columbus; new OTR brewery to debut on Opening Day; how the New York Times kicks it old school

Hey all, let’s do a quick news update today.

Normally, I like to lead with local stuff first, but the big news today is that the 2016 Democratic National Convention will not take place in Columbus, it seems. The city was one of three finalists for the event, at which Democrats will formally nominate their presidential candidate. The Columbus Dispatch reports that Dems chose Philadelphia instead. Womp womp. Ohio is still getting two other major conventions that year, however: the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the NAACP National Convention in Cincinnati.

• OK. On to local stuff. A new brewery has announced it will debut on Reds Opening Day. Taft Ale House is currently working on its three-level brewery and restaurant near Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine and aims to be open for business on April 6, just in time to welcome the Opening Day parade. The brewery, bar and restaurant had aimed to be open in late 2014 but ran into complications with the old church building it has been renovating on Race Street. The building was originally scheduled to be torn down before plans for the Ale House materialized. But now, after developer 3CDC spent tens of thousands of dollars shoring up floors and making other structural adjustments, it’s on track for the big day.

Bonus news in case you missed it yesterday: This year, none other than famous 1990 World Series-winning Reds relief pitching crew the Nasty Boys, aka Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Meyers, are marshaling the parade.

• More good news for the city’s iconic public buildings. A local foundation has kicked in another $1 million for efforts to renovate Memorial Hall, bringing the project much closer to being completely funded. The Annie W. and Elizabeth Anderson Foundation put up the contribution toward the $8 million project, which will improve the building’s acoustics, replace seating and air conditioning, build a catering kitchen and renovate the building’s bathrooms. Hamilton County has pledged another $1.5 million to the project.

• State officials for the first time yesterday acknowledged that the Hopple Street offramp collapse might have been caused by faulty demolition plans. The collapse killed construction foreman Brandon Carl, sparking possible lawsuits from his family. It occurred while Columbus-based Kokosing Construction worked on a $91 million contract to remove the offramp that passed over I-75. Some experts have said it appears last-minute changes to the demolition plans might have played a role in the collapse. Ohio Department of Transportation officials say they haven’t finished their analysis of the collapse but acknowledge the plans used failed. Kokosing has also said it is still investigating what went wrong with the demolition.

• Gov. John Kasich looks to be ramping up a possible presidential bid. He’s visiting early primary state South Carolina next week as part of a national tour touting his balanced budget plans. Kasich polls fairly strong among GOP voters in Ohio, but he’s a virtual unknown outside the state. The trip could help boost his stature among GOP presidential nominee hopefuls and draw big-money donors to his campaign.

• Speaking of Ohioans on the national stage, Cincinnatian and Department of Veterans Affairs head Bob McDonald had a pretty public dustup yesterday with Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman during a budget hearing in Washington, D.C. Coffman criticized McDonald for not doing enough during his first six months leading the V.A., pinning the blame for the agency’s continued dysfunction on its new leader.

But McDonald wasn’t having it. He got a couple zingers off, including pointing out he’s run one of the country’s largest companies, before pointedly asking Coffman what he’s done lately. And while pointing to your last job when you're being criticized about your current one is maybe not the strongest argument, the former P&G head seemed to be holding his own. McDonald, who is also a Republican, was probably drawing fire from the congressman because he was appointed by President Barack Obama, though the official complaint was that his actions thus far have amounted to nothing more than public relations and have not enacted substantive reforms on the V.A., which has been rocked by record-keeping and patient treatment scandals in the past year.

• Finally, if you’re like me, you do most of your news reading on a smartphone or, failing that, your laptop. But even if you’ve never touched a printed newspaper in your life, this piece about how the New York Times kicks it old-school and gets the paper out every day is pretty amazing. For something seemingly so low-tech, pumping out hundreds of thousands of newspapers each day is actually a mind-bending feat of engineering and coordination.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.11.2015 106 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cover_crimelab_jf02700x615

Morning News and Stuff

Proposed welfare reforms could make "one stop shops" for services; is Miley Cyrus planning a Leelah Alcorn benefit concert?; Bush campaign operative resigns after offensive online comments

Good morning! This week is going crazy slow but it’s half over now, so that’s awesome. But the news isn’t going slow, and it’s never half-over. It’s always hurtling forward. Always changing. Growing. Watching. Ok. Maybe not watching. But those other things. Sorry. I didn’t get much sleep last night.

Let’s get to it. Gov. John Kasich yesterday came to Cincinnati to detail his plans for reforming the state’s welfare program to leaders from a number of county social service agencies. Kasich says his plan will simplify welfare services in Ohio, which can currently sometimes be a complicated array of various service providers clients must navigate to get help. Kasich would like to gather as many services as possible under a single roof, saving the state money. Those agencies that don’t go along with the plan could lose state funding. But some providers are wary of too much consolidation, as various agencies in different counties often serve very different populations. Kasich called those concerns “turf battles,” though some providers see the issue differently. Kasich has yet to release all the details of his proposed changes.

• The debate over what to do about Hamilton County’s morgue and crime lab is turning into something of a shouting match. Republican Hamilton County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann clearly hit a nerve last week when he called Hamilton County’s crime lab “a luxury item.” Now Democrats are firing back at the assertion. Yesterday, Hamilton County Democrat Chairman Tim Burke berated Hartmann in a letter suggesting the commissioner is playing politics with the crime lab and morgue, which have been at the center of a county budget debate. Both offices, which share a building on University of Cincinnati’s medical campus, are in need of extensive upgrades.

“I’m sorry, but the need for a modern morgue and crime lab is so clear that I can only conclude that your failure to fulfill the Commissioner’s duty to provide that must be due to the fact that our County Coroner is a Democrat who you don’t want to see succeed,” Burke said in the letter.

All parties agree the lab needs updating. Republican Commissioners Hartmann and Chris Monzel, however, say retrofitting a former hospital in Mount Airy donated to the county will be too expensive at $100 million. They’re suggesting the possibility of partnering with neighboring governments to create a regional lab. Conditions in the current building are so cramped that neither the crime lab nor the morgue has room for the extra employees it needs to process the increasing amount of work it must undertake. Other issues include an outdated electrical grid that won’t allow all the lab’s equipment to be plugged in at the same time and an insufficient plumbing system beneath the building that causes the build up of autopsy debris.

• Sticking with news about the county for another beat, 100 Hamilton County poll workers have been dismissed from their jobs for not voting in the last election. Officials with the Hamilton County Board of Elections have said they want to encourage voting, and if their employees aren’t doing it, it sends the wrong message. I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s kind of like wearing American Apparel when you work there or tweeting your articles when you’re a reporter — probably a good idea, but mandatory? Seems a little harsh.

• A quick bit of gossip and speculation: is Miley Cyrus planning a benefit concert in memory of Leelah Alcorn? Could be. Recent social media posts by Cyrus show rehearsals for an upcoming project and a notebook that says “Leelah set list,” the Columbus Dispatch reports. Alcorn, a transgender teen, died Dec. 28 after throwing herself in front of a truck on I-71. She left a suicide note on social media explaining the isolation she felt when her family did not support her transgender status.

• Three people were killed this morning in Chapel Hill, North Carolina after a gunman entered their home and shot each in the head. The alleged gunman, forty six-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, turned himself in immediately following the shooting deaths of Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, all local university students. Though no official motive has been determined, the killings may have involved the fact the three were Muslim. Hicks, an outspoken atheist, had recently put photos of guns on social media as well as writing anti-religious posts.

• Finally, a high-level campaign operative for potential presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush resigned today after racially and sexually charged comments he allegedly made online recently came to light. Ethan Czahor was chief technology officer for Bush’s Right to Rise political action committee. In Twitter posts before he was hired in January, Czahor made disparaging remarks about gay men and called women “sluts.” One grade-A post from 2009 reads, “new study confirms old belief: college female art majors are sluts, science majors are also sluts but uglier." Wow. Bush’s campaign initially called the tweets inappropriate but let Czahor stay on. He resigned yesterday after other racially insensitive statements attributed to him were found on a website for a radio show he worked on in 2008.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.10.2015 107 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
weed

Morning News and Stuff

Three of Ohio's proposed weed farms would be in Greater Cincinnati; Cincinnati ranked in top 10 creative cities; Twitter's weird privacy disclosure

All right. Let’s do this news thing.

If its ballot initiative passes, three of the 10 marijuana cultivation farms proposed by ResponsibleOhio would be in Greater Cincinnati, including one in Hamilton County near Anderson Township. One other location would be in Butler County on land owned by Trenton-based Magnode Corporation and a third would be in Clermont County. The weed legalization group is working to put a constitutional amendment ballot initiative before voters in November, and the push has some big local funders. The downside: The state would only be able to have the 10 grow sites, and those sites would more than likely be owned by the group’s investors. ResponsibleOhio’s plan would also create a seven-member oversight board which could increase the number of growing locations in the future, though who would make up the board and how they would decide who can grow weed is unclear.

• The partner of the man who died during the Hopple Street offramp collapse has hired a big-name Cincinnati attorney. Kendra Blair, who had four children with 35-year-old construction foreman Brandon Carl, is looking into a possible lawsuit over Carl’s death last month and has hired attorney Mark Hayden to begin the process. No suit has been filed just yet and it’s unclear if the suit will be filed in federal or state court. Carl was killed when the offramp collapsed during demolition. Investigations into the collapse suggest Kokosing Construction, the company carrying out the $91 million contract on the demolition, may have changed demolition plans at the last minute and should have gone about tearing the bridge down in a different manner. The company denies that its plans were flawed.

• U.S. Small Business Administration head Maria Contreras-Sweet yesterday dropped by Over-the-Rhine to check out Cincinnati’s startup scene, meeting with small business owners and nonprofit leaders from Taste of Belgium, Mortar, the Brandery and others, as well as officials from some of the city’s biggest companies. She also touted several programs the administration is looking to expand, including one offering microloans under $50,000 to small businesses. U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, who chairs the House Committee on Small Business, helped arrange the visit. Contreras-Sweet praised OTR’s business scene. “I’m enjoying the ecosystem you have here,” she said, which is business-speak for “this place is rad.”

• Real estate blog Movoto has ranked Cincinnati one of the nation’s top 10 most creative cities. Cincy ranks eighth on the list, just behind Seattle and just ahead of Pittsburgh. San Francisco took the top spot. Big reasons for Cincinnati’s spot on the list include high number of colleges, galleries, art supply stores and live performance opportunities per capita.

• Cincinnati Metro is teaming up with the city’s Red Bike program to show some love for riders leading up to Valentine's Day. On Feb. 13, Metro will be giving out free one-day bus passes and 24 hour Red Bike passes on Fountain Square at 1 p.m. Metro is also running a contest on its Facebook page and will choose one participant to receive a free 30-day Metro pass, a year-long membership to Red Bike and two tickets to a Valentine's Weekend performance at the Cincinnati Ballet. That’s pretty sweet.

• In national news, Twitter today released its biannual transparency report about how many government requests for user information it gets from government law enforcement agencies. The letter they released is cartoonishly redacted, including some parts that have been whited out and handwritten over. One part seems to have been erased and then scrawled over with a sentence saying that government surveillance of the public on the site is "quite limited." So yeah. That’s kind of hilarious but also kind of terrifying if you’re concerned about government snooping on social media.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.09.2015 108 days ago
at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
horseshoe2_jf

Morning News and Stuff

Kasich in Cincy tomorrow to discuss social services changes; NKY couple charged with selling military tech to China; is Cincinnati "crying out for the wrecking ball?"

Hey all, I’m about to run out to cover a story, but here’s a quick little morning news reading list for ya. I’ll update as necessary a little later in the day.

Gov. John Kasich will come to Cincinnati tomorrow to talk about new standards for the state’s social service organizations he has proposed in his budget. Kasich says many agencies providing different services don’t coordinate well enough and don’t help clients move toward self-sufficiency. The specifics of the proposed new standards haven’t been released yet, but failing to meet them will be costly for organizations: Kasich has said the state could pull funding from various county agencies that don’t measure up.

• Is it fair to give valet parking services free parking, especially now that parking rates have risen in the city? Councilman Chris Seelbach says no, and he’s calling on the city to make Cincinnati’s parking arrangements with valet companies serving various restaurants downtown more fair to taxpayers. Currently, valet companies can reserve four spots near the businesses they serve using a permit and so-called “valet bags” that go over parking meters. Other cities charge for thousands for those permits, and even the bags, but Cincinnati gives them away.

• This is wild: A Northern Kentucky couple is in federal court on charges that their company, Valley Forge Composite Technology, sold $37 million in military-grade micro conductors to China. The United States has had a military trade embargo against China since 1990 as a result of what the U.S. government says is an ongoing arms buildup there. If convicted, Louis and Rosemary Brothers could face up to 45 years in prison and fines totaling more than $1.75 million.

• No matter what your feelings are about Cincinnati’s architecture, this opinion piece in the Enquirer is sure to start a conversation at your office or house or classroom or wherever you are right now. Read it aloud to friends and coworkers. Unless you’re in the Great American Tower or the Horseshoe Casino. Then lines like, “The new Horseshoe Casino looks like a temporary colonoscopy supply center with mall entrance” (LOL) will probably just result in really awkward silence. It's hilarious, though I'm not sure I totally agree.

• Speaking of architecture: as we get closer to Presidents Day, here’s a neat story about Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, a grand and eccentric mansion in Virginia that is one of America’s most famous landmarks. The current tourist destination, which today adorns the back of nickels, wasn’t always so revered. At one point, farmers herded cows into its basement and it sat basically derelict, in danger of crumbling completely. Yes, I know Jefferson isn’t one of the presidents whose birthday is commemorated by the national holiday (he was born in April) but he had a much cooler house than Abraham Lincoln, and Washington’s Mount Vernon estate is well, kinda vanilla.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.06.2015 111 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cover_crimelab_jf14700x615

Morning News and Stuff

Hartmann: county-level crime lab a "luxury item"; for Pete's sake, new MLB commissioner may reconsider ban; Kasich budget will double drug treatment funding for Ohio inmates

Morning y’all. Here’s what’s going on in Cincy and the wider world today.

Is a county-level crime lab a luxury item? That’s a comment Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann made yesterday during the annual “state of the county” speech attended by many high-level county officials. Hartmann made the statement in response to a question about moving the county’s morgue and crime lab to a vacant hospital in Mount Airy. We checked out the alarming condition of the morgue and crime lab in December. Most, including county commissioners, agree that Hamilton County’s crime lab and morgue are outdated and that the county will soon need to find new options for both. But they say moving to the Mount Airy hospital would be prohibitively expensive, and they’ve paused the idea as they look for private partners to go in on the $100 million retrofitting project. Hartmann argues that a regional crime lab put together by several counties in the region would be a more efficient option. But his comments continue a long-running rift between conservative commissioners and Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco, who called the statement ridiculous.

“A luxury? As in maybe his fancy cars that are maybe a luxury?" Sammarco said. "Name one person in this county that thinks public safety is a luxury item. Public safety is not a luxury.”

• Did flaws in demolition plans for the old Hopple Street offramp over I-75 cause its collapse last month? Some experts think so, though Kokosing Construction, the company hired on a $91 million contract to carry out the demolition, contests that. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, last minute changes were made to the demolition efforts as detailed in
plans acquired through public information requests. Those changes, an independent expert says, could have caused the bridge failure that killed one construction worker, injured a truck driver and shut down southbound I-75 for hours. The expert says some calculations in the plan were flawed; Kokosing says they were checked by multiple experienced technicians. Experts have also criticized the wider method by which the bridge was being demolished, saying that the middle section should have been removed first.

• After a quarter century, will Pete Rose finally be eligible to enter the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame? New MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred may open a window for the 73-year-old to enter the hall after all. Rose, who was banned from baseball in 1989 after he was caught gambling, holds the all-time record for hits in the MLB with 4,256. Fans have actively campaigned for Rose to be reinstated, but outgoing commissioner Bud Selig was steadfast in his refusal to allow Rose back. Manfred, however, says he’ll be having conversations with Rose and his attorneys about the possibility.

• John Crawford, Jr., the father of the young man shot by police while holding a toy gun in a Beavercreek Walmart in August, is still struggling with the incident and the loss of his son, he says in an op-ed published in the Hamilton Journal-News today. John Crawford III lived in neighboring Fairfield. Crawford III, 22, was killed in the Walmart after another shopper called 911 to report him brandishing a weapon. It turned out to be a pellet gun sold in the store. Security footage doesn’t show Crawford handling the toy in a threatening manner, though officers said he was ordered to drop it several times. A grand jury declined to indict Officer Sean Williams, who shot Crawford.

“John lll was an amazing father, loving son and awesome friend,” Crawford, Jr. says in the piece. “He was just starting to discover who he was, what his passion was, what he wanted to pursue in life and now he’s gone. It makes no sense to me how a simple trip to Walmart ended in the death of my son. I was further shocked when a grand jury refused to indict the officer responsible for my son’s slaying. But now, six months after this horrific tragedy, we want the world to know just how much we love and miss him.”

Crawford, Jr. goes on to advocate for new laws that could prevent future tragedies, including new requirements for toy weapons in stores like Walmart. Crawford, who lives in Tennessee, has been active in seeking justice for his son, showing up at rallies, including a recent teach-in in Cincinnati, and filing a lawsuit against the Beavercreek Police Department.

• More about Kasich’s new budget proposal: Under the suggested two-year budget, funding for prison-based addiction services will double, and the state will spend $58 million more on community-based sentencing options that could keep some first time offenders out of prison. These reforms are designed to cut down on Ohio’s prison population and expenditures over time. Studies suggest up to 80 percent of Ohio’s prison population has a history of drug abuse. Currently, only 15 to 20 percent of Ohio inmates receive drug addiction treatment, however.

• Finally, the economy added more than 257,000 jobs last month, according to job reports released today. That marks the 11th straight month job growth has been above 200,000, a streak that hasn’t been seen in more than two decades. In a rare moment of agreement, both the White House (well, duh) and high-ranking GOP officials applauded the news. Of course, the Republican response came with the requisite grousing about how the job gains weren’t good enough.
 
“We're thankful to see that Americans were able to go back to work in January,” said GOP Chairman Reince Priebus. “But before the White House spikes the football, they need to come to terms with a troubling fact: There are millions of Americans who are struggling to find jobs.”

Going unmentioned in the politics is a big cause for concern: Despite growth in the number of jobs available, wages for workers have remained stagnant, meaning that the economic recovery is still tepid and incomplete for many across the country.
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.05.2015 112 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati police to pay $25,000 for wrongful arrest; Council backs some affordable housing tax credit applications; is Indian Hill a low-income school district under Kasich's new ed plan?

Good morning, Cincy. Here’s what’s up today:

The Cincinnati Police Department will pay a local man $25,000 to settle a federal false arrest and first amendment lawsuit. Forest Thorner III was arrested after police took exception to promotional strategies he used to get attention for a friend’s comedy act at the 2012 Party in the Park. Thorner worked the crowd at the event by asking if they wanted to “laugh at the crippled girl,” referring to his friend Ally Bruener. Bruener is in a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy and does a comedy act. Thorner would point to Bruener, who would tell a joke or two and then promote an upcoming performance. Someone with the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce overheard Thorner and complained to police, who forcibly removed him from the park. Thorner tried to film the arrest, only to have his camera taken and broken by officers. He was charged with disorderly conduct, but found not guilty after none of the witnesses to the incident corroborated the charges against him.

• Cincinnati City Council had a busy slate yesterday. Council gave its approval to 10 development projects seeking low-income housing tax credits from the state of Ohio, which can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those projects seek to build new affordable housing or rehab existing affordable housing in Walnut Hills, Avondale, Roselawn, College Hill, Over-the-Rhine, Evanston, Bond Hill, Hartwell and downtown. The projects collectively represent hundreds of potential additional units of affordable housing.

Which sounds great, right? Except for some controversy. Originally, Council was considering supporting 12 potential developments seeking the credits but paused giving its blessing to two as questions arose. One of the projects, a rehabilitation of the Chapel Street Apartments in Walnut Hills by Talbert House, has caused concerns among the 20 residents who live in the building currently. Talbert House, which recently purchased the property, would like to rehab the 24-unit property into 27 units of permanent supportive housing. That will require the current residents to be relocated, which doesn’t sit well with many of them. Talbert House has pledged to help them find new places to live, but some say they like where they are.

“I don’t want to move,” says Wayne Green, a current resident. “We’re all a family in that building. If they relocate us all, everyone will be spread out.”

Council tabled that project and another in Roselawn after several council members, including Wendell Young and Kevin Flynn, voiced concern over the process by which the projects engaged the surrounding communities. Council members will discuss them at Monday’s Health and Human Services Committee meeting (10 a.m.) and Neighborhoods committee meeting (2 p.m.). Council ’s nod in the form of a resolution gives each project an extra 10 points on the state’s system for rating project proposals. It’s a competitive system that awards points based on each project’s community collaboration, its economic characteristics, whether it targets extremely low-income residents for at least some of its units and other factors. About one-third of applicants receive the credits, and last year five developments in the Cincinnati area received them.

• Council also passed a resolution submitted by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson honoring Cincinnati Herald owner and publisher Marjorie Parham. Parham served as publisher and editor of the Herald, an award-winning weekly that covers Cincinnati’s black community, from 1963 until 1996, an astounding run in the rather brutal and thankless world of journalism. She did everything from write articles and take photos to sweep the floor, she says, in addition to running the business. The Herald, founded in 1955, celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

• So, wait. Is Gov. Kasich secretly a Robin Hood type-character? The public school funding proposal he’s tucked into his suggested two-year budget has raised eyebrows as it’s been rolled out over the past couple days. Under Kasich’s proposal, the way public school districts in Ohio get aid from the state would change dramatically. Kasich wants to shift some state funds to districts in areas with lower property and other local tax receipts from areas with higher tax receipts, who can make up the difference by raising their own property taxes.

It’s a way to make up for the disparity between high and low income area schools, Kasich says, and a soundly conservative way to make sure students have a fair shot at succeeding. The change would be capped so that no school lost a dramatic amount of funds. It sounds like a pretty good first step toward fixing the abysmal disparities between the state’s richest and poorest public schools. It also sounds like something Kasich will want to tout if he runs for president. You can expect a lot of blowback from conservative lawmakers in the state house, however, especially those whose districts lose money from the state.

• This gets its own little bullet point because it's important and hard to understand. A caveat: The amounts districts could lose/gain under Kasich's plan seems pretty wonky right now. Check out this chart, which lists which districts will gain and which will lose in Hamilton County, and see if something seems amiss. Yes, Cincinnati Public Schools will gain about 9 percent, or $17 million, under the plan, but that’s not as much as another fairly befuddling district with conceivably higher tax receipts per capita. With a median household income of more than $200,000 and a median home value of more than $900,000, does Indian Hill need a 21 percent-plus boost in state funds for education?

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.04.2015 113 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
p.g. sittenfeld.nar

Morning News and Stuff

Answers in Genesis could sue Kentucky over ark park; Polls mixed for Kasich prez run; the 21-mile walk to work

What’s up, all? That’s a rhetorical question. News is what’s up, and here it is.

Answers in Genesis, the Christian organization based in Northern Kentucky that is building a Noah’s Ark theme park in Grant County, has said it will sue the state of Kentucky over tax credits the state rescinded in December. The state took back the tourism-related credits after controversy over Answers’ hiring practices, which stipulate potential employees must sign a statement of faith and other religious measures. Those violate employment discrimination laws and preclude Answers from getting taxpayer money, state officials say. Answers, on the other hand, says they have a right to require their employees fit with their religious values. They’re suing Kentucky for infringing on their religious liberty. The group also says that because the tax credits are sales tax rebates that originally come from the pockets of visitors, they don’t involve taxpayers from the state as a whole. The group has released a video outlining their side of the debate, which you can watch here. Warning: It’s like, almost half an hour long and is mostly a dude in an ill-fitting blazer talking to a lawyer while both sit in folding chairs. The group looks to build a 500-foot long ark and surrounding theme park, which it says will attract more than a million visitors a year.

• Here’s your morning dose of creepy: Hamilton County lawyers would like to limit testimony about the sexual behavior of Kenneth Douglas, a former county morgue employee who is accused of sexually abusing more than 100 corpses at the morgue from the 1970s to the 1990s. Currently, a federal district court is hearing the case against the county brought by the families of three of the deceased whose bodies were abused. The families say the county was negligent in allowing the abuse to happen. The county is attempting to block some testimony about other instances of abuse, including information Douglas gave to law enforcement about the number of bodies he abused. The county’s lawyers say testimony beyond the three abuse cases in question could be confusing and misleading for the jury. The families suing the county for millions say the other incidents show a clear pattern of behavior Douglas’ supervisors should have known about.

• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has introduced an initiative to expand the city’s vacant properties registry. Currently, that registry keeps track of bank-owned properties that are currently empty and makes sure the banks aren’t letting them fall into disrepair. But there are loopholes in the system that Sittenfeld would like to close so the city can better hold property owners holding onto vacant buildings accountable. He’d also like to use some of the revenues from the program, which amounted to about $700,000 last year, for hazard abatement and stabilization work.

• Here’s more buzz, and some lack thereof, about a potential presidential bid for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found Kasich nearly even with prospective Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Ohio. Hillary took 44 percent of the poll. Kasich took 43 percent. The quintessential swing state, Ohio is shaping up to be very important for presidential hopefuls in 2016, as it has been in past elections. But how much of the above poll’s results are home field advantage, and how much does the poll say about Kasich’s primary chances? A lot and not much, it would seem. Another poll of GOPers in the state had Kasich with a lead over fellow Republicans, but not by much. Kasich led with 14 percent of the poll, followed by Scott Walker, who had 11 percent and Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul, who each had 10 percent. That lead isn’t much to go on at this point, but it’s still quite early and Kasich could consolidate some of other potential nominees’ support as the herd thins. More troubling for Kasich, however, is the fact that in other Quinnipiac polls around the country, he barely makes a blip. He finished 13th out of 13 candidates in Florida, for example, and tied for 9th in Pennsylvania, his native state. In contrast with other potential nominees in his party who have national stature for one reason or another — Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz — Kasich will need to significantly expand his visibility in the coming year if he hopes to compete for his party’s nomination.

• Finally, you may have already seen this story about the Detroit dude who walks 21 miles a day to get to work. I think his situation is infuriating and sad but find his attitude inspiring. As a fellow pedestrian commuter (note: my walk is only about a mile and a half, I make it by choice, and only on days when it’s too cold to ride a bike) I think James Robertson is something of a hero. I think the issues raised by Robertson's daily trek are especially pertinent in Cincinnati; a city with a serious love of cars and a hardworking but less-than-ideal transit system. I couldn't help thinking about folks who have appeared in some of our recent stories about the working poor when I read this. Seriously, check this story out if you haven’t already.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.03.2015 114 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
obama_hope_lg

Morning News and Stuff

Preservationists ask for $1.5 million for Memorial Hall; Obama's budget aimed at middle class, has huge military spending; would you drink Cincy chili-flavored beer?

Hey all. Let’s talk about news for a minute.

Now that Union Terminal looks to be on its way to renovation and Music Hall has received significant contributions toward the cost of its own fix-up, some preservationists have focused again on Memorial Hall. The building, which sits next to Music Hall on the west side of Washington Park, was designed by renowned architect Samuel Hannaford and built in 1908. Its needs are not quite as large as its gargantuan neighbor: The total cost for renovations is expected to be about $8 million, mere chump change compared to the $120 million Music Hall renovations could run. Development group 3CDC is one of the main drivers of fundraising efforts. It asked Hamilton County Commissioners yesterday for a $1.5 million contribution from the county. Though commissioners wouldn’t commit to anything just yet, Commissioner Greg Hartmann has said some contribution is likely since the building is owned by the county.

• So I’m not a beer fan overall, but I love a good porter on a cold winter day. You know what else I love on a cold winter day (like today, for example)? Cincinnati chili. Having established those facts, let’s just say I’m intrigued by a new beer debuting soon. Blank Slate Brewing Co. has created the Cincy 3-way Porter, which has subtle notes of the spices that make Cincinnati chili famous (or infamous depending on your palate). Again: I like Cincy chili. I like a good porter. But can this possibly be good? Of course I’m going to try it and find out. One note to consider: According to this story in the Business Courier, the malt used to brew the beer is smoked with the distinctive spices — they don’t go in the beer itself. That hopefully means it doesn’t taste like sipping on a serving of Cincy’s favorite meat sauce that just happens to be 7 percent alcohol by volume. Though, hey, I might be open to that, too.

• Is there a way the $2.8 billion Brent Spence Bridge project might be funded without tolls? Don’t hold your breath just yet, but anti-toll groups hope so. Anti-toll group Northern Kentucky United is touting a plan proposed by Sens. Rand Paul and Barbara Boxer that would raise money for the federal Highway Trust Fund by giving U.S. corporations tax breaks to bring more of their estimated $2 trillion in foreign profits back to the U.S. If some of that money flows back here, prodded by a tax break, it could be taxed and the receipts used on infrastructure projects like the Brent Spence Bridge. At least, that’s what Northern Kentucky United hopes. The proposal is very similar to one that President Barack Obama has tucked into his budget, which he released yesterday. The anti-toll group says that’s a sign that things could be happening on the federal level and that a plan to use tolls to pay for the bridge’s replacement is premature.

“There are details yet to be worked out, but the similarities between what the president has suggested and the bipartisan proposal out of the Senate gives us good reason to be optimistic,” said Marisa McNee of Northern Kentucky United in a statement on the legislation. “There is simply no reason to continue a rush to toll the Brent Spence Bridge when the White House and Congress appear to be moving towards an agreement on the Highway Trust Fund,” McNee concluded.

Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Steve Beshear of Kentucky presented their plan last week for the bridge, which includes tolls as part of the funding equation. Kasich has cited the increasing costs for the project while it’s delayed — $7 million a month, by some estimates — as a reason officials should move quickly. He claims there’s little chance the federal government will be forthcoming with funds for the project. Currently, the Highway Trust Fund faces insolvency this summer if Congress doesn’t approve new sources of income for infrastructure.

• The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and Cincinnati’s Police Department don’t reflect the area’s demographic makeup, according to data released by both departments and reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer. Hamilton County’s department is 86 percent white and 12 percent black, though the county itself is 62 percent white and 26 percent black. A similar disparity exists in Cincinnati, which is 48 percent white and 45 percent black. Yet its police force is 67 percent white and 30 percent black. Both gaps match up with many other police forces around the country. A study by USA Today found that 80 departments out of 282 in cities with more than 100,000 people had greater than a 10 percentage-point gap between the proportion of black officers and black residents.

• Yesterday was a day for budgets. In addition to the release of President Obama’s budget proposal (more on that in a minute), Gov. John Kasich also released his financial proposals for Ohio’s next two years. Kasich looks to cut income taxes while raising sales taxes, among other moves, which could place more burden on the state’s low-income workers. Kasich has also suggested an increased tax exemption for some of those workers, but that exemption is small and may only account for two or three bucks more in a worker’s paycheck.

On the income tax side, Kasich seeks to cut the state’s rate by 23 percent over the next two years and end the state’s income tax for 900,000 business owners grossing less than $2 million a year. To pay for that, the state’s base sales tax rate will go up to 6.25 percent plus county and local sales taxes. In Hamilton County, the sales tax rate will go up to 7.5 percent. This continues a trend toward relying more on sales tax to fill the state's coffers, something progressive groups say has made the state's tax system more and more regressive over the last few years.

All told, the state will take in $500 million less over the next two years, a nice hefty tax cut Kasich can point to in order to rally the Republican base should he decide to run for president in 2016. You can read more about the finer points of Kasich’s budget in our story here.

• Finally, here’s a breakdown of President Obama’s wide-ranging, $4 trillion budget proposal. Obama looks to raise taxes on corporations and wealthy citizens and give middle class families tax breaks. He calls that plan “middle class economics,” though staunch conservative (and fellow Miami alum) House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has his own name for it: “envy economics.” Those two monikers may foreshadow another long, arduous budget process between Obama and a mostly Republican Congress.

Other points of Obama’s budget: He has proposed the aforementioned plan for paying for infrastructure, a pay raise for federal workers and military personnel and a number of other proposals you can peruse in the story above. Also worth checking out: this breakdown of the budget by federal departments. Let’s play a little game of “one of these things is not like the other.” That’s right: Discretionary spending at the Department of Defense is a mind-blowing $585 billion. That’s more than every other department combined. Obama’s budget increases the DOD’s budget by 4 percent. That’s $23 billion — enough to increase the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget by almost 50 percent. Just leaving that right there for you to chew on.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.02.2015 115 days ago
Posted In: News, Taxes at 05:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Kasich Floats Income Tax Cuts in New Budget

Plan involves raising sales tax and bringing in $500 million less

Gov. John Kasich is touting half a million dollars in tax cuts in his new budget proposal, released Feb. 2. But Ohio’s tax scheme could get more regressive if state lawmakers take it up as is.

The budget proposal would lower income taxes by 23 percent over the next two years and pay for it by raising sales taxes by .5 percent. All told, the proposal means $500 million less in taxes for Ohio residents.

Critics say lower-income residents will benefit least from the proposal. Kasich’s budget allows for a tax exemption increase for as many as 3 million low-income Ohio workers. But that exemption would mean only an extra few dollars per paycheck for most low-income families, according to most analyses. Another part of Kasich's budget proposal would require those making just over the poverty level (a bit more than $11,500 for a single person) to pay premiums on Medicaid. Those premiums would start at about $10 to $20.

Among the biggest moves in Kasich's proposal: a plan that would effectively eliminate the state’s income tax for more than 900,000 people who own small businesses grossing less than $2 million a year.

Studies suggest that the bottom fifth of Ohio earners pay nearly 7 percent of their income in sales taxes, while the top fifth of Ohio earners pay less than 1 percent of their income. A study conducted by liberal-leaning think tank Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy found Ohio to have the 18th most regressive tax structure in the country.

"The Ohio income tax is critical to a fair tax system and one that pays for education, health and other key services," said Wendy Patton, a director at Policy Matters Ohio, in a January statement about the state’s tax structure. "Attempts to weaken it will either redistribute income from the poor and the middle class to the rich, or cut needed public services."

When Kasich took office, the income tax rate was nearly 6 percent and Ohio’s sales tax was 5.5 percent, though state lawmakers boosted it to 5.75 percent in 2013. Under Kasich’s new budget proposal, income tax will be just over 4 percent and sales tax will be 6.25 percent.

Conservatives have also criticized the budget. Critics on the right, including tea party-aligned state lawmakers, say most of the changes aren’t cuts, they’re “tax shifting” that doesn’t result in the state spending less money.

Kasich’s plan does call for some measures that could help lower-income residents, including raising the income level at which parents can qualify for subsidies on child care. Other parts of the budget progressives might find more amenable include an increase on taxes associated with fracking.


Correction: due to a typo, an earlier version of this post said Ohio's sales tax rate will be 6.5 percent. This has been corrected to 6.25 percent.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 02.02.2015 115 days ago
Posted In: Transportation, News at 02:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Sens. Paul and Boxer Team Up on Transportation

Bipartisan proposal would use tax cut to lure corporate bucks back home for highway fund

It sounds a little like an episode of a zany sitcom: a tea partying conservative from Kentucky and a classic California liberal team up to clean up some roads.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced Jan. 29 that he and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., would introduce a bill seeking to shore up the nation’s federal Highway Trust Fund. The announcement comes as fights over what to do about the nation’s looming infrastructure needs hit close to home.

The federal fund that helps pay for highway, bridge and transit projects could face insolvency this year if Congress doesn’t find new sources of money for infrastructure. In Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, local and state officials are currently wrangling over the $2.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge replacement project. The bridge is more than 50 years old and carries 160,000 cars a day — four times more than it was designed to hold. Cincinnati’s 83-year-old Western Hills Viaduct will also need to be replaced in the next decade at a cost of $240 million. Studies by engineers have found that both bridges are structurally obsolete, though not immediately unsafe. Federal funds could go a long way toward making those projects reality.

"I am pleased to be working with Senator Boxer on a bipartisan solution to a tax and highway spending problem,” Paul said in a statement. “The interstate highway system is of vital importance to our economy. All across the country, bridges and roads are deficient and in need of replacement.”

Paul and Boxer’s bill proposes what is, in effect, a corporate tax cut: lowering the U.S. repatriation rate, or tax rate for foreign earnings, in order to incentivize U.S. companies to bring money back into the U.S. economy from foreign tax shelters. The proposed law would allow companies to voluntarily repatriate some of the estimated $2 trillion in off-shore corporate profits at a discounted tax rate of 6.5 percent. The program would require companies use that repatriated money to help build the economy. The money must be used for hiring or research and development, for instance, instead of executive raises. Taxes from the repatriated funds would go into the federal Highway Trust Fund for roads, bridges and other transit projects.

Paul did not mention regional projects like the Brent Spence Bridge specifically in statements about the proposal, though he has been active in the past in working to secure funding for replacing the bridge. It’s unclear if and when such projects would see a benefit from the bill, or exactly how much money it would raise should it pass into law.

A U.S. Chamber of Commerce study conducted on a similar proposal in 2013 found that the move could boost America’s economy by more than $400 billion, according to a white paper released by the senators. President Barack Obama put a similar plan in his budget proposal, which he unveiled Feb. 2.

There are other proposals for shoring up infrastructure funds, both on the national level and here in the Tristate. Some in Congress have called for raising the gas tax, which currently helps pay for federal road and bridge maintenance. The rate hasn’t been raised since the early 1990s. But congressional Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner, have signaled they won’t support an increase.

On the state level, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear have drafted their own plans for replacing the Brent Spence Bridge here. The two say the project can’t wait much longer — they cite an estimate by engineers saying that the project gets $7 million more expensive every month — and that the federal government won’t come to the rescue any time soon. Their proposal involves a public-private partnership that would necessitate tolls, however, something that has caused bipartisan consternation in Northern Kentucky. Many officials there are dead set against tolls, which they say will hurt workers and businesses. That’s tipped Northern Kentucky United, an anti-toll group, toward Paul’s idea.

“There are details yet to be worked out, but the similarities between what the President has suggested and the bipartisan proposal out of the Senate gives us good reason to be optimistic,” said Marisa McNee of Northern Kentucky United. “There is simply no reason to continue a rush to toll the Brent Spence Bridge when the White House and Congress appear to be moving towards an agreement on the Highway Trust Fund.”

Kasich, on the other hand, likened counting on funds from the federal government to waiting on the tooth fairy in a news conference last week on his proposal.

Paul and Boxer are a surprising team. Paul, a tea party favorite and potential candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, usually takes highly conservative, libertarian stances on policy and spending matters. Boxer, on the other hand, is one of the chamber’s most liberal members. In her 32-year career in Congress, first as a representative and then as a senator, she fought for tighter gun control, more environmental protection measures and pro-choice causes. Boxer, who is 74, announced last month that she will not seek re-election.

“I hope this proposal will jumpstart negotiations on addressing the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which is already creating uncertainty that is bad for businesses, bad for workers and bad for the economy,” Boxer said in a statement about the bill. “I will also be working … on other proposals to pay for rebuilding our nation's aging transportation infrastructure."

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 05.28.2015 15 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gun

Morning News and Stuff

Shootings in Cincy at 10-year-high; Covington low-income housing causes controversy; Ohio sheriff deputy fired for racist tweets

Good morning Cincy. Here’s your news today.

While we’ve all heard the good news that is going down in Cincinnati, there’s one big exception. Some recent serious but mostly non-fatal shootings in Walnut Hills, CUF, West End and other neighborhoods (including a few right outside my house in Mount Auburn) have put gun crimes in Cincinnati at a 10-year high. That’s caused some to call into question the effectiveness of the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence, or CIRV. The program has produced good results in the past, though its funding has been uneven. But with gun violence on the rise, detractors like Councilman Charlie Winburn say it might be time to try something else. Winburn suggested getting rid of CIRV during a presentation of crime data at Tuesday’s Cincinnati City Council Law and Public Safety Committee meeting. Others, however, say the program, which relies on a number of methods including civilian peacekeepers, law enforcement home visits to repeat offenders and social service referrals, is doing its job and needs more support. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson suggested at the Tuesday meeting that more emphasis on social services and anti-poverty measures like neighborhood redevelopment might be part of the answer.

• Greater Cincinnati’s unemployment rate is at its lowest level in 14 years, according to figures released yesterday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Companies in the region added nearly 20,000 new jobs in April, the data shows, the biggest increase in the past three years. But the area hasn’t avoided a major pitfall that has accompanied economic recovery around the country — while the overall unemployment rate is down, economists say, so are wages in the region. Meanwhile, underemployment, or people working part-time when they want to be working full time, is up in the Greater Cincinnati area. That dynamic could keep the economy sluggish, experts say.

• A plan to renovate 13 buildings in Covington’s MainStrasse neighborhood for 50 units of low-income housing we told you about in March has run into opposition from some in the community, who are vowing to fight the development. Cincinnati-based Model Group and women’s shelter Welcome House have partnered on the project, which is slated to receive federal low-income housing tax credits through the Kentucky Housing Corp. About half of the buildings have already been green-lighted for those credits, and applications for the rest will be filed later this year. But neighboring property owners are upset about the fact those tax credits require the currently crumbling buildings on Pike Street to remain low-income housing for 30 years after they’re renovated. They say that will dampen private investment in the area and lower the value of their properties, and they’re asking the city to fight the state’s decision to award the credits. However, it’s unclear that Covington officials have any power to challenge the state’s decision.

• Yikes. A sheriff’s deputy in Clark County Ohio, where Springfield is, has been fired after he took to Twitter with some seriously racist thoughts about protests in Baltimore. That city experienced civil unrest last month after a man named Freddie Gray died in police custody under questionable circumstances. “Baltimore the last few days = real life Planet of the Apes,” Clark County Deputy Zachary Davis tweeted April 28. Another tweet that day suggested: “It’s time to start using deadly force in Baltimore. When they start slaying these ignorant young people it’ll send a message.” After the tweets were brought to the attention of Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly yesterday, Davis was immediately fired. “If you’re posting these type of statements then I don’t feel you can serve this community,” Kelly told the Springfield News-Sun yesterday evening. Good for him.

• Two of the most powerful Republicans in Kentucky, and really in the whole country, have been butting heads big time in the Senate. U.S. Senator Rand Paul, who as you probably already know is running for president, has been digging in his heals on a portion of the Patriot Act that allows the National Security Administration to collect so-called meta data on Americans’ cell phone calls. Congress has just days to renew that particular program, as well as other parts of the Patriot Act. Paul and other Senators on both sides of the aisle have refused to allow cloture in the Senate for a bill that would do that unless NSA cell phone surveillance programs are nixed or significantly reformed. Paul and other Senators have used procedural maneuvers to keep that from happening.

That, of course, hasn’t been great for Kentucky’s other Senator, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is charged with getting things passed through the chamber. This is especially awkward since McConnell has endorsed Paul for president. It’s yet another example of the complicated, fractious relationships that the GOP must navigate as it tries to take back the White House in 2016. Paul is playing the NSA card to appeal both to his grassroots, anti-government libertarian base as well as more civil-liberty minded independents. Meanwhile, rank and file Republicans want to see the Patriot Act renewal passed. Politics is awkward and complicated, y’all.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.27.2015 38 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
rand_paul,_official_portrait,_112th_congress_alternate

Morning News and Stuff

New nonprofit will seek to boost streetcar; is Kasich getting soft on unions?; Rand Paul courts NYC hipsters

Good morning all. Here’s the news today.

Streetcar advocates are forming a new nonprofit to help raise funds, encourage ridership and help sell advertising on the downtown and Over-the-Rhine transit project. The group will be called Cincinnati Street Railway, a nod to the city’s original streetcar transit authority. CSR will be a “non-political” and “fun” booster for rail in the basin, Haile U.S. Bank Foundation Vice President Eric Avner said yesterday at a Believe in Cincinnati townhall meeting at the Mercantile Library. The group will stay out of the fray on some of the car’s thornier issues, such as the push for an uptown extension, and will be focused on making Phase 1 of the project “as successful as possible.”

• Other key advocates for the transit project, including longtime streetcar booster John Schneider, who has led efforts to make the project a reality, Believe in Cincinnati Chairman Ryan Messer and Vice Mayor David Mann also spoke about the streetcar at the townhall meeting. Mann touched on the continued debate between the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, which will operate the streetcar, and the Amalgamated Transit Union, which staffs SORTA’s Metro buses. ATU is bidding to staff the streetcar as well, and Democratic members of council have insisted that the operating contract be awarded to union workers. However, five highly specialized jobs involving streetcar maintenance might have to be given to non-union workers, SORTA says. That’s tripped up talks between the transit authority and the union, and SORTA says it might have to go with a non-union streetcar operator, as the Business Courier reported yesterday. The transit authority is set to release the bids it has received to operate the streetcar on June 5. Testing on the streetcar begins in October. Mann says it would be “foolish” for ATU to lose the opportunity to run the streetcar based on those jobs, which he says ATU doesn’t have employees trained to do at this point anyway. ATU has proposed to SORTA that union employees be trained to do the specialized jobs, but SORTA has said that the training isn’t available in the tight timeframe in question.

• Over-the-Rhine-based Rhinegeist is expanding, opening a so-called “nanobrewery” at its distribution site in Columbus. That small brewery will only do experimental batches of possible new beers, and there are no current plans for a location like the one in OTR. The Columbus location won’t be open to the public and won’t sell beer. But Rhinegeist’s Bryant Goulding told the Akron Beacon Journal that he’s not ruling out a more public presence in Columbus in the future and that the Columbus brewery could supply some Columbus-exclusive brews down the road.

• The city of Cincinnati today official opens its Office of Performance and Data Analytics, as well as its CityStat and Innovation Lab initiatives. The efforts, which are City Manager Harry Black's first big initiative since coming to Cincinnati last year, are designed to bring a data-driven approach to city government. The programs are patterned after similar initiatives in Baltimore, where Black served in a number of roles. Black hopes to use data collected by the office to set performance goals for departments and zero in on problems in city services. The office has been given $400,000 in the coming biannual budget.

• Let’s go back to the Mercantile Library for a minute. Cincinnati Enquirer reporter John Faherty will become its new executive director, the Cincinnati institution said yesterday. The Mercantile is a membership library located downtown on Walnut Street. Founded in 1835 and headquartered in the historic Mercantile Building since 1909, the library boasts more than 200,000 volumes. The library hosts a number of high-profile literary events and public functions. Faherty has worked for the Enquirer for three years after relocating from fellow Gannett paper the Arizona Republic. He’ll leave the paper in June to take the reigns of the historic library.

• Is John Kasich getting soft on unions? The Ohio guv and GOP presidential hopeful was on the campaign trail yesterday when he said that Ohio doesn’t need a right to work law. A number of other conservative states have such laws, which forbid labor contracts between employers and workers which require all employees to be union members. Kasich has said outlawing that practice isn’t necessary in Ohio because the state doesn’t have a lot of contentious labor issues. That’s a strikingly moderate stance for the governor, who shortly after taking office in 2011 moved to eliminate public employees’ collective bargaining rights. That move was reversed by a statewide referendum in which voters overwhelmingly chose to preserve public employees’ union rights. Kasich’s statement on right to work comes a day after the governor eliminated collective bargaining rights for 15,000 home healthcare and childcare workers who contract with the state. So, you know, he’s still not that into unions.

• It’s official. Rand Paul is courting the hipster vote. The U.S. Senator from Kentucky and Republican presidential hopeful yesterday made a campaign stop at The Strand bookstore in Manhattan. It’s an amazing bookstore, but yeah. Also very hip. Anyway, Paul drew a big crowd to the store after he was invited to speak by co-owner Nancy Bass Wyden, who is married to Oregon Democrat U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. You can read more about the appearance, and Paul’s efforts to win over young voters, in this New York Times story. The Strand has become a customary stopover for Democratic politicians hawking their newest books. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently dropped by promoting her new tome, though the Democrats’ likely presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has declined to appear there. Instead, she opted for a nearby Barnes & Noble to premier her latest book. Oof.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.26.2015 63 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
annman_otr_washingtonparkmusichall_jf01

Morning News and Stuff

OTR home prices head toward $1 million; Kasich cuts bargaining rights for home health and childcare workers; DOJ settlement with Cleveland police imminent

Good morning y’all. I’m back from vacation and ready to give you all the news and stuff you can handle. In case you’re wondering, my time off involved a jaunt to Chicago for a concert where audience members were encouraged to divide into two huge groups and run at each other high-fiving, trips to five Pilsen Mexican restaurants and a long night/early morning in a private karaoke room where they keep up the bootleg music videos, Red Bull, beer and Drake tracks until you die (I abstained from the beer and the Drake, but did drink way too much Red Bull). Then I came back to Cincinnati and promptly got sicker than I’ve been in a long time. Fun stuff.

Anyway, let’s do this news thing. Home prices in Over-the-Rhine are getting higher and higher, but you probably already knew that. What you maybe didn’t know is how close the neighborhood is getting to million-dollar homes. Recently, a condo on Central Parkway sold for $850,000, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. That’s roughly 4,250 nights in a private karaoke room in Chicago’s Chinatown, or, you know, 2,125 months (177 years) in an affordable apartment that costs $400 a month. While that huge figure is something of an outlier, the neighborhood is certainly heating up. The average sale price for single family homes in the neighborhood was hovering around $220,000 in 2010. These days, it’s nearly twice that at $427,000. Those developing high-selling properties in the neighborhood say that there’s more to the story than the big numbers and that they’ve put in tons of investment to bring the properties up to their current condition. Of course, the rise in values also raises questions about affordability in the historically low-income neighborhood. The amount of affordable housing in OTR has dwindled in recent years, though new additions could help that situation. Over the Rhine Community Housing, for example, just finished its Beasley Place building on Republic Street, which will provide 13 new units of subsidized housing in the neighborhood.

• Will a major federal lab end up in uptown Cincinnati? It’s a good possibility. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health is looking to consolidate two labs it currently runs in the city and is at least considering the possibility of building its new $110 million facility near the University of Cincinnati. NIOSH Director John Howard told the Cincinnati Business Courier recently that proximity to UC is a big consideration. Should NIOSH decide to build uptown, the development could play into a bigger push by area leaders to create an “innovation corridor” near the site of the new I-71 interchange along Reading Road and Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Avondale and Walnut Hills. Uptown or no, NIOSH would like to keep the proposed 350,000-square-foot building within the I-275 loop, it says, in part because of public transit considerations.

• Speaking of public transit, don’t look to Ohio to start spending more on it anytime soon. The state legislature has dismissed suggestions that the state spend more on public transportation as it crafts the next two-year budget. Legislators in the GOP-dominated state house have brushed aside a $1 million study by the Ohio Department of Transportation calling for more spending on buses, rail and other forms of public transit. That study highlighted the growing need for public transit among the state’s low income and elderly, as well as the increasing popularity of a less car-dependent lifestyle among young professionals Ohio would like to attract. Currently, Ohio ranks 37th in per-capita spending on transit, despite being the nation’s 7th most populous state. The study recommended a $2.5 million boost in transit spending in the next year alone, part of a much larger boost over time. Even Gov. John Kasich, a vocal opponent of most transit spending, put an extra $1 million in his suggested budget for transit next year. But no go, the legislature says.

• While we’re talking about Kasich, let’s touch on his recent move cutting collective bargaining rights for home health care workers and in-home childcare workers. These workers aren’t state employees but contract with the state for some work. In 2007, then-Gov. Ted Strickland handed down an executive order giving those workers collective bargaining rights, which allowed them to receive health insurance from state worker unions among other benefits. Kasich promised to rescind that executive order during his successful run for governor against Strickland, but has held off until now, he says, to preserve the workers’ access to insurance. Now, the governor says the Affordable Care Act means that the workers don’t need unions to get health care, and that as contractors they shouldn’t be given bargaining rights. Kasich has long been a foe of collective bargaining — after taking office in 2008, he worked to end collective bargaining rights for all state employees. Voters later struck down his efforts in a state-wide referendum. Democrats and union representatives have cried foul at Kasich’s latest move.

“It’s a sad day when those who care for our children, our seniors and Ohioans with disabilities — and who simply want to be able to make ends meet while providing that invaluable service — become the target of a cynical political attack," Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper said in a statement.

• Finally, the big story today is happening in Cleveland, where questions about police use of force are swirling. Just days after courts dismissed manslaughter charges against Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo, a settlement between the city and the federal government looks imminent. In 2010, Brelo, who is white, fired 15 rounds into the windshield of a car, killing unarmed Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, both black, after a police chase that started when a backfire from the car was mistaken for a gunshot. That incident, as well as many others, were highlighted in a nearly two-year investigation by the DOJ into the department’s use of force. That investigation found what the DOJ calls systemic problems with the department’s use of force and the way it reports and disciplines officers who may have used force improperly.

U.S. attorneys are holding meetings with various stakeholders in the city today and are expected to soon announce a settlement between the city’s police department and the U.S. Department of Justice. The expected consent decree would put CPD under federal oversight and bring about big reforms for the department, which continues to draw controversy. Last year, an officer with the department shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice while the child played with a toy pistol. Charges against that officer are pending.

 
 
by Danny Cross 05.20.2015 8 days ago
at 09:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
loretta_lynch2

Morning News & Stuff

U.S. AG visits Cincy, city budget still light on human services funding, Reds stadium probably won't catch fire again

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch visited Cincinnati yesterday on a tour of cities implementing innovative police practices. During a roundtable event at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Lynch said Cincinnati’s approach is a model for other cities to follow.

Via The Enquirer:

"This is a place that has been through difficult times," Lynch said, referring to the city's riots 14 years ago, which led to a lawsuit and accusations of racial profiling by police. "Cincinnati exemplifies the fact that a city is a living thing — and it is comprised of all residents of a community."

 Cincinnati has long underfunded human services, at least according to its own goal of using 1.5 percent of the city budget for things like programs to end homelessness, provide job training and offer support for victims of crime. It doesn’t look like the city will get back to that rate any time soon, and City Councilman Chris Seelbach yesterday questioned why City Manager Harry Black’s budget doesn’t include $3 million council unanimously agreed in November to use to reduce homelessness and help boost gainful employment.

Here’s some context via the Business Courier:

It has been longstanding city council practice to direct the city manager what to put in the budget by a motion backed by a majority of council members, so Black's statement appears to permanently alter a standing way of doing business at City Hall. It also increases the tension between Black, Cranley and City Council, particularly majority Democrats, over their governing relationship.

With funding allocated for a mayoral priority but not one supported by all council members, Seelbach said it raised concerns over Black’s independence and whether he reports to Cranley or Cranley and all nine council members.

“It strikes me as very strange,” Seelbach said. “It seems like a symptom of that.”

“So noted,” Black said. 

 City pools are set to open this week, but six out of the city’s 25 might not open on time because they’re facing a shortage of 65 lifeguards. The Enquirer today noted why the pools are important to low-income children, many of whom receive free lunch and take advantage of having something to do other than the bad stuff kids get into when they’re bored (my words). 

 Social justice activists planned to call on Major League Baseball this morning to speak out on racial injustice, specifically police brutality and what the group calls “blatant disrespect of African Americans in Ohio’s justice system.” The press conference scheduled for 11 a.m. today will include Bishop Bobby Hilton of Word of Deliverance, Pastor Damon Lynch III of New Prospect Baptist Church, Pastor Chris Beard of Peoples Church and Rev. Alan Dicken of Carthage Christian Church.

 WCPO Digital’s series on marijuana continued today looks at what Ohio can expect business-wise if and when the state legalizes pot. WCPO sent two reporters who probably can’t pass a drug test anymore to Colorado to report on the industry and a family who moved there from the Cincinnati area so their daughter who suffers from seizures would have access to medical marijuana.

 The Reds say the stadium smoke stack that caught on fire last weekend will be fully operable by the time the team returns from its current road trip. Firefighters climbed two ladders to put out the fire in one of the “PNC Power Stacks” during a game against the San Francisco Giants last weekend. A few sections of fans were evacuated but the game was never delayed. The Reds got whooped all weekend so the fire was actually a pleasant distraction and ended up on Sportscenter and stuff.

 Apparently there are lines out the door at a new chicken finger restaurant in West Chester called Raising Cane’s and its owners are going to open more stores, potentially one downtown.

 The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit yesterday against a collection of cancer charities it says misused millions of dollars in donations. Sounds like someone’s going to be in serious trouble for it. Worth a read from the Los Angeles Times to hear about the various members of the James Reynolds Sr. allegedly involved.  

In reality, officials say, millions of dollars raised by four “sham charities” lined the pockets of the groups’ founders and their family members, paying for cars, luxury cruises, and all-expense paid trips to Disney World for charity board members.

The 148-page fraud lawsuit accuses the charities of ripping off donors nationwide to the tune of $187 million from 2008 to 2012 in a scheme one federal official called “egregious” and “appalling.”

 Twenty-one-thousand gallons of oil is now sitting in the ocean instead of being burned into the air by automobiles. The U.S. Coast Guard says it has formed a four-mile slick along the central California coastline.  

 In good California news, Los Angeles City Council approved raising the city’s minimum wage to a nation-high $15 an hour by 2020.

 Documents recovered during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden? Sure.

 Five global banks to pay $5 billion fine and plead guilty to criminal charges after an investigation into whether traders at the banks “colluded to move foreign currency rates in directions to benefit their own positions.” OK.

 Scientists say a snake ancestor had little toes even though it slithered.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.14.2015 14 days ago
Posted In: News at 12:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pg sittenfeld

Councilman Sittenfeld Backs Marijuana Legalization Amendment

ResponsibleOhio ballot initiative would legalize sale of weed, create 10 grow sites owned by investors

Cincinnati City Councilman and U.S. Senate Candidate P.G. Sittenfeld has come out in support of a ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana in Ohio.

The proposed amendment to the Ohio constitution by ResponsibleOhio would allow anyone in the state over 21 to buy marijuana but would restrict commercial growth to 10 sites around the state owned by the group's investors.

[See also: "Going for the Green," CityBeat Feb. 4 2015]

Sittenfeld told reporters in Columbus today that Ohio's marijuana laws are "broken" and that he favors legalization and regulation of the drug. Sittenfeld cited the disproportionate number of people of color jailed over marijuana violations in the U.S. and the dangerous black market for the drug as reasons he supports legalization. 

"We have a binary choice between do we want to take this opportunity to move forward from the broken laws of the past, and I would vote yes on this opportunity," Sittenfeld said.

Sittenfeld is the first city councilman to come out in support for the ballot initiative, which needs to collect more than 300,000 signatures by July in order to make it onto the November ballot. The group says it is well on its way to that goal. But some controversy has erupted, both from conservative lawmakers and other legalization groups. Conservatives like Gov. John Kasich and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine say that legalization will increase drug usage and crime. Other legalization advocates, on the other hand, decry ResponsibleOhio's proposal as a state-sanctioned monopoly on marijuana.

The group's initial proposal did not allow private growers to cultivate marijuana, but after an outcry from legalization supporters, the group amended its proposal to allow for small amounts of the crop to be grown for personal use.

The group's proposal has garnered an interesting mix of supporters and investors, from basketball Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, who has pitched in money for the effort, to conservative-leaning business leaders and officials. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters recently said he supports at least looking into  legalization of marijuana, calling Ohio's drug laws "archaic." Deters stopped short of endorsing ResponsibleOhio's plan. He is heading up a task force studying the implications of legalizing the drug here.

Recreational marijuana use is legal in four states, and 19 others allow medicinal use.

Sittenfeld made the comments as he is campaigning for big promotion. The 30-year-old city councilman is currently locked in a tough Democratic primary race against former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland for the chance to run against GOP incumbent Sen. Rob Portman in 2016.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.14.2015 14 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
sherrod brown

Noon News and Stuff

Head editor out at Enquirer; budget boosts and cuts; Sherrod Brown in tiff with White House

Hey all! I’m going to do a long news blog today. I won’t be doing the blog tomorrow or next week, as I need to burn up the vacation time I have before it expires and my boss says I’m not allowed to work while I’m not working. Tyranny, I say. Anyway, let's get all caught up before I jet.

The big news today is that the Cincinnati Enquirer is looking for a new top editor. Executive Editor Carolyn Washburn’s last day was yesterday, the Enquirer announced today. Washburn’s departure follows former publisher Margaret Buchanan, who left her post in March and was replaced by one-time Enquirer editor Rick Green. Washburn’s tenure saw the Enquirer shed a number of its long-time reporters and copy editors as part of parent company Gannett’s efforts to move toward the so-called “newsroom of the future.” That sounds like some cool, gee-wiz place where reporters fly around on hover boards and drive DeLoreans at 88 mph to break news two days before it happens, but don’t be fooled. It’s actually similar to a regular corporate newsroom, just with no copy editors and more typos. The Enquirer says Washburn will stay in town but has not revealed the circumstances behind her departure or what she’ll be doing next.

• Yesterday City Manager Harry Black unveiled his proposed $2.1 billion budget for 2016-2017. We’re still combing through that 769-page document, but we can give you the highlights. Disappointingly, there are very few pictures in the budget, though there are a lot of graphs. Facial hair growth for certain elected city officials, for example, is on the uptrend. Speaking of Mayor John Cranley, he's backed the budget, suggesting council pass it without amendment. Chances of that happening are on a sharp downtrend, however.

Human services will see $3.7 million in funding under the budget. Some of that will go toward Cranley’s Hand Up initiative and the city-county joint initiative Strategies to End Homelessness. Meanwhile, the $250,000 the city allocated in the last budget to Cradle Cincinnati to fight infant mortality disappears in this budget, and mega-charity funder United Way will get only about half of the $3 million council wanted.

Police and fire are prioritized in the spending plan, with increases that will bring 23 more officers and to Cincinnati’s streets. The budget also proposes big fixes for Cincinnati’s roads over the next five years and the city’s vehicle fleet over the next 12, spending $172 million on the paving alone over that time and another $35 million on vehicles. The plan is to get 85 percent of the city’s roads in good condition. Right now, about half are in poor shape. The city will take on nearly $91 million in debt in the process, though Black says the ratio of debt to cash used in this part of the capital budget is still prudent and that the investments will save the city millions over time. 

This is just the first step in the long, sometimes grinding, budget process. We'll keep you up to date as council wrangles with the spending plan and also go in-depth ourselves.

• What else? Things are happening on the state’s voting rights front. We’ll be going in depth on that soon, but here’s some stuff to know: Hot on the heals of a settlement between Ohio and the NAACP on early voting last month, another lawsuit has been filed against the state alleging that its rules disadvantage voters who mostly skew Democrat, low-income and minority. That suit has been filed by Hillary Clinton's top campaign attorney. Meanwhile, there’s a bill in the General Assembly that would require voters to have a voter identification card. Ohioans who make above the federal poverty level (about $12,000 for a single person) would have to pay $8.50 under the proposed law for the card. Critics say that amounts to a poll tax and is unconstitutional. The fight is a big deal, as Ohio is a vital swing state in the 2016 presidential election.

Other politics tidbits:

• Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel wanted to fire County Administrator Christian Sigman over Sigman’s recent comments about The Banks, even drafting a press release announcing the administrator’s departure. Sigman’s job was spared at the last minute, however; Republican Commissioner Greg Hartmann didn’t want to see Sigman dismissed, and Democrat Todd Portune began crafting a compromise. Sigman was taken off economic development duties instead of losing his job, according to the commissioners.

• Real quick, but noteworthy: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a GOP presidential hopeful, is polling neck and neck with Democratic prez frontrunner Hillary Clinton in Kentucky, at least according to one new poll.

• Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is down one endorsement for his presidential bid: Ohio Treasurer and fellow Republican Josh Mandel has announced he’s endorsing U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Awkward.

• On the national stage, U.S. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is fighting with the White House over comments President Barack Obama made about U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. Warren has been criticizing Obama on what she says is a NAFTA-esque foreign trade deal. She alleges that the Trans Pacific Partnership deal will cost Americans jobs and shouldn’t give so-called “fast track” status to trade deals with other countries. The White House slammed Warren on that assertion, and Brown says their comments about her were disrespectful. Brown has also been fighting the trade legislation package, lobbying other Democrats in the Senate to block it from passage without amendments he says are designed to protect American workers. That’s led to some tension between the White House and Brown. The White House has asked the senator to apologize for his remarks about Obama’s remarks about Warren. Uh, got that? It’s starting to get to GOP levels of in-fighting over there.

That's it for me. See you in a week or so. Tweet at me or email me while I'm gone. Fair warning: I won't check the email but I might see the tweet.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.12.2015 16 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
joe deters

Morning News and Stuff

Smitherman pushes executive mayor proposal; prepare for some Bill Murray sightings in Cincy; prosecutor Joe Deters slams weed laws

Hey hey. Let’s do this news thing real quick.

 

After the whole hubbub around Mayor John Cranley’s veto of the OTR parking permit plan last week, it seems like a strange question to ask, but here we go: Does the mayor need more power? According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Councilman Christopher Smitherman is working to get an initiative on the ballot that would do just that. Sort of. Smitherman’s months-long advocacy for moving Cincinnati to a so-called “executive mayor” system is about accountability, he says, not about giving away more power. Under Smitherman’s proposed changes, the city would eliminate the city manager position and the mayor would assume the responsibilities of that office — hiring and firing department heads, etc. The mayor would also retain veto power and still attend council meetings, but council would select its own president (currently the mayor’s job), who would select committee heads and make council’s agenda, effectively eliminating the mayor’s power to “pocket veto” legislation.  


Other members of council, including Councilman Kevin Flynn, who is helping oversee a review of the city’s charter, are opposed to the executive mayor idea. Flynn’s Charter Review Committee has been meeting for months, kicking around ideas for ways to reorganize Cincinnati’s unusual power structure. The city’s current system creates the strongest mayor of any major city in the country, the committee has said. The committee has its own recommendations for ways to change city government, including requiring the mayor to pass along all legislation to city council committees within 14 days, ending the so-called "pocket veto." The committee would also like to see council given the power to fire the city manager. The Charter Review Committee has been holding public input sessions around the city. The next two are at the Westwood Town Hall May 14 and the Oakley Senior Center May 18. Both sessions start at 6 pm.


• Is Joe Deters cool with legalizing weed? Another sign marijuana legalization in Ohio is moving toward the mainstream: The Hamilton County Prosecutor is leading a taskforce looking into the law enforcement ramifications of legalizing the drug. Marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio approached Deters about the study, though Deters says he’s not doing it to simply endorse the group’s legalization proposal. ResponsibleOhio wants to legalize the sale of marijuana to anyone age 21 or over, but the group's ballot initiative would limit growth of the crop to 10 sites around the state.


Deters has expressed frustration with the current legal setup for dealing with marijuana and ambivalence about the drug being illegal.

 

I've seen firsthand how ineffective and inefficient marijuana laws are,” Deters said in a statement about the task force. “I strongly believe we must have an honest and in-depth assessment of the positive and negative impacts that legalization can have, so that Ohioans can make an informed decision."

 

The taskforce includes elected officials, experts on drug policy and academics. The group will develop a white paper outlining policy recommendations on ways to improve laws governing marijuana in the state.

 

• Don’t do lame stuff with your garbage or you may get fined, according to changes in the city of Cincinnati's garbage pickup policy. In the days leading up to June 1, city sanitation workers will be hanging orange tags on garbage that is improperly prepared. Before May 17, they’ll still haul the trash away but leave the tag as a reminder. After that date, you’ll have to correct whatever problem you have with your trash and call 591-6000 to get it picked up, but you won’t have to pay a fine. After June starts, however, residents who don’t have their trash in order can be fined anywhere from $50 to $2,000. The low end of that range is for folks who just used the wrong can or other minor violations. The high end is for improperly disposed construction debris and other heavy stuff. You can read the criteria for improper trash here. The sanitation department says the fines are necessary to keep trash pick up efficient and effective.

 

• Cincinnati Public School District’s Walnut Hills High School is the number one school in Ohio, according to a new ranking from U.S. News and World Report. Overall, Walnut is the 65th best high school in the nation according to the ranking. Four other area schools also landed in the top 10 of the statewide rankings, including Indian Hill High School, which came in at number two.

 

• So Bill Murray might be spending a little less time partying in Austin and more time in Cincinnati. That’s because his son, Luke Murray, has landed a job as an assistant coach for Xavier University’s men’s basketball program. The younger Murray has held several coaching jobs in college basketball and was last at the University of Rhode Island as an assistant coach. Xavier head basketball coach Chris Mack has called Murray “one of the top young assistant coaches in the America.” Sounds good. Word is, his dad comes to a lot of the games the younger Murray coaches. Let’s hope the Coffee and Cigarettes and Groundhog Day star hangs out here on occasion, and maybe brings a Wu-Tang Clan member with him.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.11.2015 17 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_banks_condos_ck

Morning News and Stuff

OTR to finally get housing study; Banks hotel announced; thousands of arrestees in Baltimore were too injured to go to jail

Morning y’all! It’s bike to work week, so I hope you saddled up on your commute today. Here’s what’s up in the news.

It’s kind of unbelievable that solid statistics on housing on one of the city’s most actively developed neighborhood don’t exist. I’ve been working to find solid numbers on affordable housing in Over-the-Rhine forever, so this is great news: Xavier’s Community Building Institute and the Over-the-Rhine Community Council are teaming up to conduct a much-needed housing survey in OTR. As land values and housing costs in the neighborhood skyrocket (some condos there have reached the $600,000 mark, and proposed new single-family homes could go for as much), many worry about dwindling supplies of low-income housing there. Though a neighborhood comprehensive plan was completed in 2002, there have been no other comprehensive studies of housing in the neighborhood since. Much of the data on housing in OTR is scattered and incomplete. CBI’s efforts will change that — starting in June the organization will do a complete survey of the buildings in OTR to record how many units each has and how much it costs to live in them.

• A seven-story hotel by Marriott is coming to riverfront development The Banks, the lead development group for the project announced today. That’s a relief for city and county officials and area business leaders who have been waiting for that major piece of the Banks puzzle for a long time. Stakeholders had originally hoped to have the hotel open in time for the 2015 MLB All-Star Game in July, but it looks as though the hotel will now open in spring 2017.

• The city of Cincinnati will pay Cincinnati Public Schools $2.1 million in back property taxes from the downtown Duke Energy Center. The CPS Board of Education and the Ohio tax commissioner have been fighting the city since 2011 over taxes on the property, which is managed by a private company. The city has argued that it is exempt from such taxes since the building is owned by a public entity and obtained a tax exemption from state legislators in 2012. But CPS and the state tax assessor have fought that claim in court. The city has now settled with the district and will pay the $2.1 million to the schools. Had the city lost its case with CPS, it would have had to pay up to $25 million in back taxes and other costs.

• Here’s cool news: Former MVP and 2012 Hall of Famer Barry Larkin is working for the Reds again. No, you won’t see the shortstop running the bases, but he’ll be an infield instructor for the Reds’ minor league teams. Larkin played for the Reds for nearly two decades from 1986 to 2004.

• The city of Covington’s City Hall is currently located in a former J.C. Penny department store building, and before that it was located in another former department store. But that could change soon, and the seat of city government there could get a new, more permanent home in a proposed riverfront development called Duveneck Place, named after the famous Covington-born artist Frank Duveneck. That building would be the first major riverfront development in Covington since the 2008 Ascent luxury condos and could host both the city’s administrative offices and Kenton County offices. The city’s main administrative building has moved around several times since Covington’s ornate official City Hall building was demolished in 1970.

• As state lawmakers mull a bill that would eliminate a question about felonies from public organizations’ job applications, private companies wrangle with whether or not they should do the same. Some big, generally conservative companies like Koch Industries have announced they no longer ask about felony convictions on job applications, but many others, especially those in the area, still do. That puts a barrier between former convicts and employment, a key factor in reducing recidivism. Such barriers also disproportionately affect minorities, who are more often subject to arrest and conviction in the first place. Here’s an Enquirer story about the push to do away with a box on employment applications asking about felonies. I’ve been speaking with former convicts and academics who study this issue for a long story on the topic. Stay tuned for that.

• Finally, a report by the Baltimore Sun shows that thousands apprehended by Baltimore Police have been so severely injured they cannot be taken directly to jail. Between June 2012 and April 2015, the Baltimore City Detention Center refused to admit 2,600 arrestees because injuries they sustained from police were too severe and required immediate medical attention. These included broken bones, head injuries and other traumas. The report comes in the wake of civil unrest around the April death of Freddie Gray in police custody and a looming U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the city’s police force.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.08.2015 20 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_weedunicorn700x615

Morning News and Stuff

More OTR parking permit drama; Winburn: withhold SORTA's money until streetcar documents released; new weed legalizatioin effort challenges ResponsibleOhio

Morning y’all. Here’s what’s going on today.

The battle over Over-the-Rhine’s parking plan continues. Yesterday, Mayor John Cranley told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he would be open to eliminating permit parking in the city — currently, one part of Clifton near Cincinnati state and the tiny Pendleton neighborhood both have permits available for residents. He said he’d also be interested in auctioning off spots in OTR to the highest bidder.

That doesn't sit well with permit advocates in the neighborhood, including City Councilman Chris Seelbach and OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer.

At the bottom of the debate is a philosophical difference: Cranley wants any parking plan to be first and foremost a revenue generator to pay for the streetcar and pay back taxpayers for investment in OTR. On Wednesday, he vetoed a parking plan for the neighborhood that would have created up to 450 permitted spots for residents at $108 a year. Previously, Cranley had proposed a plan that would have charged $300 a year and then later another that would have charged an unspecified market rate for the spaces.

Cranley says it’s unfair to taxpayers that certain spots can be bought by residents of a neighborhood that has seen millions in taxpayer money spent on redevelopment. Taxpayers pay for the roads, Cranley says, and should be able to park on them. What’s more, he says, creating a permit plan for OTR will only encourage other neighborhoods to seek them. Downtown has already made movement toward that end.

Permit supporters, meanwhile, see the measure mainly as a way to make life easier for residents who have to park in one of the most popular places in town. Supporters of the parking permits, including Democrats on council, say they will help keep low-income people who can’t afford garages or extended time at meters in the neighborhood.

There is nothing unusual about parking permits in neighborhoods. Cities like Columbus, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco (the nation’s most expensive at $110 a year) and many other major urban areas have them. Even smaller cities like Newport, Covington and Bloomington, Indiana have them. Hell, in Washington, D.C., you have to have D.C. plates to park on most streets and need to apply for a visitor’s permit if you don’t (I know this by experience and it is awful). But if it wasn’t for that permit system, residents in popular neighborhoods would spend an hour after work circling the block looking for a place to put their cars while tourists or folks from the other side of the city dropped by and took their time eating at that new $40-a-plate neo soul food place. (Err, sorry. Did I mention D.C. was awful?)

On the other hand, the affordability card is a funny one to play here. In terms of affordability, all the parking plans, including Cranley’s, presented a clause for lower-cost permits for low-income residents. But there are bigger issues as rents in OTR continue to increase and the neighborhood shifts ever-more toward the high-end in terms of the businesses and homes there. Perhaps a discussion about how much affordable housing is in the neighborhood, instead of spinning wheels on a parking plan, would better serve low-income folks?

• Here’s another transportation mess: Cincinnati City Council Budget and Finance Chair Charlie Winburn is threatening to withhold city funds from the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority for its Metro bus program until it releases information about the bids it has received to operate the streetcar. Those bids were due March 30, but SORTA says it will not release them until it has made a selection, claiming that making the information public will compromise the competitive bid process. Winburn says the public has a right to know how much the streetcar will cost them. The Cincinnati Enquirer has sued SORTA for the records, which it says fall under open records laws. SORTA’s attorney disagrees. The question now is whether a judge will agree and if the ruling will come before SORTA makes its pick and releases the documents anyway.

• Democratic County Commissioner Todd Portune might get an unexpected Republican challenger in the 2016 election. Hamilton County Appeals Court Judge Sylvia Hendon might run against Portune, she says. Hendon, 71, is about to hit the age limit for judges in Ohio but isn’t ready to give up public service. Democrats say they aren’t worried; though Hendon has served in a number of capacities in the county’s judicial system, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Tim Cooke says she doesn’t have the name recognition to mount a serious challenge to the popular Portune. But Republicans say her time as a top judge gave her strong managerial skills and unique qualifications for the commissioner’s spot. They say she’ll be a strong contender should she choose to run. Commissioners oversee the county budget and the county’s various departments. Hendon is also looking at running for county recorder, a position held by Democrat Wayne Coates. Another Republican, former Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel, is also contemplating a run for that seat.

• Are online charter schools getting taxpayer money for students who are no longer enrolled in their courses? Some recent evidence seems to suggest that, and a state investigation might result. Data from one online school, Ohio Virtual Academy, shows that hundreds of students were on that school’s rolls but hadn’t logged in to classes in months. Only 14 had been withdrawn. OVA has 13,000 students. It’s not the first time charters have seen scrutiny for their attendance records. The schools get paid millions in state funds based on the number of students they have attending classes. In January, a state investigation found significant discrepancies between reported attendance and actual attendance at many of charters across the state.

• Finally, there’s another marijuana legalization scheme in Ohio, and it just cleared its first hurdle. Better for Ohio is challenging ResponsibleOhio’s plan for weed legalization by… doing almost exactly the same plan. The difference is that instead of ResponsibleOhio’s 10 grow sites, Better for Ohio would create 40, each tied (not kidding here) to a serial number on a specific $100 bill stipulated in the group’s plan. The holder of that bill would be allowed to grow marijuana at one of the grow sites. Private, non-commercial growth would also be allowed, and wouldn’t require registration with the state the way ResponsibleOhio’s plan does. The state just gave the OK for the group’s initial ballot language, and now it just has to get the necessary 300,000-plus signatures. Of course, there’s been some sniping between Better for Ohio and ResponsibleOhio, with both groups criticizing the other’s plan. Things are getting heated in the weed legalization game.

That’s it for me. Tweet or email me with news tips or just to say hey.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.07.2015 21 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
boc_memorialhall_sarablankemeyer4

Morning News and Stuff

The veto heard 'round the city; Cranley tries again on Madisonville luxury development; Sen. Brown praises Kasich's cop standards

Heya! Here’s a quick rundown of the big stories today before I jet off for an interview.

As you may have heard, Mayor John Cranley yesterday vetoed an Over-the-Rhine parking plan that would have created up to 450 permitted parking spots for residents and left 150 spots for so-called “flex parking,” or unmetered spots available to all. The plan would have charged $108 per permit, the second-highest in the country behind San Francisco, which charges $110.  But that’s better than no parking at all, residents in OTR say. Many say that as the neighborhood becomes more and more busy, it has become much harder for those living there to find a place to park in the evening. That takes a big toll on the neighborhood’s low-income residents, neighborhood social service providers say. They’d like to see a parking plan passed.

The proposed plan would have offered permits to low-income residents at a discounted rate. Cranley says vetoing the plan was a matter of fairness, because it allows any resident of the city to continue parking on the city streets their tax dollars pay for. In past months, however, Cranley offered his own permit plan, albeit one that charged $300 per spot. The move yesterday was Cranley’s first veto since he took office in 2013. Before that, Mayor Mark Mallory vetoed a council action on red light cameras in 2011.

• Though the OTR parking plan has gone down in flames, another item Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee killed earlier this week will get a second look. Contradicting fellow Democrats twice in one council session, Mayor Cranley has referred a motion supporting development of a $25 million luxury apartment complex in Madisonville to council’s Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee after Democrats on the Neighborhoods Committee voted it down. The Economic Growth committee is full of Cranley allies, while Neighborhoods is dominated by the Democrats with which Cranley usually finds himself at odds. The Madisonville Community Council and its Urban Redevelopment Corporation oppose the project, saying it’s not an appropriate use of the land in the neighborhood. Cranley and other supporters say it will bring millions in other development to the area.

• Speaking of development, things are starting to pick up in Camp Washington, where 52 homes have been refurbished. Four more major development projects are also on the way. As I’ve told you about before in this blog, the historic Crosley Building in the neighborhood is also being redeveloped into 238 apartments. More on all the activity in this Soapbox story.

• Last week, Music Hall got some great news to the tune of $12 million, and now its next door neighbor gets a turn. Memorial Hall is closed to the public today as it undergoes a nearly $8 million restoration. Work on the building should be done by next fall. It's the first restoration of the building in nearly 25 years.

• Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman has been relieved of yet more duties, according to this Business Courier story. Sigman was taken out of his role in downtown development The Banks after questioning whether that project needs a new head developer. Now, he’s also been removed from his role in helping oversee the stadiums on the riverfront. He keeps the rest of his duties, which involve overseeing county departments who don’t have an elected official leading them. He’ll also keep his $180,000 a year salary. The whole thing seems pretty sketchy, but then again, I’d be down for reduced responsibilities if I got to make the same amount of money. Something tells me it’s not the same, though.

• Here’s something you don’t see very often: Liberal Democrat U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is praising conservative Republican Governor John Kasich over his push to apply statewide standards for police use of force. Brown says Kasich’s moves are part of much-needed reforms to the justice system. Kasich recommended the standards after convening the Statewide Taskforce on Community-Police Relations late last year. That task force came after the police shooting deaths of John Crawford III in Beavercreek and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

 
 
 
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