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by Nick Swartsell 10.14.2014 67 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
slide_363449_4159706_free

Morning News and Stuff

Flynn: Mahogany's in default; Grimes and McConnell face off; Should I dress as a hashtag for Halloween?

So, I skipped writing the morning news yesterday to hang out at City Council half the day. I know, you’re jealous. Let’s catch up.

The city should declare Mahogany’s, the former restaurant at The Banks, in default on its $300,000 loan, Councilman Kevin Flynn said during the Budget and Finance Committee meeting yesterday. After coming to The Banks two years ago, restaurant owner Liz Rogers fell behind on rent, loan payments and state sales taxes, eventually shuttering Mahogany’s last month.  Rogers has tried to convince the city to reduce the amount she owes, and even threatened to sue, but the terms of her loan mean she may be on the hook for more than just the $300,000. The city could initiate foreclosure proceedings on her other restaurant in Butler County, which she offered up as collateral. Rogers may also be asked to pay back a nearly $700,000 grant the city gave her. Rogers still owes more than $265,000 on the loan and is $40,000 behind on her payments. Flynn is asking for all relevant financial records from the restaurant so the city can determine what assets still remain that the city could claim to recoup part of its investment.

• Meanwhile, in the Law and Public Safety Committee meeting earlier yesterday, councilmembers wrestled with Councilman Charlie Winburn’s marijuana expungement ordinance. Winburn’s proposal looks to give those convicted under a 2006 city law that criminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana a chance to expunge those convictions from their criminal records. In Ohio, possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor that does not show up on a person’s criminal record, though the ordinance changed that to a fourth-degree misdemeanor, which does. The ordinance itself was repealed by council in 2011, but many who were convicted still have trouble getting jobs or educational loans due to the blemish on their records. The committee wrestled with some detailed legal questions about the ordinance, including the tricky nature of issuing an ordinance that seeks to work retroactively. Though the ordinance has yet to pass out of committee, Winburn said he hoped it would be ready for a full council vote in two weeks.

• A new budget proposal by Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman looks to fundamentally shift the way the county pays for the services it provides. It will do so in a way that could very well shift more of the burden onto the backs of low and middle-income people, however, as sales taxes increase and property taxes go down. You can read more about that here.

• Dr. Deana Marchbein, the president of Doctors Without Borders USA and expert on Ebola, spoke last night at the downtown library. Marchbein talked about the risk the virus represents, as well as other world health issues worth concern. Marchbein has said she isn’t super worried about Ebola in the United States since it is less contagious than many other diseases and because the U.S. has better access to modern medical isolation of patients than West Africa, where the disease has run rampant. Marchbein did express serious concern about that, noting that the spread of the disease there has grown out of control. Her talk is well timed; last week in Dallas, a man from Liberia died from the disease, the first fatality in the U.S., and a second case, the first time Ebola has been transmitted here, was discovered. That person, a nurse who treated the deceased man in Dallas, is now isolated and receiving treatment for the virus.

• Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes faced off in their first and only debate last night. McConnell is the Senate minority leader and has held the Kentucky Senate seat for 30 years. Grimes is the Kentucky Secretary of State. The two went at each other last night, trading barbs on a number of issues while not really revealing anything new about their policy proposals. McConnell battered Grimes by tying her to President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and basically any other Democrat he could think of, including the Clintons. Grimes bashed McConnell over his cozy relationships with big money donors, including the infamous Koch Brothers, who have poured millions into a large number of races for candidates supporting their vision of a libertarian utopia where companies have little oversight from the government.

The race has been a titanic battle so far. Grimes has been running very close behind McConnell, who usually coasts to victory. At least one recent major poll has put Grimes ahead by a couple points, though other polls have her trailing by the same margin.

• Finally, if you’re like me, you’re still trying to figure out what to wear to Halloween parties. Yes, I’m kind of a grownup, sort of, but my friends still have costume parties so I’m still required to figure out what to be every year. My fallback—a cowboy—is getting pretty old, so I’ve been perusing costume ideas. But I don't think any of these are going to work. I can’t decide if the zombie hotdog costume is the worst thing ever, or the hashtag costume. No, wait, definitely the hashtag. Warning: a few of these are mildly NSFW.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 10.14.2014 67 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
county administration building

County Budget Proposal Could Further Shift Tax Burden

Proposal would lower property taxes and raise sales taxes, disproportionately affecting the low-income

Hamilton County’s tax structure could become more regressive next year if a new proposal to increase sales tax while decreasing property taxes is put into effect.

A budget proposal by Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman unveiled Oct. 13 called for a .25 percent increase in sales taxes and a decrease in property taxes for the county. The decrease would amount to $38 for every $100,000 worth of property, meaning homeowners would generally see a wash or net savings on the deal while low-income and middle class residents pay more in taxes. 

Sigman says the budget represents a big change in the way the county funds itself. The benefit of relying more on sales tax, he says, is that it raises much more money from those who live outside the county but buy things here. The budget proposal would provide $210 million in 2015. That’s short of the $222 million needed by county departments, but a big jump from the $200 million available under the current budget.

Democratic County Commissioner Todd Portune said the proposal was “bound to be controversial,” since sales taxes place a higher burden on the poor.

Unlike income or property taxes, everyone pays the same sales tax rates regardless of income or assets. But lower income residents generally spend more of their money on necessities, including those subject to sales tax, meaning they end up paying a larger portion of their income in sales taxes. The bottom fifth of workers in Ohio, those making less than $17,000 a year, pay 7 percent of their income in sales taxes under the state’s current tax structure. Meanwhile, top earners, those making more than $138,000, pay as little as 1 percent in sales tax. And Ohio’s tax structure has gotten more regressive over the years due to cuts in the state’s income tax.

At 6.75 percent, Hamilton County’s sales tax is about average for the state. Even if the .25 percent increase were to pass on the ballot in November, it would still be lower than other major cities in Ohio. Franklin County, where Columbus is located, has a 7.5 percent sales tax, and in Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is, it’s 8 percent.

The sales tax increase was first proposed last summer as part of a plan to renovate Music Hall and Union Terminal. Republican County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel voted to strip Music Hall out of that plan, but the tax hike will be on the November ballot for Union Terminal. That hike could also be used to provide for a number of other county needs, including a proposed move for the county Board of Elections office from downtown to Mount Airy.

Commissioners have not said whether they support the budget proposal.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 10.10.2014 71 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
greenpeace P&G

Morning News and Stuff

Jurors can't tour P&G for Greenpeace trial; vagueness from feds fuels streetcar fight; millennials you won't see on Girls

Oh wow it’s Friday, I saw pretty much the best show I’ve seen in months last night when Mirah played MOTR Pub and I just had a pretty great donut and tons of iced coffee. But this isn’t a baked goods or early 2000s music blog (I wish), so let’s get to the news.

Attorneys for the Greenpeace activists arrested for hanging a banner from P&G’s headquarters in March lost a legal tussle yesterday as a judge ruled jurors wouldn’t be able to take a tour of the crime scene. The defense alleges the activists didn’t damage windows when hanging the banner, and that other windows on other floors have similar damage that pre-existed the protest. The felony charges against the activists hinge on that damage. P&G says the company has made so many changes since the incident, including new security measures, that a tour of the building would only confuse jurors. The judge in the case sided with the company, because nothing is more confusing to jurors comparing windows than some extra security guards milling about. Eight of the nine protesters face felony burglary charges that could land them in prison for more than nine years. A ninth protester made a plea bargain over the summer.

• Imagine this: guidelines from a federal agency are vague and clouded, and local factions on both sides of an argument are using that ambiguity to make political points. Shocker, right? The streetcar funding imbroglio is a white elephant gift that just keeps getting passed back and forth between the mayor, transit advocates and news organizations. First, the mayor said the city may cut streetcar service if the project’s $4 million annual operational funding gap isn’t filled. Advocates for the project objected, saying that the federal grants used to build the streetcar prohibit the city from doing so. Then a Cincinnati Enquirer story last month said the hours would be up to the city, with the Federal Transportation Administration staying out of the mix. But it also suggested that the city couldn’t run it only for special events, as Mayor Cranley suggested on 700 WLW in what he later called an “extreme hypothetical.”

Hm. So, uh, can we just get some numbers up in this? Like, just how many hours a week does the city have to run the streetcar? In its various grant applications to the FTA, the city has promised to run the streetcar 16-18 hours a day, 365 days a year. Is the city tied to that number? The FTA’s response to the controversy doesn't totally clear this up. 

“We expect Cincinnati to provide the nature and quality of service that it proposed in both the TIGER and Urban Circulator grant applications, which were a consideration in the selection of the applications for the award of grant funding,” the agency said in a statement responding to recent questions from the Cincinnati Business Courier. Well, huh.

• The clock is still ticking on an effort to establish a co-op grocery store at the site of the former Keller’s IGA in Clifton, but the game is now in overtime. Officials with the group Clifton Cooperative Market announced they’ve signed an extension on a contract to purchase the building on Ludlow Avenue near Clifton Avenue, and now have 90 more days to do so. The group is trying to raise $1.65 million to buy the building by selling shares to community members. So far, they’ve got more than 800 co-op members and $600,000 banked for the project. The market will be an “uptrend” grocery, which I think means $3 bottled sodas, a lot of quinoa and kale as far as the eye can see. I’m not hating. I like all those things.

• Here's an interesting story about the way the city of Cincinnati collects property taxes, and how small-government conservatives passed laws back in the late 90s limiting the amount the city can collect to a specific dollar figure. The results have been a mixed bag at best.

• Cincinnati is one of the worst places in the country for irrelevant political ads, a new study has found. I mean, given the level of non-representation we’re getting out of our federal, state and local politicians and the appalling lack of options we have for most races, I’d say pretty much anything these jokers slap on a billboard is more or less irrelevant. But alas, the study says  our ranking is because our market is split between Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana and because candidates in one state often have to buy ads for the whole region.

• The accepted wisdom on millennials is that we’re all entitled Bard College grads working on our Tumblr poetry blogs and being snotty to baby boomers from our perch as lowly Starbucks baristas while we work to save up money to move to Bushwick. We really haven't helped ourselves in this regard, as we're pretty much a generation obsessed with branding ourselves as such. But hey! Did you know that two-thirds of millennials don’t have a bachelor’s degree? Did you know that many grew up facing deep poverty and lack of educational opportunity? This NPR piece gives a little more attention to young folks who you probably won’t see on an episode of Girls anytime soon. It’s a good read.

• Finally, I can't decide if this fake John Matarese Twitter account is trolling us or not. Or if it's even really fake. John, is that you?

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 10.09.2014 72 days ago
Posted In: News, Voting at 12:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
jon husted

Dems Cry Foul Over Husted Signs in Polling Places

Republican secretary of state's name prominently featured on required polling place signs

Theoretically, there is no better real estate for a political candidate than the inside of a polling place, where a candidate’s name can be freshly stamped onto voters’ minds as they enter the voting booth. Currently, though, only one politician in Ohio gets access to this potential last-minute plug: Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted.

He says recent voter information signs prominently featuring his name are standard issue for secretary of state. But Democrats say he’s taking unfair advantage of his position.

There are laws against campaigning in polling places, and bumper stickers, buttons or other campaign swag are frowned upon in our temples of democracy the way movie theaters hate it when you try to sneak in some Twizzlers or a bunch of McChicken sandwiches in your pants. (I tried this once and the theater wasn’t too happy. I think you can sneak snacks into the polling places, though.)

So big signs with your name on them are a no-go, unless you’re the current secretary of state, charged with overseeing elections. Then you’re required to draw up informational posters with instructions on how voters can update their voter registration and make sure they’re at the right polling place. These posters can be posted at voting locations. You can also put your name on those things. Real big, if you want to.

Husted definitely wanted to, and did, emblazoning his name and signature on 2-foot by 3-foot posters that his office is now requiring all polling places to post. That has Democrats, including Hamilton County Democratic Chairman Tim Burke, crying foul.

Burke has taken exception to the inclusion of Husted’s name “the size of an oversized bumper sticker” on those posters. Burke is also chair of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, and he fired off an email earlier this week to Husted’s office demanding clarification about the requirement polling places post the posters. The letter contained some not-so-subtle digs as well.

“I am struggling to understand how it is legitimate or fair to create a situation where you will be the only candidate on the ballot in next month’s election to have your name prominently displayed along with the office to which you seek reelection in each polling place,” Burke wrote in the message dated Oct. 7.  

Burke also questioned the inclusion of a second, 11-by-17-inch poster that likewise prominently features Husted’s name. That poster, designed by a 5th grade contest winner, has little factual information about voting, Burke says.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Damschroder replied later that evening, saying the posters are a routine task for the secretary of state’s office and that Husted’s name and signature are present to assure voters that the poster is official. Damschroder also pointed out that county board of elections members, such as Burke, have their signatures displayed at the bottom of ballots.

Those signatures are small, however, and are unaccompanied by text spelling out the commissioners’ names. Perhaps they should work on the size and legibility of their autographs.

Let’s not forget the fifth-grade contest winner in all this. Damschroder said polling places aren’t required to post that poster.

“We have simply suggested that boards of elections post the winning design to advance the two-fold goal of encouraging participation in the democratic process, generally, and building civic-mindedness among the next generation of voters,” he said.  

If that kid is following along with what’s happening to that poster, she or he is surely getting a lesson about politics as well. 

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 10.09.2014 72 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
brent spence bridge

Morning News and Stuff

Winburn, Thomas debate; Ky. Senate candidate Grimes draws crowds in Newport; who's trolling over tolling?

Good morning! Apparently two tuba players are dueling with chainsaws outside our window, or at least it sounds like it. I’m going to try and fight through the distraction to give you the morning news. Today’s update is mostly a politics sandwich, but stay with me here, because things are getting interesting as we speed toward Nov. 4.

Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn will do anything for your vote as he runs for state Senate in a heavily Democratic district encompassing much of Cincinnati — but he won’t do that. I told you yesterday about Winburn’s recent evolutions on issues near and dear to most liberal hearts and minds. He’s pulling for expungements for folks who have marijuana convictions under a now-rescinded Cincinnati law, and though he says he’s pro-life, he recently lost endorsements from right to life groups after he signaled some reconsideration on women’s choice issues.

Last night during a debate with state Senate opponent Democrat  Cecil Thomas, Winburn made the case that he’s “an independent thinker,” willing to listen to his potential Democratic constituency but also able to use clout gained with the GOP as a long-time member of the party and reformed hard-core right winger. But one place he’s not bending: same-sex marriage rights. While Thomas, who was once opposed to gay marriage, has changed his tune on the issue, Winburn’s staying put on that one. “Let me be clear about what I believe,” he said during the debate. “I do not support gay marriages. Period.” Tell us how you really feel, Charlie.

• Former Mahogany’s owner Liz Rogers has a new deal she wants the city to think about. Rogers, who recently threatened the city with a lawsuit if it didn’t forgive a $300,000 debt she owes on her former restaurant at The Banks, now wants the city to cut that debt almost in half and suspend payments until July 2016. Rogers has proposed paying $800 a month for 12 years, interest free, to pay back the loan. City Manager Harry Black has passed the proposal along to City Council for a final decision.

• There’s another big development project happening in Walnut Hills. Developers Model Group are working with the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation on a $9 million project to renovate 3 buildings along East McMillan Street in the neighborhood. The buildings will house about 7,200 square feet of retail space and 30 market-rate apartments. The aim is to attract residents interested in urban living who can’t afford or don’t want to pay downtown or Over-the-Rhine prices.

• Who’s trolling over tolling? Was the head of the OKI, the region’s planning office, being overly provocative when he said yesterday that drivers who avoid the crumbling Brent Spence Bridge are “realists?” Those opposed to tolls on the bridge, who call themselves by the equally provocative name "No BS Tolls," say OKI head Mark Policinski should publicly rescind his statement about the safety of the bridge, calling it “unacceptable” and calling him out for fear-mongering. Policinski says he’d didn’t say the bridge was going to collapse tomorrow, just that reports show it is degrading. The battle rages on.

• It’s one of the most-watched 2014 races in the country, and yesterday the clash came to Northern Kentucky. A big throng of supporters, along with a healthy group of national press and local press, came out to hear Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Democratic candidate for Senate, make her pitch to the area. Grimes came to Newport yesterday to talk about two of the region’s biggest concerns: the aforementioned Brent Spence Bridge conundrum and the burgeoning heroin crisis. Grimes slammed her opponent, Senate Minority Leader and 20-year incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell, saying he didn’t have a plan for either issue. She promised she could secure funding for a replacement for the Brent Spence Bridge by closing some of the state’s corporate tax loopholes. She also pledged to use some of that money to hire more law enforcement officers and fund drug treatment programs.

McConnell’s campaign shot back against Grimes’ speech. McConnell said he has floated the idea of rolling back state rules that require companies working government contracts to pay the prevailing wage in an area. The campaign says the savings from that move could be used for the bridge. He’s also laid out plans for increasing the number of counties under scrutiny as drug trafficking areas, though he hasn’t mentioned Northern Kentucky specifically. 

A recent poll commissioned by the Louisville Courier Journal put Grimes ahead by two points in the race, though other polls have her trailing McConnell.

• Finally, the Greater Cincinnati area ranks lowest in the region, and very low nationally, in terms of public transit and job accessibility. It’s very hard for people to use public transit to get to their jobs in Cincinnati, according to a new University of Minnesota study. The area came in 41st out of 46 cities, well below Columbus (27), Cleveland (26), Indianapolis (38), Pittsburgh, (22), Louisville (36) and Detroit (34). Bummer.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 10.08.2014 72 days ago
Posted In: Education at 02:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news_wifi-700x615

NYC Vice Mayor Tours CPS Community Learning Centers

New York interested in CPS practices as the city looks to ramp up its own program

New York City Vice Mayor Richard Buery is in Cincinnati today and tomorrow touring the city’s groundbreaking community learning centers. He’s in town to glean best practices from CPS as New York Public Schools ramps up its own community learning center program.

"What Cincinnati does, that they have probably done better than any other city, certainly better than New York at this time, is not just to have a collection of great community schools, but to have a system of community schools," Buery said to reporters in New York Monday. "I want to see what it means for a city to build a system of community schools. What did that take in terms of the political will, in terms of how different city agencies and the private sector have to work together."

Cincinnati has gotten a lot of attention for its community learning centers, including write-ups in the The New York Times, NPR and other national publications. The centers, usually established in low-income neighborhoods, contain a number of services for the whole community — dental and vision clinics, mental health therapists, after school programs and more. The city started with eight learning centers and now CPS has them in 34 of its 55 schools.

The model has led to increased cooperation between the city, the school system, neighborhoods around the schools and private enterprise. Last month, the city announced a partnership between Powernet, a Cincinnati-area tech company, and CPS to provide free wireless access to the neighborhood of Lower Price Hill around Oyler School, one of the city’s most recognized community learning centers in one of the city’s most low-income neighborhoods. The school is the subject of a documentary film, called simply Oyler, following the school and neighborhood’s progress.

City leaders expressed excitement about the visit.

“It never hurts to be aware that mighty New York City is here to see some of the good things happening in Cincinnati, especially with our school system,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said today. Sittenfeld said Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black will meet with Buery on Thursday.

Buery is in town with
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers. The UFT represents more than 300,000 teachers in New York City.

New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio was one of four mayoral candidates to visit Cincinnati last summer at Mulgrew’s invitation. He made bringing Cincinnati’s model to New York City a major talking point of his campaign, saying it had “unlimited potential.” DeBlasio wants to model 100 schools in the city after Cincinnati’s learning centers.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 10.08.2014 73 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
winburn

Morning News and Stuff

Winburn's changes of heart; Official: those who avoid Brent Spence Bridge are realists; someone paid $37,000 for Willie Nelson's braids

Hey all. Check out what’s going on right now.

Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn is having a lot of changes of heart lately, all of which surely have nothing to do at all with him running for state Senate in a largely Democratic district. Winburn recently softened his stance on abortion (he once was a hardliner, now he says he wouldn’t interfere with women’s rights, which has caused pro-life groups to pull support for him) and the streetcar (he voted against it last year, but now says “a streetcar is not a bad situation” if it’s part of a larger regional transit plan). He’s also floated a proposal that would allow Cincinnatians with convictions under the city’s harsh anti-marijuana law, passed by Winburn’s state Senate opponent Cecil Thomas in 2006, to seek expungements for those convictions. Winburn seems to be expunging some of his own previously held right wing convictions and drifting more to the center. But, as the Business Courier reports, he’ll need to pull out some even more adept political maneuvers should he make it to the statehouse, where the GOP rules.

• Closing statements in the trial of Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter should wrap up today, leaving the case to the jury. It’s been a dramatic 21 days in court for Hunter and the state’s prosecutors, who allege she committed nine felonies, including forging documents, improperly using a court credit card and intervening on behalf of her brother, a court employee fired after allegedly punching a juvenile inmate. Hunter’s attorney says the case is designed to drive Hunter from the bench because she has tried to change the juvenile court system. Though the charges against her carry a maximum penalty of 13 years in prison, prosecutors have indicated they will not ask for jail time for Hunter.

• It’s still unclear whether a Noah’s Ark theme park run by Northern Kentucky religious group Answers in Genesis slated for Williamstown, Kentucky will get state tax credits. Job listings for the park currently stipulate potential employees sign a statement of faith, provide a statement affirming they’ve been saved and affirm that they believe in creationism. That’s a direct conflict with state policies that stipulate employers who receive state money can’t engage in discriminatory hiring practices. Attorneys for the park say the job listing is for parent organization Answers in Genesis, which does not receive state money, not the theme park, which is a separate entity and which they say will abide by all state and federal policies around the tax credits. Kentucky’s Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet sent a letter to the group warning that their tax credits are in jeopardy due to the listing. Officials for the religious group say they’re still discussing the matter with the state.

• If you’re nervous about driving across the Brent Spence Bridge, you’re a “realist,” according to the leader of the region’s planning authority. Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments head Mark Policinski says recent maintenance reports detailing the bridge’s deteriorating condition are a wake up call. There has been a lot of controversy about what to do with the 51-year-old bridge, which Kentucky officials say is obsolete but still structurally sound. It will take $2.5 billion to replace the span.

• As the sagas in Ferguson, Mo. and Beavercreek continue to unfold, issues around law enforcement, violence and race have gotten increasing attention. The latest case to come to light involves two people in Hammond, Indiana, near Chicago, who are suing police for alleged use of excessive force. The two say an officer shattered a car window and tazed passenger Jamal Jones during a routine traffic stop Sept. 26. Jones and the driver, Lisa Mahone, who are black, allege the officers violated their civil rights. The officers say they saw Jones reach into the back of the car multiple times and were afraid he had a weapon. Two children were in the back seat of the car, one of whom filmed the episode with a cellphone, capturing the officer smashing the window.

• Finally, we all get a little weird sometimes about our favorite entertainers. But this is next level: Someone paid $37,000 for a pair of Willie Nelson’s braids the singer clipped from his head in 1983. No word who the bidder was. All I can think about is that it’s going to take a lot of Willie Nelson impersonator gigs to make a profit on those 30-year-old locks.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 10.07.2014 74 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
vote logo

Morning News and Stuff

Early voting starts today; John Crawford activists camp out in Beavercreek Police Department; 99 problems but a bridge ain't one

Hey all! Morning news time. The first bit of news I want to hit you with — today is the first day of early voting in Ohio. From here on out until the Nov. 4 election, you can vote on any weekday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will also be weekend hours starting Oct. 25. So. Go vote. Early voting was slated to start last week, but the U.S. Supreme Court put a stay on a ruling by a lower court that would have expanded voting hours across the state. Instead, Ohio gets the more restricted hours drawn up by the GOP-led Ohio General Assembly and administered by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

• A group of activists protesting the police shooting of John Crawford III in Beavercreek has been camped out in the lobby of the city’s police department for 24 hours now. About 15 members of the Ohio Student Association, a progressive activist group, spent the night in the station. They’ve indicated they won’t leave until they are granted a meeting with Beavercreek Police Chief Dennis Evers. The group is asking for a meeting by Wednesday.

• Hey! Do you want to get married in a former women’s shelter? How about staying the night in a luxurious room that once provided comfort and stability for someone fleeing an abusive relationship or life on the streets? Western & Southern has just the ticket. The company has long been planning on turning the former Anna Louise Inn next to Lytle Park into a luxury hotel, and now those plans are coming into focus. W&S CEO John Barrett last Tuesday discussed the ongoing planning, saying the company envisions the building as a 106-room ultra luxury hotel that can serve as a destination place where well-to-do folks can have weddings and other special events. Awesome.

• Over-the-Rhine’s Chatfield College, a private Catholic institution specializing in two-year degrees for first generation college students, is undertaking a $3.4 million renovation project on two buildings in the neighborhood. The move comes as the college prepares to grow, making goals to go from 300 to 900 students over the next five to seven years. The buildings along Central Parkway will be renovated in a way that preserves their historic character, school officials say, as well as allowing the school to accommodate more students.

• Kentucky’s got 99 problems, but a bridge ain’t one, apparently. A decade’s worth of maintenance reports for the crusty ole Brent Spence Bridge, which carries I-75/71 across the Ohio River, show that its condition has been declining for years. The last report scored the bridge a 59 out of 100, the equivalent of a C- on the system’s rating scale. Yet the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, which has official responsibility for the span, has spent just $1 million in repairs on the bridge in the past three years, as concrete crumbles and rust gathers. The official reason: The state is waiting for the 51-year-old obsolete bridge to be replaced or majorly overhauled. A replacement will cost $2.4 billion. Meanwhile, a group of powerful business and political leaders in the state calling themselves “No BS Tolls” (get it? Brent Spence? BS? Haha) have banded together to oppose one of the most likely funding options to raise all that money — toll roads. Both federal and state governments have repeatedly signaled that government funding is not available to replace the bridge.

• Now that we’re in Kentucky, let’s revisit the state’s nail-bitter of a Senate race. A new poll says Republican incumbent and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is now trailing challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat, by two points, 44-46. Those results from the Bluegrass Poll seem like a big deal, but keep in mind other recent polls show McConnell with a slight to significant advantage. Translation: This race looks to be going to a photo finish. Grimes’ isn't exactly popular in the state. Nearly half of respondents to a recent poll think she's just an Obama crony. But even more than that said they want someone other than McConnell. Grimes' poll bump comes after her campaign dumped tons of money into new TV ads across the state, including some rather goofy ones where she lectures McConnell on how to hold a gun. The race looks to be one of the most expensive Senate contests in history.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 10.06.2014 75 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john boehner

Morning News and Stuff

Hunter trial wrapping up; local organizations get $3 million for homeless vets; Boehner's opponent plays the long odds

Hey all. Morning news time.

Attorneys on both sides of the tense, dramatic trial of Juvenile Court Judge Tracie are making their closing statements this morning. Hunter is accused of backdating documents, improperly using a court credit card and intervening in disciplinary action against her brother, a court employee who allegedly struck a juvenile inmate. Hunter’s supporters say she’s a victim of a political witch hunt; her opponents say she thinks she’s above the law. The courtroom saw fireworks last week as attorneys, those watching the proceedings and even the judge in the case all lost their cool at various points. Closing arguments, which could stretch into tomorrow, look to be equally dramatic. After they're over, it's up to a jury to decide what to make of the spectacle.

• Bond Hill charter school Horizon Academy is drawing scrutiny for its use of work visas to bring in foreign teachers. The school is run by Chicago-based Concept Schools, which uses visas to employ 69 math and science teachers,
about 12 percent of its work force, in Ohio. That’s much higher than most schools, which mostly use the visas to attract language specialists. Seven foreign-born teachers currently teach at Horizon in Bond Hill. The H-1B visas the school uses are designed to allow highly specialized workers to live in the U.S. for up to six years. Critics charge that there are plenty of qualified math and science teachers living in Ohio who could fill those jobs and that Concept is engaging in a kind of cronyism. But the school says it has brought the teachers to Ohio legally and that recruiting from Turkey is necessary to get the highest-quality instructors. Since 2005, the school has brought 454 teachers to Ohio from Turkey and surrounding countries. Concept has been the subject of a number of investigations in Ohio, including one at one of its schools in Dayton over alleged misconduct and falsification of attendance records.

• City officials have delayed presenting a proposal that would charge Over-the-Rhine residents $300 a year to park in the neighborhood, but Mayor John Cranley’s fee idea is still alive. The proposed fee, which would be the highest residential parking fee in the country, would fund at least some of the streetcar’s $4 million annual operation costs. Officials were set to present the idea to City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee today, but negative response to the idea from some council members, including Vice Mayor David Mann, triggered a delay. City officials say they’ll take the feedback into account and float a modified version of the idea in a couple weeks.

• Two Cincinnati-area nonprofits serving homeless veterans will get $3 million from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Sen. Sherrod Brown announced last week. The Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries Rehabilitation Center and Talbert House both received about $1.5 million to provide health, transportation and financial planning services to Hamilton County veterans and their families who are homeless or may become homeless. A study by the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio counted 175 homeless veterans in Hamilton County in 2013.

• Thousands of DUI convictions could be in question after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday that drunken-driving defendants can challenge the results of breathalyzer tests by requesting accuracy data for specific breathalyzer machines. Defendants can request the data from the Ohio Department of Health, which provides the machines to law enforcement agencies across the state. Some have charged that the Intoxilyzer 8000 (which sounds more like something that gets you drunk rather than something that measures your drunkenness, but I digress) is inaccurate. Some Ohio judges won’t allow results from the machine to be used as evidence. The ODH has pushed back against the ruling requiring it release accuracy data, saying it presents a formidable and expensive requirement that will be impossible to fulfill. Defense attorneys pushing for the ruling, however, say collecting and releasing the data from the machines should be cheap and easy. CityBeat covered the situation here in June.

• House Speaker John Boehner’s Democratic challenger (yes, he has one) is under few illusions about his chances against the powerful, Butler County-based Republican rep. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t trying. Miami University professor Tom Poetter is crisscrossing the district knocking on doors and lambasting Boehner for his role in last year’s government shutdown, his opposition to the much-debated unemployment benefits extension and other issues. Polls show Boehner with a very comfy lead, and he’s looking right past the election and predicting he’ll remain House speaker.

• The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review same-sex marriage cases in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Lower courts ruled against bans on same-sex marriage in those states, and without review by the nation's highest court, those rulings will stand. That means the number of states recognizing same-sex marriage will rise from 19 to 24.

• Finally, here's a pretty neat NPR piece about women and their roll in the roots of computer programing. Though it's a field dominated by men in many ways today, many of the field's important early innovators were women.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 10.03.2014 78 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Sen. Mitch McConnell

Morning News and Stuff

Officials release new information about Crawford shooting; local brewery breaks crowd funding record; breaking news–Congress is full of rich people

Hey all! It’s rainy and gloomy, but it’s also Friday, so there’s that. Grab a cup of your morning brew of choice (no beer or liquor just yet, please; let's maybe wait until at least noon for that) and let’s talk about the news.

The Bureau of Criminal Investigation has released new information about the Aug. 5 police shooting of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart. The documents show that at least three other people proceeding Crawford had picked up and carried the unpackaged pellet gun Crawford had with him when he died. The reports also indicate at least one employee expressed concern about Crawford carrying the pellet gun because it was hard to tell if the weapon was real or not. The documents also reveal that the officers did not identify themselves as police, and that the officer who shot Crawford, Sean Williams, is not the one who gave alleged orders for Crawford to put the weapon down. However, the police story that officers shouted those orders is corroborated by at least three other witnesses in the documents, though the length of time they say police gave Crawford to comply with those orders varies from one to two seconds to five or more, depending on the witness. An Ohio grand jury declined to indict Williams in Crawford’s death, but the Department of Justice is investigating the case.

• Lincoln Heights fire fighters are back at work this morning after a lapse in the municipality’s insurance police left the department, as well as the village’s police force, off the job yesterday. The police department is still not back at work, and emergency calls for law enforcement are being handled by neighboring municipalities.

• Speaking of law enforcement: The University of Cincinnati has named a new police chief. Jason Goodrich, currently police chief for Lamar University in Texas, will become UC’s new director of public safety on Nov. 1. Goodrich has also been a police captain at Vanderbilt University as well as a chief at University of Indiana Southeast and Southern Arkansas University.

• A Cincinnati-area brewery is one of crowdfunding site Kickstarter’s most popular projects. Braxton Brewing Co. raised $30,000 in just 35 hours from funders on the site. The project set a single-day fundraising record for breweries on Kickstarter. Part of the boost probably came from the really cool Rookwood beer steins they're offering backers. I don't even really drink beer (I'm more of a whiskey guy) and I want one of those. Although one of those steins filled with Wild Turkey would probably mess me up real good. Anyway, Braxton is looking to open in Covington this winter.

• Walnut Hills has been quietly changing for a while now, stacking new development and rehab projects. Here’s an article about an upcoming rehab of a historic building on Madison Road and Woodburn Ave. that local group Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation hopes will spark more development in the area. It’s a preview of what may lie ahead for the neighborhood, one of Cincinnati’s first suburbs and, more recently, one of the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods.

• Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rolled into Cincinnati yesterday to chat with The Cincinnati Enquirer, making his case for why Kentuckians in the Greater Cincinnati area should vote for him. His pitch is basically that voters should keep him in power because he’s, well, powerful, and could run the Senate if it flips to Republicans in November. Give him power because he’s powerful. Got it? Good. On more substantive issues, McConnell was wishy-washy, providing few details or practical policy ideas on the state’s heroin epidemic or the crumbling, highly trafficked Brent Spence bridge linking Ohio and Kentucky. Oh yeah, and he said Congress can’t get anything done because Democrats are bad, and that if he’s reelected and Republicans take the Senate he’ll run a smoother ship. Or, again, give him power because he could be powerful. He also wants to lower corporate taxes as a way to fix the gap between the wealthy and everyone else. Because giving the wealthiest, most powerful interests in the country a break on taxes is exactly what low and middle income people need. Give them power, because they’re powerful. Got it.

• Finally, speaking of Congress, wealth and power, here’s a Brookings Institution piece on just how many of our U.S. House members come from humble means. Spoiler alert: not many. There are 435 House members overall, and the article finds five who come from something other than a wealthy background. Here’s a quick takeaway: The median yearly income for an incoming House member in 2012 was $807,013. The median income for Americans overall is about $45,000.

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 12.18.2014 51 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

Council passes tax deals; big announcement on Music Hall; this coffee has a little something extra

Hey y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of the news this morning before I have to fly out the door to cover a few things.

• City Council yesterday voted to approve a number of property tax-related items we’ve already reported on. But here are the cliff notes. Among the bigger ones was a controversial move to create two tax increment financing districts around properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer. The group has said it will be making big improvements to the area and asked the city to create the TIF districts to fund infrastructure improvements in the districts. Some critics have called this a tax abatement, but in reality, Neyer will stay pay taxes — they’ll just end up in a fund earmarked for public works projects around their buildings instead of flowing into the general fund, where they could be used for police, transit, etc. Council also passed an amendment at the request of Councilwoman Yvette Simpson requiring council approval of all expenditures from the fund. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the TIF districts.

• City Council also unanimously passed a 15-year tax abatement for a project in Clifton Heights by Gilbane Development Co. that will bring 180 units of student housing to the neighborhood. The abatement, which could be worth up to $12 million, is for the building’s proposed environmentally-friendly Silver LEED certification. Council voted unanimously for the tax break. This project was also controversial, as a number of residents in Clifton Heights say such developments are changing the character of the neighborhood.

• Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots group responsible for pushing the streetcar forward last winter, is holding a rally today to launch an effort pushing council to make plans for the streetcar’s extension into uptown. City administration so far has no plans for such a study until the first phase of the project is complete and can be evaluated. Believe in Cincinnati would like to see the next phase planned soon so that the project can apply for grants and find other funding.

The rally will be at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Race and Elder streets near Findlay Market.

"Why shouldn't we get those scarce federal dollars for transit instead of another city? If we don't have a plan, we won't be considered," said the group’s leader Ryan Messer to the Cincinnati Business Courier.

• Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, Mayor John Cranley will hold a news conference at Music Hall, where he’s likely to announce that the landmark has won an Ohio historic tax credit worth millions. Representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office and the Ohio Development Services Office will also speak at the press conference, along with state Sen. Bill Seitz. The grant is worth up to $25 million. Music Hall has been competing with Cleveland’s Huntington Building and May Co. department store and the former Goodyear Tire Co. headquarters in Akron. 

The historic hall, which is home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a number of other cultural institutions, needs $123 million in renovations. Funding efforts so far are still $40 million short. The state tax credit could go a long way toward filling that gap.

UPDATE: Music Hall will get the full $25 million tax credit.

• The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is investigating a grant program for public schools recently put forward by Gov. John Kasich. The Community Connections mentorship program conditions receipt of the grant on public schools’ collaboration with religious institutions, something the ACLU says may be violate separation of church and state under the constitution. The group is investigating the program further.

“The First Amendment of the Constitution provides very strong protection against the government imposing religion upon children in public schools,” said Heather Weaver of the ACLU Program on Religious Freedom and Belief in a news release. “This new program appears to disregard those protections and injects religion into our classrooms.”

• Continually low wages and changes to federal food assistance programs have been a one-two punch for low-income families in Ohio, a new study finds. The combination of stagnant pay and cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enacted last year mean that Ohioans lost access to the equivalent of 195 million meals since November of last year, according to research by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which provides food assistance across the state. The study showed that 50 percent of households receiving food assistance have at least one member who is employed; it also showed that many of those recipients are underemployed and received no boost in wages from the year prior. Tied to the $265 million cut to the SNAP program Congress enacted last year, that’s left many families worse off than they have been before. The cuts have other repercussions as well, according to the group.

“Our network and the people we serve can’t afford to absorb any more spending tradeoffs, reductions, or harmful policy changes,” said OAF Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt. “The loss of $265 million in entirely federally-funded SNAP benefits has already had an astronomical economic impact. Every $5 in federal expenditures of SNAP benefits generates $9 in local spending, so this loss of SNAP benefits has not only impacted the food budgets of low-income families — it has also led to an estimated $477 million in lost revenue for grocers and retailers and lost economic growth.”

• If you need a way to boost productivity around the office, well, this is one way to get that done. Or it might just start a ton of fights and paranoid ramblings. Actually, maybe just steer clear of this “enhanced” coffee shipped to Germany recently.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.17.2014 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gun

Morning News and Stuff

$3 billion for friendlier flushing; Cleveland Browns wide receiver on Rice/Crawford shirt; state gun laws changing

All right. Since today is a bit of a slow news day and because I’ve spent the past few days working on this week’s cover story and news feature along with several blogs and the trusty morning news, let’s play catch-up today and go through the week’s stories I didn’t get to earlier. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

• What costs more than $3 billion and smells awful? No, it’s not the amount of sauerkraut Cincinnati consumes annually. It’s the city’s sewer system, which is facing a court-ordered upgrade. After a lawsuit by environmental group the Sierra Club and area homeowners tired of sewage in their basements, the city was ordered to revamp its aging sewer system over the next 20 years. That’s going to cost more than the streetcar and the two stadiums. The system is owned by Hamilton County but administered by the city. Upgrades plus normal annual operating costs are expected to cost ratepayers $395 million this year alone. Rates have gone from $250 in 2000 to a projected level of more than $800 in 2015. All that for a bunch of pipes.

• The fastest growing startup in Ohio is right here in Cincinnati. Ahalogy, a firm that helps companies market themselves using Pinterest, has gone from two employees in 2013 to more than 50 today. San Francisco-based Mattermark, which rates startups, gave Ahalogy the top spot in the state for the second year in a row due to its rapid growth. Local startup hubs like The Brandery and Cintrifuse helped the company rise so quickly. Ahalogy founders say the company is a good fit for Cincinnati because of the city’s strong consumer marketing scene.

• On Sunday, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a controversial t-shirt during warm ups before the team’s home game shellacking by the Bengals. The shirt said simply, “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” on the front and “The Real Battle for Ohio” on the back.

Cleveland Police Union President Jeff Follmer slammed Hawkins later that day, calling the shirt “pathetic.”

Follmer demanded Hawkins apologize.

"He's an athlete. He's someone with no facts of the case whatsoever," Follmer said. "He's disrespecting the police on a job that we had to do and make a split-second decision."

A very similar situation played out with St. Louis Rams players last month who ran out onto the field while imitating protesters’ “hands up, don’t shoot” pose in solidarity for activists. The St. Louis Police Union demanded an apology, while the team stuck behind its players.

Hawkins seems to have gotten the last word in the dispute. The Browns are standing behind him, and he gave this very thought-provoking interview Monday in which he stressed he respects the police, but couldn't stay silent against what he saw as injustice. Hawkins, who was visibly choked up, said he was motivated mostly by the thought of something similar happening to his two year old son.

“The number one reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality,” he said.

• It’s official: former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper is the Ohio Democratic Party’s new chairman. The state party’s executive committee elected Pepper last night after his main competitor, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race. Pepper has indicated he’ll be asking another former statewide candidate, Nina Turner, to join the state’s leadership. Turner ran for secretary of state. The two will have a big job ahead — rebuilding after resounding losses statewide for the party.

• Here’s another catch-up story for you: the Ohio General Assembly has passed some important changes to the state’s gun laws. A new bill passed by both the state house and senate last week would recognize other states’ concealed carry permits without additional permitting, allow silencers on some hunting rifles, give a six-month grace period for military service members’ license renewals and disallow those with non-immigrant visas and dishonorable discharges from the military from getting handgun licenses. The bill does not include an earlier provision that would have set up a “stand your ground” type law in Ohio. The changes are currently awaiting Gov. John Kasich’s signature.

• 113th Congress, we hardly knew ye. Wait, yes we did, and we hated you. One of the least productive and lowest rated congressional sessions in the country’s history came to end yesterday when Barack Obama signed the body’s controversial $1 trillion “CRominubs” spending plan. At least they got something done. Over the last two years, Congress has passed just 200 laws, the least amount of legislating done in recent memory. For comparison, the last time that number was anywhere near that low was the infamous “do nothing” Congress of 1948-1949, which passed more than 900 pieces of legislation. Way to go guys!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.16.2014 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gilbanecliftondevelopment-600x887

Morning News and Stuff

City tax deals for developers draw scrutiny; streetcar passes selling briskly; Bush vs. Clinton: the rematch?

Good morning all. It’s like, 8 a.m. and I’ve already experienced utter, terrifying confusion today. Normally that doesn’t happen until at least noon. Earlier, I woke up to a loud, continuous peal of thunder, which stupefied me in my half-awake state because it’s, you know, December and that usually doesn’t happen. I thought my house was falling down or exploding or something. Then I fell back asleep.

Anyway, news time. Is the city doing some shady dealing on tax breaks? City Council’s Neighborhood Committee yesterday approved a number of property tax deals city officials say will help spur development and job growth. The committee is made up of all members of Council, so passage here means the measures are pretty much a done deal. Some critics, however, question whether the tax deals are in the city’s best interest.

Drawing special scrutiny was a pair of proposed TIF districts in Queensgate and the West End. The narrowly drawn districts would encompass properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer, which is mulling some as-yet-unnamed but said to be large-scale improvements to the property. The TIF measures would set aside property taxes paid on those improvements for public infrastructure projects within the districts, instead of that money flowing into the city’s general fund. The measures were last minute additions to the agenda, and some, including downtown resident Kathy Holwadel, are suspicious. Holwadel penned an opinion piece for the Cincinnati Enquirer pointing out that the city doesn’t have any idea what it will use the TIF money for, which is unusual.

Others have pointed out that various members of the Neyer family were Mayor John Cranley's second-largest donors during last year's mayoral election, kicking him more than $26,000. Critics ask if the administration is giving the developer special deals.

The TIF districts don't represent out-and-out tax exemptions and Council will still have to vote on future uses of the taxes put in the TIF fund.

Councilwoman Yvette Simpson at the meeting yesterday raised concerns that the TIF money would only go toward projects that benefit the developer and suggested a larger TIF district that would allow the city to spend the collected money on a wider area. City officials say state laws have limited the amount of money larger TIF districts can accumulate. Simpson abstained on the vote. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the districts.

• The committee also approved a number of other tax deals, including a 15-year, $12 million tax exemption for Gilbane Development Co. on its proposed development project in Clifton Heights. This project has also been controversial, with residents saying there is already too much student-oriented housing like the Gilbane project in the neighborhood. Stay tuned for our in-depth story on that in the print edition tomorrow.

• The family of John Crawford III will file a lawsuit against the officers involved in his shooting as well as the Walmart corporation. Crawford was shot by police officer Sean Williams in a Beavercreek Walmart while carrying a pellet gun Aug. 5. The family's attorneys, as well as Crawford's father, will announce more details about the lawsuit at a news conference at 11 a.m. today in Dayton.

• The special edition Cincinnati streetcar passes Metro is offering have raised more than $40,000 so far, the department reports. The commemorative metal cards get riders 15, 30 or 60 days of unlimited rides on the streetcar for $25, $50 and $100, respectively. If you’re still thinking about getting one, better hurry — 1,000 of the 1,500 cards produced have already sold.

• Would you kayak in the Ohio River? If so, you’ll be excited about this. The Covington City Commission will decide today whether to enter into a partnership with Queen City Water Sports Club to design and build a facility on the former location of Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant where people can rent canoes and kayaks. The boat that housed Waterfront sank in August, and now the city is looking for new uses for the property where it was docked.

• Former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper looks likely to become the Ohio Democratic Party’s next chairman after his closest opponent, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race yesterday. Pepper ran for attorney general in the last election but was beaten by incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. If he wins, he’ll replace outgoing chair Chris Redfern, who resigned after the Democrats faced big losses in November.

• Nineties nostalgia is so hot right now. Doc Martens are on every foot. People are listening to Soundgarden unironically again. Flannel shirts, etc. If you’re really wanting to party like it’s 1992 again, though, you may soon get your chance. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is looking more and more like he’s going to jump into the race to become the Republican nominee for the presidency. He’s releasing a book. He’s raising some cash. His most likely opponent? Democratic nominee frontrunner Hillary Clinton, of course. If those last names don’t ring a deep, deja-vu inducing bell, don’t worry. Those Bush vs. Clinton tees are going to look great at an Urban Outfitters near you. America: where anyone can become president, but especially anyone from a wealthy political dynasty. Woo!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.15.2014 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 05:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
walmart-john-crawford-mug

Crawford Family to File Lawsuit Over Police Shooting

Suit names officers, Beavercreek police chief and Walmart

The family of John Crawford III, the 22-year-old Fairfield man a Beavercreek police officer shot Aug. 5 in a Walmart, is filing a lawsuit against Beavercreek Police Chief Dennis Evers, officers Sean Williams and David Darkow and the Walmart corporation, the family’s lawyers announced today via a news release.

Officer Williams shot Crawford, a Fairfield resident who grew up in Cincinnati, in the Walmart after another customer, Ronald Ritchie, called 911 to report a man loading a gun and pointing it at customers in the store. Ritchie later contradicted that statement in interviews with the media, stating Crawford wasn’t actually pointing the gun at anyone. The weapon turned out to be a pellet gun sold by Walmart. Video footage of the event released by Attorney General Mike DeWine weeks later does not conclusively show Crawford threatening anyone with the weapon.

A grand jury on Sept. 24 declined to indict Williams for the shooting.

Many have drawn parallels between Crawford’s death and the Aug. 9 police shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Brown was unarmed when officer Darren Wilson shot and killed him. The incident has sparked months of protests and civil unrest in Ferguson and across the country. Those protests intensified when a St. Louis County grand jury announced Nov. 24 that it would not indict Wilson.

The Crawford family’s lawyers, as well as Crawford’s father John Crawford, Jr., will hold a press conference in Dayton tomorrow at 11 a.m. to discuss the details of the lawsuit.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.15.2014 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
protesters washington park

Morning News and Stuff

Greenpeace activists sentenced; 4th and Race development back on, maybe; video shows harsh police interrogation after Crawford shooting

Morning all. Here’s the news today.

Eight Greenpeace activists arrested for hanging huge banners from P&G headquarters in March were found guilty and sentenced Friday after accepting a deal allowing them to plea down to misdemeanor charges. The group will have to perform 80 hours of community service and will be placed on probation for one year. The group was protesting P&G’s use of palm oil and the company’s role in deforestation. Originally, the group faced felony charges that could have meant more than nine years in prison. Prosecutors offered the plea deal earlier this month after P&G officials said they had begun working with Greenpeace on the issue and signaled they’d like to see a lighter sentence for the activists. A ninth protester died in California last month.

• A stalled deal to build a residential office tower downtown at Fourth and Race streets may be back on. The 16-17 story development, at least as it is planned this time around, would have 208 units of housing, a 925-space parking garage that the city will lend 3CDC $4 million to build and 25,000 square feet of retail space. Mayor John Cranley’s chief of staff Jay Kincaid told the Cincinnati Business Courier that the deal cuts back on some of the past plan’s overly-generous concessions to developer Flaherty and Collins. Originally, the tower was to be 30 stories tall and include 300 units of housing. That deal hinged on a $12 million forgivable loan from the city which has been cut in the new deal. City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee will likely vote on the agreement today, after which it could go for a full council vote on Wednesday.

• Cincinnati’s Metro system is gearing up for the year ahead. The transit program announced its new CEO Dwight Ferrell last week and held its big annual public meeting last Friday. Ferrell, who ran Atlanta’s streetcar system before coming here, will lead Metro as it looks to attract more riders, including Millennials, while better serving low-income residents who depend on its services. It also needs to get ready to run the streetcar and build new regional partnerships outside the city. Ok. You have 365 days. Go!

• Treatment for opiate addiction is nearly on par with alcoholism in the state, according to data from Ohio treatment centers. 33 percent of those treated in such facilities were there for alcoholism this year, while 32 percent where there for addiction to some form of opiate. That’s twice as many as were seeking treatment for opiate abuse six years ago. Experts say that doesn’t necessarily mean as many people are addicted to opiates in the state as alcohol, but it does show the alarming increase in abuse of the drug.

• Protests over what activists call racial inequities in the justice system have continued across the country, and Cincinnati has been no exception. A rally planned by the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network took place Friday afternoon at the Hamilton County Justice Center and a march from Fountain Square to Washington Park drew more than 100 people Saturday. That march was organized by individual activists in solidarity with ongoing protests in Ferguson, Mo., and enormous marches in New York City and Washington, D.C.. The latter was attended by the parents of John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and others whose children have died at the hands of police. Police shot Crawford, from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart this summer while holding a pellet gun. Cleveland Police shot Rice last month on a playground. He was also holding a toy weapon. As activists continue to protest, they’ve also widened their focus. On Saturday, for example, a group of organizers will hold a teach-in at the downtown public library at 11 a.m.

• On a final, and really just unbelievable note, The Guardian has published a video showing Beavercreek Police's aggressive interrogation of Crawford's girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately following Crawford's shooting. You can read the story and see the video here.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.14.2014 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
screen shot 2014-12-14 at 8.19.51 pm

Tape Shows Police Harshly Interrogating John Crawford's Girlfriend

Detective accuses Tasha Thomas of using drugs, waits an hour and a half to tell her Crawford has died

A video released by Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine in response to a public records requests by British site The Guardianshows a Beavercreek Police detective berating John Crawford III’s girlfriend about where Crawford got a gun. You can read The Guardian's story and watch the video here

Police shot Crawford, a 22-year-old from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart after he was sighted carrying a pellet gun he picked up, unpackaged, from a shelf in the store.

Detective Rodney Curd questioned Crawford’s girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately after the incident until she was weeping, then accused her of being on drugs.

“Are you under the influence of anything?” Curd asks as Thomas breaks down. “Your eyes are kind of messed up looking.”

Curd continually suggests that Crawford carried a gun into the store and that Thomas knew about the weapon, despite the fact he was unarmed. He tells Thomas she "may soon be heading to jail."

“You and John went into Walmart, and from my understanding, at some point, he produced a gun. You were with him just moments before that. Tell me where he got the gun from. And the truth is, you knew at some point he did carry a gun, didn’t you?”

“No. I didn’t know. Give me a lie detector test," she says.

Thomas repeatedly asks for a polygraph test in the tape.

Curd continues to badger Thomas throughout the questioning, sometimes slamming his hand on the desk. Curd also suggests that another woman Crawford had been involved with was in the store and that he was plotting to shoot her.

“Did he ever mention ‘I’m going to shoot that bitch’ or anything like that?”

After an hour and a half of questioning, Curd told Thomas that “due to his actions,” Crawford was dead.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.12.2014 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Faux out as planning commission head; Silicon Cincy; Congressional budget has big deals for big banks, big donors

Morning all. It’s Friday, I’m almost finished with a couple big stories for next week and I’m warm and cozy next to my portable fireplace (read: space heater). Things are looking up.

Let’s talk about news. Mayor John Cranley recently announced he is replacing Planning Commission Chair Caleb Faux with former Pleasant Ridge Community Council President Dan Driehaus. Last month, Faux and Cranley got into a tiff after City Manager Harry Black removed a provision from the planning commission’s agenda that would have preserved the possibility of commuter rail in the city’s plans for Wasson Way on the East Side. Faux accused Cranley, who is no fan of rail projects, of trying to block future light rail along Wasson Way. Cranley said he simply wanted to give more time for consideration of the measure.

Cranley said the move wasn't a reflection on Faux and that Driehaus is simply a better fit for the board. Council voted unanimously to approve Driehaus’ appointment.

Faux fired back yesterday after Cranley announced his replacement. While Faux said Driehaus is capable and will do a good job, he painted the mayor as a foe of city planning attempts to create pedestrian-friendly, walkable neighborhoods and a friend of big developers. Faux and Cranley have been at odds for years on the subject of form-based versus use-based codes, going back to Oakley’s Center of Cincinnati development last decade. That development put a Target, Meijers and other big box stores in the neighborhood. Faux opposed the project.

"What the mayor seems to want is a planning commission that will accept his direction and won't be independent,” Faux told the Business Courier yesterday. “I think he has a philosophy that we need to be friendly to developers and that using land-use regulations as a way to shape the city is not a good idea."

Cranley spokesman Kevin Osborne brushed off that criticism. He pointed to Cranley’s involvement in the creation of tax-increment financing districts for Over-the-Rhine and downtown while he was on City Council as evidence the mayor is invested in creating urban spaces.

Pointing to redevelopment in OTR as a sign you’re not cozy with big developers is an interesting way to go. But I digress.

• Also in City Hall news, Cranley announced yesterday he will appoint former congressman and Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken to the city’s port authority board. Luken, who was instrumental in creating the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, has strong ties in the Cincinnati business community. He’s also close with Cranley, and the move may be a way to improve strained relations between the port and City Hall.

• Councilman Chris Seelbach yesterday announced a proposal to add people who are homeless to a list of those protected by the city’s hate crime laws. He also announced a second proposal adding $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter in OTR. You can read more about both here.

• Is Cincinnati the next Silicon Valley? The Huffington Post seems to think it’s possible. The blog cited Cincinnati as one of eight unexpected cities where investors are flocking. OTR-based business incubator The Brandery got a specific shout out, as did the city’s major Fortune 500 companies and its “All American Midwest” feel. Trigger warning: The term “flyover city” is used in reference to Cincy in this article.

• Last night, the Ohio State Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would amend the state’s constitution and change the redistricting process for elections to the Ohio General Assembly. It took until 4 a.m. to reach the agreement, because the Senate parties hard. The amendment would create a seven-member board composed of the governor, state auditor, secretary of state and two legislators from each party. That is two more members than the current board, which is made up of two statewide office holders and three legislators. The 10-year district maps drawn by the board would need two votes from the minority party or they would come up for review after four years. The bill next goes to the Ohio House, where it is expected to pass.

• Finally: Congress has agreed upon a budget, it seems, and the government won’t come to a grinding, weeks-long shutdown like it did last year. If you just leave it there and don’t think about it more than that, that’s good news. But looking into some of the budgetary sausage being made is a bit terrifying. Rolled up in the massive “CRomnibus” spending proposal (meaning continuing resolution plus omnibus spending bill) is a measure that would increase rich donors’ ability to give money to political parties. Currently, donors are limited to $97,200 as individuals. The new limit would be a seven-fold boost: $776,000. A married couple would be able to donate a jaw-dropping $3.1 million under the rule changes tucked into the shutdown-averting measure.

Another worrisome measure would dismantle certain parts of the Dodd-Frank Act, which holds big banks accountable for reckless, risky financial dealings. In the simplest terms, the rules change would allow banks to keep certain risky assets in accounts insured by the federal government, leaving taxpayers on the hook for huge potential losses. As if we didn’t learn our lesson in 2008.

The measures were last-minute concessions needed to win the votes of a number of conservative congressmen. It’s depressing to think that our options are either a complete lapse into governmental dysfunction or these gimmes to the nation’s most powerful financial interests, but there you have it.

Have a fun Friday!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.11.2014 9 days ago
Posted In: Homelessness, News at 12:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Seelbach Proposes Protecting Homeless Under Hate Crime Laws

Additional proposal would add $45,000 to winter shelter

A proposed city ordinance could add homeless people to groups protected by hate crime laws, making Cincinnati one of just three cities to do so. The proposal by Councilman Chris Seelbach could add up to 180 days in extra jail time for those convicted of crimes against people because they don't have homes.

“Homeless people are targeted because they’re vulnerable," Seelbach said during a news conference today in Washington Park, during which he also announced a proposal to add money for winter shelters. “This hopefully will send a message to everyone that even though homeless people may seem vulnerable and on the streets, their lives and their safety are just as important as every single person in Cincinnati we live and work with every day.”

Both proposals will need to be approved by Cincinnati City Council, but Seelbach says he's confident a majority of council will support them.

Six-hundred-thousand Americans experienced homelessness last year. One-fourth were children. Many are veterans.  The National Coalition for the Homeless has been tracking homeless hate crimes since 2000. Over a four-year period starting in 2009, there were 1,437 attacks nationally and 357 deaths, according to a report from the coalition.

Currently, gender, sexual orientation, race, national origin and disability are protected under hate crime state and federal hate crime laws. Only two cities, including Cleveland, consider crimes against people because they are homeless to be hate crimes. Cincinnati would be the third if Seelbach’s proposal passes. Several states have committed to begin considering such violence hate crimes, including Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Washington. Legislation has been introduced into the Ohio General Assembly multiple times proposing a similar move but has been voted down.

“It will hopefully send a message to our community that people experiencing homeless do matter and that the city takes this seriously,” said Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition Director Josh Spring. “Primarily young people, high school and college age, commit these crimes. And if they’re caught, their response to why they did it is, ‘Why does it matter? It’s just a homeless person. We’re just cleaning up the streets.’ We want the city to say it does matter.’”

Cincinnati has seen a number of incidents of violence against the homeless, and the Coalition here has worked for years to get such actions classified as hate crimes. Four years ago, Robert Mehan was beaten and nearly killed as he was walking on Walnut Street downtown. A young man picked Mehan up and slammed him into the ground. He then beat him with beer bottles. Mehan was in a coma and almost died.

In July, John Hensley, a 49-year-old staying at the Drop-Inn Center, was leaving for work cleaning Great American Ball Park when he was attacked from behind by Alexander Gaines, 19, Brandon Ziegler, 21 and a 17-year-old minor. The three punched, kicked and kneed Hensley for 15 minutes. They’re currently facing charges in Hamilton County courts.

“They didn’t say anything, they were laughing," Hensley told a reporter after the incident. "I feel I was targeted because I am a homeless guy leaving the Drop Inn Center at 4 in the morning and no one was around, they thought they could get away with it and they didn’t.”

While the classification of such violence as a hate crime may make those experiencing homelessness safer in the long term, Seelbach’s other proposal, which would add $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter, will bring more immediate relief. That’s a big change from the situation in the past, advocates say.

“We’re extremely happy about the change over the last several years,” Spring says. “It was not that long ago that the winter shelter did not open until it was 9 degrees wind chill or lower.”

Last night, The Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine housed 292 people, according to Arlene Nolan, the center’s director. The winter shelter opened Nov. 19 this year, much earlier than usual.

“We’ve been able to accommodate well over 30 percent more than our normal capacity,” Nolan said.

Increased funding for the winter shelter “is something that is critical in assuring that we meet our ultimate goal, which is to make sure no one freezes to death on the streets in Cincinnati during the winter,” said Kevin Finn, director of Strategies to End Homelessness.

More than 750 people used the county’s 11 shelters last night, according to Finn. That’s just part of the city’s homeless population — others are staying with other people they may or may not know or sleeping in camps around the city.

Family shelters in the city are receiving about a dozen calls a day, according to Spring, and can only accommodate about 20 percent of the families who need their services.

“There is no silver bullet to ending homelessness or preventing people from attacking people who are experiencing homelessness,” Seelbach said. “This is part of the solution. The other part is strategies to end homelessness and getting people who are experiencing homelessness back into a house. That takes everything from the Drop Inn Center to transitional housing to permanent supportive housing and everything in between.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.11.2014 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Big CUF development gets go-ahead despite controversy; no tax incentives for Ark Park; parking ticket amnesty was on, then off, is now on again

Morning y’all. Let’s get this news thing going.

Cincinnati City Council yesterday approved zoning changes for a major, and controversial, development in the CUF neighborhood just south of UC. The project, done by Rhode Island-based Gilbane Development Co., will bring 180 apartments mostly for student housing, townhomes, a 380-space underground parking garage and up to 9,000 square feet of retail space to the spot where the historic Lenhardt’s restaurant was located on McMillan Avenue. The plans are a revision of an earlier proposal that called for called for eight stories on the buildings instead of six and an entrance for cars on Lyon Street which was later removed. Some community members say those revisions still don’t help the project fit in with the residential neighborhood.

A group of about 10 residents came to the meeting. They’d like to see something more oriented toward homeowners and long-term renters, they say, instead of students. They’re also highly concerned about parking and traffic in the busy McMillan-Calhoun corridor. Citing these concerns, both council members Yvette Simpson and Christopher Smitherman voted against the zoning changes, though they praised Gilbane for being flexible and taking community opinion into account in revising its plans. The townhomes, for instance, were added by Gilbane as a way to market the development to groups other than students. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at development in CUF next week.

• While we’re talking development: Change in Over-the-Rhine looks to be entering a new stage as more developers start talking about single-family housing instead of apartments or condos. The most recent development in this vein — five townhomes are coming to Republic Street in Over-the-Rhine. Three will be newly built, two will be renovations and one is already sold. The 2,400-square-foot units built by John Huber Homes will cost between $400,000 to $600,000 a piece and will feature posh amenities such as rooftop decks and gated parking.

• City Council yesterday also passed a compromise on a seemingly innocuous parking ticket food drive initiative that had become the subject of some controversy. Originally, the plan, proposed by Councilmembers Chris Seelbach and Amy Murray, would have offered a one-time amnesty for the $90 cost of a single delinquent parking ticket in exchange for 10 canned food items. But that met with resistance from Councilman Kevin Flynn, who balked at the idea that those who don’t pay parking tickets would be able to get off so lightly. Mayor John Cranley also wasn’t into it, calling the idea “reckless.” A compromise was reached in Council’s Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday. The city will still collect the original $45 parking ticket fee but will waive late charges for anyone who brings in the canned goods. The offer is good from Dec. 15-19 and only applies to tickets from 2014.

"This is a one-time chance to clear an old debt and do good for your community at the same time,” Seelbach said.  “In the New Year, the city will begin aggressive collection of delinquent parking tickets under a new contract with Xerox, but this holiday season you can come clean, make a donation and make a difference.”

• University of Cincinnati medical students yesterday staged a “die-in” to protest racial inequality in the nation’s justice system. More than 70 participated. You can read our story on that here.

• The state of Kentucky will no longer throw in tax dollars on religious group Answers in Genesis’ Noah’s Ark theme park project in Grant County. Kentucky Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart sent the group a letter yesterday rescinding the state’s offer of up to $18 million in tax rebates because he says the project has gone from a tourist attraction to a ministry. Answers is known for making employees sign statements of faith pledging adherence to the group’s Christian beliefs. Answers also runs the well-known Creation Museum in Kentucky.

• Overcrowding at the Hamilton County Jail could determine how long former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter stays in jail. Hunter was sentenced to six months for a felony conviction recently and is supposed to report to jail immediately after Christmas. However, the jail is at capacity and first-time offenders who are non-violent are usually the first to be released under such overcrowded conditions.

“I want to make the public aware and everyone aware that this jail is full," Hamilton County Jail Administrator Maj. Charmaine McGuffey told Channel 5 yesterday. "We’ve been full for a number of years. And we’ve been making these hard difficult decisions all along. Tracie Hunter is going to be no different in the decision-making process.”

Fifty-six Hamilton County Democrats asked Judge Norbert Nadel, who sentenced Hunter, to defer her jail time until an appeal she has filed can be heard. Nadel refused that request. Hunter’s felony would usually only result in probation, but Nadel cited her stature as a public figure and judge in his decision to apply the harsher punishment.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.10.2014 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 04:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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UC Med Students Stage "Die In" to Protest Racial Inequalities

More than 70 students participated in a demonstration mirroring similar events at schools across the country

More than 70 University of Cincinnati medical students today staged a “die in,” lying on the floor of the busy UC Medical Sciences Building to protest what they say are serious racial disparities in the nation’s justice system.

That protest mirrored similar events across the country reacting to police killings of unarmed black citizens and subsequent lack of indictments in some of those cases. Organizers of the event say that students at more than 70 medical schools participated in the noon demonstrations.

In Cincinnati, the medical and pharmacy students spent 20 minutes sprawled out beneath the building's soaring, modern atrium in white lab coats with signs reading “Am I Next?” and “Black Lives Matter." The group was mostly silent, save a  reading of a passage from the Hippocratic Oath about understanding the needs of communities doctors serve.

A protester reads a passage from the Hippocratic Oath at a demonstration in UC\'s Medical Sciences Building Dec. 10.

 

Among them was Zuri Hemphill, a medical student who helped organize the protest.

“This is to stand in solidarity across the nation and to use our platform as medical students, because that’s something we’ve earned and a voice that we have, to call attention to the fact that this is not just a lower socio-economic problem but a problem across the black community and the entire American community,” she said.

The demonstration is the latest in a series that have taken place in Cincinnati and across the country over the issue of police use of force against people of color. That’s a subject especially sensitive to Cincinnati, which experienced days of civil unrest in 2001 after white police officer Stephen Roach shot unarmed 18-year-old Timothy Thomas in Over-the-Rhine.

The latest round of the conversation on race and the justice system was sparked by the Aug. 9 shooting death of 19-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. That shooting sparked waves of protests in the city and around the country and focused attention on similar incidents, including the death of John Crawford of Fairfield, who was killed by police while holding a toy gun in a Beavercreek Walmart.

A grand jury’s decision last month not to indict Wilson led to a fresh wave of protests, including one in Cincinnati that drew more than 300 people and briefly shut down I-75.

Beyond solidarity, Hemphill said today’s event was aimed at raising awareness among future healthcare professionals and the general population about the connections between racial disparities and healthcare.

“The reality is, there are 10 black students in my class. We’re not going to be treating all the black patients in Cincinnati. We as physicians need to understand the plights of our communities. We have to be advocates for all our patients of all races.”

 
 
 
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