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by Nick Swartsell 06.02.2015 93 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
joeyvotto_thecincinnatireds

Morning News and Stuff

Council committee OKs Wasson Way purchase; Cincinnati a top city for baseball; is Columbus the next Brooklyn?

Morning Cincinnati. The sun has apparently caught whatever terrible cold I had last week and is off sick for a couple days. It feels like October outside, which would be cool if we got Halloween and colorful leaves. But actually we just get coldness which isn’t that great. Anyway, news time.

More city-police chief news is afoot. City Manager Harry Black has given Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell until Friday to present a 90-day plan for reducing violence in the city. Black says the chief can have an extension into next week if he needs it, but wants to be proactive and find causes and solutions for the city’s recent spike in shootings. Cincinnati has seen more than 50 shootings and 11 killings in the last month, and 30 murders so far this year. In Cincinnati and most other major cities, crime usually spikes as the weather gets warmer, but this year’s increase has been bigger than normal. The Friday deadline for Blackwell comes as questions swirl around resignation papers drawn up by the city manager’s office for Blackwell. Mayor John Cranley and the city manager both say they want Blackwell to stay and that he initiated conversations about his resignation last week. Blackwell says he’s not going anywhere and wants to remain chief. He’s been chief for two years, before which he served with the Columbus Police Department.

• Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee voted yesterday to purchase a four-mile stretch of rail right of way for the Wasson Way bike trail. The city will purchase the land sometime in the next two years for $11.75 million from Norfolk Southern Railways. The bike trail will stretch from Mariemont to Evanston, with a proposed extension into Avondale. The deal goes before a full council vote Wednesday.

• Great news: Whether the Reds win or, you know, do that other thing they’ve been doing a lot lately, Cincinnati is one of the best cities in the country for baseball fans. That’s according to a new study by WalletHub.com. The website looked at 11 factors in deciding its rankings of 272 cities, including how well each city’s professional or college team does, how expensive tickets are, stadium amenities and other criteria. Cincinnati did well — we’re the third best city in the country when it comes to baseball. But here’s the not so great part. Numbers one and two are St. Louis and Pittsburgh, respectively. You win some, you lose some…

• Former Mason mayor and Warren County State Rep. Pete Beck was found guilty today on 17 counts of fraud and corruption. Beck was accused of cheating a local company out of millions of dollars and originally faced more than 60 counts of fraud and corruption. Some of those charges were reduced, and he was found not guilty on another 21 counts today. Some of the guilty verdict covered serious felony charges. No sentencing date has been announced yet.

• When you think of hip up and coming cities, what places pop into your head? I’ll wait while you write out a list. Did that list include Columbus? Mine didn’t, but hey, what do I know? Here’s a funny article in national magazine Mother Jones about how Ohio’s capital is marketing itself to the young and hip. It's kind of unclear if the author visited the flat, gray city, but the piece asks some intriguing questions. Is it the next Brooklyn? Hm. Probably not. It is, as the article puts it, vanilla ice cream in a world of exotic gelato. But it’s like, cheap, and stuff, so there’s that. Oh, and OSU. It also has that going for it.

• Finally, more Rand Paul stuff. Turns out all those stands Paul is taking against the NSA and foreign intervention aren’t endearing the U.S. Senator from Kentucky to big Republican donors. In the toss-up race for the Republican presidential nomination, big GOP donors are spreading money around to any number of hopefuls: Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and other potential front runners. Pretty much everyone but Paul. That will certainly hobble the libertarian’s chances of spreading his message with TV ads and the like as the primary race heats up. But it may also further endear him to his anti-establishment libertarian base and may entice some voters who don’t traditionally vote Republican into the fold.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.01.2015 94 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
jeffrey blackwell

Morning News and Stuff

Wasson Way deal reached; Was CPD chief thinking of resigning?; Patriot Act phone spying provision expires

Hey y’all. Oh boy, did some news happen since last time we talked. 

First, as I told you about on Friday, the city has finalized a deal to purchase right of way along the Wasson Way rail line from Norfolk Southern. If council approves the deal, the city will pay $11. 75 million for the right of way need to build a 7.5 mile bike path from Mariemont to Evanston. The city is currently applying for millions in federal grants to help pay for the path.

• Did the city make moves to sack the police chief? Or was he thinking about quitting? The City of Cincinnati recently drew up resignation documents for Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, the Cincinnati Business Courier reports. Both Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black, who has the power to dismiss the chief, have said that the documents were drawn up after Blackwell inquired about resigning. Blackwell didn’t sign those documents, and has since said he’s not planning on going anywhere. Some, including Councilman Wendell Young, a former police officer, have said they think the papers are a sign that Blackwell was about to be pushed out. Cranley and Black, however, both say they didn’t want Blackwell to leave. The resignation letter comes to light as the city receives accolades from across the country for its community-based policing practices, but also struggles with a recent wave of gun violence that has shootings at a ten-year high.

• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is still hustling to make the case that he, not former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, is best Democrat to challenge U.S. Sen Rob Portman in 2016. Yesterday, both were in Mason speaking at the Warren County Democratic Party’s annual dinner. There, Sittenfeld found he’s still got his work cut out for him, according to an Enquirer story today. The crowd seemed much warmer to Strickland, the story says, and many weren’t that familiar with Sittenfeld. The 30-year-old has gotten some support for his run, raising a respectable amount of money for his campaign this year, mostly from Cincinnati donors. But 71-year-old Strickland has statewide name recognition and the endorsement of former President Bill Clinton on his side. Top Dems have called for Sittenfeld to step aside, and some at the Warren County dinner last night agreed, but Sittenfeld has said he’s in the race to stay.

• If your bike was stolen from downtown or OTR recently, here’s a quick hit of potentially good news: The Cincinnati Police Department says it located several stolen bikes in the West End this weekend. If you’re missing your ride, you could get a call from the cops soon about that.

• The Ohio Department of Education has finished part of its investigation into Chicago-based Concept Schools in the state, specifically the organization’s Dayton-based location, where former teachers and administrators say employees allowed sex games between students, tampered with testing attendance data and committed other crimes. The 106 complaints lodged against the school could not be proven, ODE says, though the organization isn’t ruling out action in the future if more evidence comes to light. Other charges of test tampering, including at Horizon Academy in Bond Hill, another Concept school, are still under investigation. Concept says the department’s findings prove that the allegations against the schools were nothing more than a “witch hunt” against charters. Concept is also under a separate white collar crime investigation by the FBI for other business misconduct charges at some of its 18 Ohio schools.  

• If you’re really into buying stuff off the internet, here’s a small bit of bad news for you: Amazon will begin charging Ohio sales tax on items it sells online. The company estimates that the move, which comes as Congress works to expand taxes on internet commerce, will put between $150 million to $200 million into the state’s coffers.

• Ohio State University has created a committee to study whether the school’s top administrators make too much money. OSU’s former president Gordon Gee was the highest paid public university president in the country, a fact that has created some controversy as college becomes more and more unaffordable for students. Gee’s replacement, Michael Drake, has pledged to work toward a more affordable college experience for students. The school says it would like its executives — people like Drake as well as athletic coaches and high-profile physicians employed by OSU — to be paid the same as the average position at comparable universities.

National stuff:

• Beau Biden, the son of Vice President Joe Biden, died over the weekend of brain cancer. The younger Biden was the former attorney general of Delaware and a figure many Democrats had once looked to as a rising political star. Biden passed up a chance to run for his father’s Senate seat when the elder Biden became VP in 2008, instead staying in Delaware to continue serving as AG. He had been a favorite to run for governor there in 2016 before his health deteriorated.

• How big a deal is Sen. Bernie Sander’s presidential run? Many have written off the self-professed socialist as a long shot contender for the Democratic nomination against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and that’s probably accurate. But Sanders has still been receiving a surprising amount of support and excitement from left-leaning Democrats. As the above New York Times story about the race makes clear, Sanders could at least make things interesting in the primary. 

• As we talked about a couple days ago, a key tenet of the U.S. Patriot Act expired yesterday after U.S. Senator Rand Paul led resistance to its renewal. The program allowed the federal government to collect massive amounts of cell phone call data from American citizens, something Paul calls a violation of constitutional rights. The lapse is almost certainly temporary — a compromise bill looks likely to pass the Senate in a few days — but the stand allowed Paul to make a political point and score a few among his libertarian base for his presidential bid.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.29.2015 97 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news-wassonway-700x615

Morning News and Stuff

City applies for fed funding for Elmore Street bridge; Big step for Wasson Way soon?; tiny houses catch on in Cleveland

Hey all! News time.

First, a couple Cincinnati City Council things. Council yesterday voted to apply for up to $33 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grants for the proposed Elmore Street Connector project. The bridge, which would connect Cincinnati State to the West Side after the current I-74 exit there is removed, is expected to cost up to $44 million. Currently, the city and the state would split that cost, but the federal money could lower the burden for both significantly.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is undertaking a years-long reworking of the I-75 corridor, which includes changing interchanges that connect the highway and I-74 to uptown. ODOT’s original plans remove the I-74 exit onto Central Parkway, which carries traffic to Cincinnati State’s doorstep, but wouldn’t replace that exit. That led to proposals for an overpass over I-75 to relink the area with Beekman Street, which runs through South Cumminsville and other neighborhoods on the other side of the Mill Creek Valley. Despite the backing of area employers in the Uptown Consortium, the project has been controversial.

But the bridge won’t cause delays to other parts of the project as previously expected, ODOT now says. Last month, officials said that constructing the bridge, which Cincinnati State President O’Dell Owens has championed, could delay the construction of the Hopple Street ramp until as late as 2020. After the potential delay was revealed and business owners in Camp Washington raised objections, Owens wrote a letter to ODOT requesting that the Hopple project not be delayed by the I-74 bridge. In an email response to that letter yesterday, Ohio Department of Transportation Acting District Deputy Director Gary L. Middleton said that removing the current I-74 interchange and constructing the new bridge would not affect the construction time frame for the Hopple exit.

Owens has said the bridge would provide Cincinnati State students living on the West Side a vital direct link to the school. Economic impact studies touted by Mayor John Cranley’s office and undertaken by the Greater Cincinnati Economics Center for Education & Research in 2014 suggest that the bridge could have an economic impact worth millions, as well as reconnecting neglected neighborhoods like Millvale and South Cumminsville, which were cut off from the rest of the city by construction of the interstates.

Now, if we could just get some of those millions for more public transit options in Cincinnati….

• A major bike trail on Cincinnati’s East Side could soon be one step closer to reality. The city of Cincinnati hopes to have a deal to present City Council for purchasing the right of way along the mostly unused Wasson Way rail line by Monday, City Manager Harry Black revealed in yesterday’s City Council meeting. The right of way, currently owned by Norfolk Southern, is needed for a proposed 7.5-mile bike path stretching from Mariemont to Xavier University in Evanston. Plans for an extension into Avondale have also been floated. Securing right of way for the trail is a crucial step and one that needs to be taken soon, Black said. The city is in the final stages of applying for a share of $500 million in TIGER grants the U.S. Department of Transportation has made available this year, and owning right of way is an important part of winning those funds.

• The Greater Cincinnati YMCA released big renovation plans for its downtown location yesterday. The building was built in 1917 and is an iconic presence along Central Parkway. The branch closed in December for the work, and now the YMCA is rolling out its detailed plans for what it will look like when finished. Among the big changes: much more natural light in the facility’s two-story fitness center, lounges with 50-inch TVs, new weight-lifting equipment and preservation of the site’s running track. That last one is huge for me. Sign me up when they reopen. I hate treadmills and it’s very difficult to find a good indoor track these days. City Council yesterday voted to approve a tax exemption for the entirety of the improvements made to the property. The project will revamp the entire building and add up to 65 units of affordable housing for seniors. The work is expected to cost $27 million. The facility is expected to be open to the public again around this time next year. In the meantime, 12 other branches are open in the West End, Walnut Hills, Northern Kentucky and elsewhere around the area.

• A group of about 50 people gathered at Ziegler Park in Over-the-Rhine yesterday for a rally organized by Cincinnati Black Lives Matter in remembrance of unarmed women and trans people of color killed recently in police-related incidents around the country. Among those remembered was Rekia Boyd, who died in 2012 after off-duty Chicago police officer Dante Servin fired into a dark alley and shot her. Boyd was not involved in an earlier confrontation that led officer Servin to give chase to the group of people he fired at, and a Chicago judge found his actions “beyond reckless.” Servin, who says one of the group pulled something from their waistband and that he feared for his life at the time, was not punished for Boyd’s death. Organizers of yesterday’s rally in OTR said they wanted to highlight Boyd’s story and others as continued attention is paid to the shooting of unarmed men of color like Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and John Crawford III.

• Finally, Cincinnati isn’t the only Ohio city grabbing on to the tiny house trend. People’s Liberty grant recipient Brad Cooper has gotten a lot of attention lately for his project, which looks to build two 200-square foot houses in Over-the-Rhine. Cooper got $100,000 from People's Liberty to carry out that plan, but Cincy isn't the only city where enthusiasm is growing for the concept. This Cleveland Plain Dealer article details how the small, simple house movement is gathering steam in Cleveland and Toledo, where folks are making big plans to build similar tiny houses in urban areas.

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

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.28.2015 98 days 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 99 days 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 100 days 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 106 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 112 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 112 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 114 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 09.03.2015 6 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
jeffrey blackwell

Morning News and Stuff

FOP might cast no-confidence vote for Blackwell; voters will not get opportunity to approve most charter change proposals; Cincinnati, city of snobs?

Good morning all. Here’s what’s happening in the news today.

Cincinnati’s Fraternal Order of Police is set to cast a vote of no confidence regarding CPD Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, according to union leadership. Union President Kathy Harrell is convening the Sept. 14 meeting to address what she says are issues around low morale, staffing and other concerns from officers. Though Harrell says she believes officers will cast the no confidence vote, that’s not set in stone, and the meeting will include an open forum during which officers can voice their opinions.

The meeting comes as Cincinnati experiences something of a spike in gun violence, which is up 30 percent from last year. Some other crimes are also up slightly — as a whole,  violent crime has risen 3 percent since this time last year — but that follows an abnormally quiet year last year, and overall crime rates line up with the past few years in the city. Other cities have also seen upticks in crime, some much more drastic than Cincinnati. But city leaders have said that’s no excuse and have pushed for new crime reduction measures. Blackwell introduced a 90-day crime reduction plan earlier this summer, which has gotten mixed reviews from the city manager, mayor and other leaders. Earlier in the summer, questions swirled around whether Blackwell was departing the force; city documents outlining his exit were detailed in media reports, though they were never signed and the chief stayed on. In June, black police union the Sentinels unanimously voted their support for the chief.

Blackwell called a news conference last night to address the pending FOP no-confidence vote, saying he felt sure he would remain chief and highlighting the efforts he has made to build community engagement and fight crime. He also stressed that staffing for the department is at a six-year high. The FOP hasn’t had a meeting like the one planned for next week in a decade, and officers in Cincinnati have never cast a no-confidence vote over a chief.

• If you were looking forward to voting on major changes to our city's governing system, well, sorry 'bout that. There were few surprises out of City Hall yesterday as Cincinnati City Council and Mayor John Cranley blocked the most substantive of suggested amendments to the city’s charter from appearing before voters in November. A measure allowing Council to fire the city manager and another that would have enabled it to engage in executive session both failed to gather enough votes to make it onto the November ballot. Some on Council, including council members Yvette Simpson and Kevin Flynn, supported bringing those changes to voters.

But the executive session amendment failed to reach the six-vote threshold needed to overturn last week’s mayoral veto. Cranley says he vetoed the amendment because it would bring more secrecy to government by allowing Council to meet in private. Simpson argued that executive session, which is permissible under state law and is used by most municipal councils in the state, would actually allow elected representatives to play a bigger role in decisions the city administration makes. Simpson pointed out that some information circulating within City Hall related to economic development deals, court cases, security and other issues must be kept confidential.

However, since Council must conduct all its business in public, it can’t be made privy to that information until it’s time to vote on it. That means elected representatives only get to engage in the final stages of decision making and aren’t involved in cutting economic development deals, for instance, until the final deal is reached. Simpson slammed that dynamic, saying that it means city administration and the mayor are allowed to hold private meetings and hash out private deals without Council’s knowledge. But City Manager Harry Black said Council is able to exercise oversight over any part of the deal-making process and can challenge the confidentiality of any information possessed by the city administration. Cranley said having access to such information as mayor is one of “the privileges of the position” and pointed out that executive and legislative roles must necessarily differ in City Hall.

The executive session amendment garnered five votes from Council. Councilmen P.G. Sittenfeld, Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman voted against it. Councilman Chris Seelbach was absent from voting, but had previously indicated to media that he would not reprise his earlier “yes” vote on the amendment, making it unlikely the measure would overcome Cranley’s veto.

Cranley also railed against the provision allowing Council to fire the city manager, saying it would create an atmosphere where the city’s top executive would fear for his job “every week.” Cranley cited the dynamics of Council in the 1990s, before Council’s ability to fire the manager was revoked, to illustrate his point. However, some council members pushed back at his assertion. Sittenfeld, for example, said having nine council members overseeing the city manager seemed more democratic and more stable than having only the mayor do so.

Council did place two amendments on the November ballot. One would clean up archaic language in the city’s charter and also change the date of the city’s mayoral primary. The other would shift start dates for the mayor and council members from early December to early January.

OK. Look at me rambling on. Here are some quick hits for the rest of your news.

• The Cincinnati Zoo announced yesterday it will spend $12 million on an expansion of its gorilla exhibit, building an indoor greenhouse for the primates that will match the animals’ current outdoor area.

• Is Cincinnati one of the most unfriendly cities in the world?

Read More

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.02.2015 30 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news-abortionclinics-700x615

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar builder burns midnight oil to complete vehicles; legal challenge to mayor's park proposal; Kasich speaks the language of youth

Hey hey all. Here’s what’s happening in the city and beyond this morning.

The company making Cincinnati’s streetcars, CAF USA, will be adding extra shifts at its manufacturing facility in New York in order to avoid being any later on delivering the vehicles. CAF originally told the city that the cars would be delivered by the end of this month. But a few weeks ago, the company revealed that they might not be ready until December, stoking apprehension that the delay could cause the entire transit project’s start date to be pushed back. The streetcar is supposed to start operating, with passengers, this time next year. Between now and then, a good deal of testing will need to be done on the cars, both at the manufacturing facility and here in Cincinnati, where the cars will have to take log a number of test miles before they can take passengers. However, officials with the city and with CAF say the delay won’t cause any lag in the project’s launch. The company has given the city a progress update on the vehicles and has said the first of the five cars could be delivered as early as October.

• Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Ohio yesterday filed a lawsuit against the state over recently passed new laws governing abortion access. CityBeat has covered the ongoing battle extensively, and you can read the backstory here, here, and here. Shorter version: A provision tucked into Ohio’s budget and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in June would give the Ohio Department of Health 60 days to approve an abortion provider’s license renewal or variance request. After that period, the request would be automatically denied and a clinic would lose its ability to perform the procedure. In its federal suit, Planned Parenthood says that presents an unconstitutional barrier to abortion access. Cincinnati’s last remaining clinic, Planned Parenthood’s Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn, could be in jeopardy of closing due to that new rule. That would make Cincinnati the largest metro area in the country without direct access to an abortion clinic. The Mount Auburn clinic waited for more than a year to have its last variance request granted by ODH. After Planned Parenthood filed a previous lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Ohio laws that require clinics have hospital admitting privileges, but forbidding public hospitals from entering into such agreements, the department finally issued the clinic an exception to those rules. Now, the facility could be in danger of closing again thanks to the new restrictions Planned Parenthood is challenging.

• Mayor John Cranley’s proposed ballot initiative for city park upgrades is getting a legal challenge from one staunch opponent. Cincinnati attorney Don Mooney filed an objection to the initiative earlier this week, saying the wording of the ballot proposal is misleading and incomplete. Supporters of the initiative have already gained the needed signatures to place the proposal on the November ballot. Cranley’s proposal would boost property taxes to pay for upkeep to the city’s park as well as fund major changes to several, including Clifton’s Burnet Woods. The proposal is designed to raise about $5 million a year in property tax revenues. But that 75 percent of that money could be used on debt service for bonds the city would issue to raise tens of millions of dollars for the parks project. Therein lies the rub, or at least one of them: Mooney charges that the ballot initiative as written doesn’t make clear that it would allow the city, through the mayor and park board, to take on millions in debt. Mooney also criticizes the power given the mayor to make decisions about what to do with that money. Under the initiative’s current language, parks projects funded by the money would be proposed by the mayor and approved by the parks board without the approval of Cincinnati City Council. Mooney calls that a mayoral power grab.

• If you’re wondering what the long-promised new Kroger location in Corryville will look like, the grocery chain finally has some renderings for you to gander at. Kroger released some images of how the store should look when completed next year. At nearly 70,000 square feet, the location will nearly double the size of the current Kroger at the south end of Corryville’s Short Vine strip. Current plans flip the store’s orientation, putting its entrance facing Jefferson Street and the University of Cincinnati’s campus.

• Finally, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is a hip, with it guy. He knows what the kids like. They like Snapchat. They like bacon. They like GOP presidential primary candidates who are down with Snapchat and bacon. That’s why Kasich’s campaign pioneered a new kind of political ad today on the photo and video sharing app. The ad uses a filter on the app to render Kasich’s campaign logo as strips of bacon, which the app is running in early primary state New Hampshire from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. today. In his next move to win millennial voters, Kasich will post anonymously on Yik Yak with a special, super-secret guest verse on an A$AP Rocky song rapped entirely in Doge speak about his foreign policy platform. Such hip! Much vote!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.01.2015 49 hours ago
Posted In: News at 03:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_protester_7-9 copy

Planned Parenthood Sues Ohio Over Abortion Access

Suit claims new state laws unjustly limit women's access to abortion

Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio filed a federal lawsuit today against the state of Ohio, charging that "hostile policies" passed by the state in the last few years greatly restrict women's access to abortions.

The suit comes after new restrictions were slipped into Ohio's budget earlier this year. Among those restrictions was a clause that automatically suspends a clinic's license to provide abortions if the Ohio Department of Health does not respond to a license renewal application or request for variance to other restrictions within 60 days. In the past, ODH has taken a year or more to respond to applications from clinics in Cincinnati and elsewhere in the state.

New rules on abortion providers have come about in the past few years as conservative state lawmakers have sought to clamp down on abortion providers. Some lawmakers say the laws are about patient safety, while others admit they are intended to decrease the number of abortions performed in Ohio. Since the laws have been passed, the number of clinics in Ohio has dwindled from 14 to just nine.

Restrictions passed in 2009 required clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and a subsequent law passed in 2013 forbade publicly funded hospitals from entering into those agreements. That rule cost Cincinnati's last clinic providing abortions, the Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn, its transfer agreement with UC Hospital.

The center, run by Planned Parenthood, has since had to apply for variances to those rules, which it qualifies for because it has individual physicians who can admit patients to hospitals. Delays from the ODH granting a variance to those restrictions have put the future of Cincinnati's last operating clinic providing abortions in jeopardy. The center waited more than a year for its variance request, which the ODH finally granted after Planned Parenthood filed an earlier lawsuit against Ohio.

If the center were to cease providing abortions, Cincinnati would become the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortion services. If another, similarly endangered clinic in Dayton were also shuttered, Southwest Ohio would be entirely without a clinic.

Officials with Planned Parenthood say the state's new laws are about politics, not patient safety.

"Despite what these politicians claim, medical experts have made it clear that these restrictions don’t enhance patient safety — just the opposite," Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio CEO Jerry Lawson said in a statement about the lawsuit. "Politicians in Ohio should be helping more women access health care — not making it harder."

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 09.01.2015 54 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gay-marriage-rights

Morning News and Stuff

Seelbach won't back executive session amendment; Pendleton affordable housing to get makeover; Rowan County Clerk still not doing her job because liberty

Good morning all. Here’s the news today.

First, a man died last night after he was Tased by police in Over-the-Rhine. Cincinnati police responded to the Shell station on Liberty Street after reports the man was trying to rob a woman in a car there. When officers arrived, they say the man would not respond to verbal commands. He was Tased in the chest and detained. He later died from his injuries after going into cardiac arrest. Police rules prohibit Taser shots to the head, neck or chest areas unless officers or bystanders are in immediate danger. Police use of Tasers in Cincinnati has resulted in a number of deaths, including that of Everette Howard, who died after he was Tased by University of Cincinnati police in 2011. After Howard’s death, UC police banned use of Tasers.

UPDATE: In a news conferences about the incident, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said that the deceased, James Carney III, 48, was actively assaulting a woman in a car parked at an ATM. He did not comply and was Tased first in the back and then in the chest. He fell unconscious at that point and had to be removed from the car window. Blackwell has said there is no ATM camera, gas station security camera or body camera footage of the incident. We will update as more information becomes available.

• Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach will not vote again to support an amendment to the city of Cincinnati’s charter that would allow Council to meet in executive session. That’s big news because it leaves supporters of the amendment on Council one vote short of the six votes they need to override Mayor John Cranley’s veto of that amendment. The change to the charter, one of five suggested by the non-partisan Charter Review Task Force, looked like a slam dunk after Council passed it 6-3 last week. Cranley subsequently vetoed the change, but even he admitted it was mostly a symbolic move. The amendment looked to be headed for the November ballot for voters to approve or reject, but now its future is uncertain.

• A number of affordable housing units in Pendleton are getting a $5 million makeover. Five buildings that are part of the eight-building, 40-unit Cutter Apartments will be renovated by new owners Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and Wallick-Hendy Development, who bought the buildings last month. The 32 units are being renovated with help from a city of Cincinnati eight-year property tax exemption and will remain subsidized housing. Federal historic tax credits should also help fund the renovations. The buildings date back as far as the late 1800s.

• Mayor Cranley today announced he will unveil
at a 2 p.m. news conference a paid parental leave policy proposal (phew that’s a lot of alliteration) for city of Cincinnati employees. We'll update with details about that proposal as they're released. Currently, city employees can get up to six weeks of paid maternity leave depending on circumstances. Councilman Chris Seelbach has applauded the move while pointing out he and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson advanced a similar proposal this spring.

“While Councilwoman Simpson and I were excluded from the mayor's discussions and ultimate announcement,” Seelbach said in a post on social media, “I applaud him for coming around to support this important initiative for our workforce.”

• Let’s head south for a minute. The County Clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky who has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, or really, any couples since the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land earlier this summer is… still refusing to do so because, well, Jesus. County Clerk Kim Davis is standing her ground even after the nation’s highest court yesterday slapped down her request for a stay on a lower court’s decision ordering her to issue the licenses.

Why? Because issuing licenses to two people who love each other and wish to be treated as a legal couple by the state would somehow infringe on Davis’ religious liberty. Yes. A county employee denying rights to someone is an exercise of liberty somehow, according to Davis. You know, if I got a job at Chick Fil-A and then refused to serve people because my religious beliefs said that people shouldn’t eat chicken, I would be fired. Davis should probably also be fired. But that could take a long time as doing so would likely set off a renewed round of legal wrangling.

• Finally, while we’re talking about the Supreme Court, here’s a pretty interesting New Yorker article about some upcoming decisions the court might hand down that could be very dismaying for liberals. Cases on abortion, affirmative action and unions could turn out disappointing for progressives, the article argues, despite big wins for lefties over the summer.

I’m out. Catch me in the twitterverse or put a letter in my ole email box whydontcha?

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.31.2015 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
todo_cincinnatibeerweek

Morning News and Stuff

Urban League releases study on racial disparities; Kroger to install beer taps, hold tastings; Kasich moves up to third in GOP ranking

Good morning y’all. I’m still super-drowsy from the weekend, which means it was a good one, right? Hope yours was also great. Let’s talk about that news stuff, shall we?

A new report released today from the Greater Cincinnati Urban League highlights what a lot of folks already know, even if they didn’t have the specific numbers in front of them to prove it: The disparities between blacks in Cincinnati and the city as a whole are huge.
The report’s in-depth data further buttresses findings CityBeat published last week in an investigation into the city’s deep racial and economic divides, which you can read here.

The study, called “The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities” details some of the disturbing realities for residents of the Greater Cincinnati area. According to the report, 76 percent of the city’s 14,000 families in poverty are black. Black men here die an average of 10 years sooner than white men, and black women die an average of six years sooner. The infant mortality rate in Hamilton County for black infants, 18.4 per 1,000, is more than triple that of white infants in the county. Black-owned businesses in Cincinnati are far rarer here than in other cities. We have 6.9 per 1,000 residents. Raleigh, North Carolina, on the other hand, has 18.8 per 1,000. The study is the first of its kind the Greater Cincinnati Urban League has released since 1995, and while it shows that the city has made great strides in police-community relations, it has much work to do in terms of economic segregation.

• Was training on the way for University of Cincinnati police officers that could have prevented the Samuel DuBose shooting? At least some officials with the department think so, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. DuBose was shot in the head and killed July 19 by UC police officer Ray Tensing. Tensing has been indicted on murder charges for the incident after his body camera showed him shooting DuBose with little warning after a routine traffic stop.

The department was in the process of buying new firearms training equipment in the weeks prior to the shooting, officials say. That training equipment could have prevented DuBose’s tragic death, UC Police Chief Jason Goodrich has said. In addition, more changes to training protocols could prevent a similar situation in the future, Goodrich and other UC officials say. These include more thorough monitoring of body camera footage, “contact cards” that better track the demographics of those officers stop and a new data system that tracks officers’ use of force. Records reported by the Enquirer show that UC police have increased their activity around the university campus in recent years, that officers have stopped and ticketed black motorists disproportionately and that officers have drawn their guns more frequently than in the past. Goodrich, however, says that some of that data is more complex than it might first appear — university officers have been called to respond to more felony warrants, which more typically involve drawing a weapon. The university has also increased the number of officers it employs, which has led to an increase in stops overall, officials say.

• In some lighter news, Kroger will begin installing beer taps and holding tasting sessions in some of its regional locations in order to, uh, tap into (ugh sorry) increasing demand for craft and local brews. Among the first stores to get the amenity this fall will be the new, enormous Kroger location in Oakley. The chain’s replacement for its current Corryville location will also get the taps when it opens in 2017.

• If you’re anything like my friends, you’ve probably worn at least one pair of Tom’s shoes in your lifetime. The company promotes a “buy one, donate one” model: For every pair you cop, a pair gets sent to people in a less-fortunate country. Tomorrow, the company’s so-called chief giving officer, Sebastian Fries, will be in town giving a keynote speech on Tom’s social enterprise model at the Cincinnati Museum Center, kicking off the city’s Social Enterprise Week. The series of events, created by Flywheel Cincinnati, is designed to celebrate and promote companies that have a social service dimension to their business model. Several locals involved in social enterprise businesses will join Fries in a panel discussion, and a range of other activities will take place throughout the week. 

• The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber has announced its support Mayor John Cranley’s proposed Cincinnati parks revamp funded by a potential property tax hike. But, uh, they’d rather you don’t try to spark up a joint in a future revamped Burnet Woods. The Chamber has also announced they’re opposing state ballot initiative Issue 3, which is ResponsibleOhio’s proposal to legalize marijuana in Ohio. That proposed constitutional amendment would make it cool in the eyes of the law for anyone 21 and up to smoke weed, but would limit commercial growth of the plant to 10 grow sites across the state owned by the group’s investors. The chamber says it’s concerned about the proposed constitutional amendment’s effect on workplace safety, saying it will negatively impact business’ ability to maintain a drug-free work environment. Both the state marijuana proposal and the county property tax hike will be on the November ballot for voters to approve or reject.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich is moving on up in the GOP presidential primary. D.C. politics publication The Hill ranks Kasich number three on its August list of Republican primary contenders, a serious jump up from his previous spot at number 10 last month. Some polls put Kasich ahead of former Florida governor and presumed frontrunner Jeb Bush in key primary states. Kasich, however, still trails real estate dude and hair piece model Donald Trump, who is somehow lodged in the number one slot in the GOP primary circus sideshow, err, race. Kasich has some big challenges ahead, however, including some staunchly conservative primary states coming up he’ll have to do well in despite the fact many rabid conservatives perceive him as a moderate. Which is pretty weird and terrifying, given the guv’s pretty conservative record in the state.

• Finally, one time this guy from Ohio got a mountain in Alaska named after him right before he even became president. Turns out, that peak would later become the tallest in the country when Alaska became a state in 1959. But President William McKinley never visited Alaska, and the state officially changed the name of Mount McKinley back to its original indigenous moniker, Denali, in 1980. Now the federal government has also announced it will begin officially recognizing the mountain as Denali, not Mount McKinley, which really makes a ton of sense, given that naming it after McKinley was a decision made by some rando adventurer traveling with a couple prospectors who really seems to have done so on a whim. But the change has Ohio lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner, all in a huff. Many Republican lawmakers and even Democrat or two in the state have called the renaming a “political stunt” and a “constitutional overreach” by President Barack Obama, because of course they would say that. Meanwhile, there are some who believe that the mountain was named after McKinley in a sublime act of trolling against silver prospectors. McKinley, after all, was running on a platform advocating the gold standard.

That’s it for me. Tweet or email me with news tips or Mount McKinley-inspired rage.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.28.2015 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ac_bp_pete rose_

Morning News and Stuff

Study shows kids have more health issues in low-income Cincy neighborhoods; Hamilton County bailiff accused of stealing property during evictions; decision on Rose reinstatement coming by end of year

Good morning all! Hope your Friday is starting off well. It’s gorgeous outside, so maybe cut work a little early if you can, eh?

In the meantime, here’s the news. A new study by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center suggests that living in high-poverty areas might lead to more sickness among young children. Hospitalization rates for maladies like bronchitis and pneumonia among young children are very different across Hamilton County, the study found, with children in high-poverty areas making many more hospital trips for such problems than kids in better-off neighborhoods and suburbs. The study tracked hospital visits by census tract and found so-called “hot spots” with high hospitalization rates in low-income inner-city areas. Those areas often correspond with areas that have lower life expectancies and higher infant mortality rates.

The Children’s study illustrates just one of the many consequences of Cincinnati’s deep economic segregation, a set of dynamics we explore in depth in this week’s cover story. If you haven’t already, give it a look.

• This is pretty messed up: A Hamilton County Sheriff’s bailiff has been accused of stealing tenant property during evictions, selling it and pocketing the money. Deputy Bailiff Michael Garvey was arrested yesterday and faces charges of theft in office after officials say he took money and jewelry from the site of an eviction. He later tried to sell the jewelry. He’s currently being held in the Hamilton County Justice Center. Garvey has been a bailiff with Hamilton County for at least eight years.

• The Cincinnati Police Department is adding more officers to street patrols in a number of city neighborhoods starting next month. Twenty-four additional officers will patrol Districts 2 and 4 starting Sept. 13. District 2 includes East Walnut Hills, Evanston, Hyde Park, Madisonville, Pleasant Ridge and other East Side neighborhoods. District 4 includes Mount Auburn, Corryville, Walnut Hills, Avondale and other central neighborhoods. Chief Jeffrey Blackwell called the reassignments “phase two” of a safety plan that began with a 90-day summer initiative designed to curb an increase in gun violence in some city neighborhoods.

• U.S. Senate hopeful and Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is going on the offensive against his Democratic primary opponent Ted Strickland, slamming the former Ohio governor yesterday at a news conference on the steps of City Hall for his lack of opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. That project is a contentious oil and gas conduit that would stretch between oil-rich areas in Alberta, Canada and Texas oil refineries. Environmental activists have decried the pipeline’s potential effects on the local environments it will pass through as well as its overall potential to increase oil consumption. President Barack Obama might soon deny a permit to build the pipeline after years of controversy over the project. Strickland earlier this week commented that he wouldn’t weigh in on the “divisive” subject because it didn’t impact Ohio. Sittenfeld has taken issue with that.

“Leaders lead,” Sittenfeld said at the news conference. “They don’t bob and weave and evade and equivocate.”

Sittenfeld also used the 15-minute press event to challenge Strickland to a series of six debates leading up to the Democratic primary. Strickland thus far has not agreed to any public debates between the candidates, probably because he’s in a very strong position and doesn’t need to. Polls show him neck and neck, or even slightly ahead, of incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman, despite Portman having a heavy fundraising advantage. Sittenfeld trails a distant third, and polls show him with little name recognition outside the Cincinnati area. Sittenfeld, however, says the race is still young and that his poll numbers and fundraising are improving.

• Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said yesterday that the MLB will decide by the end of the year whether or not to reinstate Cincinnati Reds hit king Pete Rose into the league, opening up the doors for Rose to be included in the MLB Hall of Fame. Rose was ousted from the league indefinitely in 1989 after an investigation showed he had bet on baseball while he was a manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He denied those allegations for a decade and a half. More recent revelations show Rose may well have bet on the game as early as 1984, while he was still a player-manager. Rose and his supporters argue he’s paid his debt for the wrongdoing and that he deserves to be re-admitted.

• Finally, state lawmakers are continuing to weigh a measure that would bring more accountability, and possibly funding changes, to the state’s charter school system. That system has come under fire lately after criminal investigations into charter school operators and revelations of data manipulation by the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school accountability arm. House Bill 2, which is currently being hashed out by state lawmakers, would put new accountability measures in place. Meanwhile, educational advocates, including the state’s teacher’s union and many local school leaders, are pushing lawmakers to address funding disparities as well. The way charter schools are funded now unfairly siphons money from public schools toward private, sometimes for-profit schools that don’t produce better results, advocates argue. Funding changes aren’t on the table yet for reform legislation, however, and it seems unlikely that the Republican-led Ohio General Assembly will take up suggested changes to the state’s charter funding mechanism.

That’s it for me. Email or tweet at me with news tips or fun stuff to do this weekend. I’m out.

 
 
by Natalie Krebs 08.27.2015 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cranley veto

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley vetoes secret council meetings; The city racks up late fees; Charter school suddenly closes; Pakistan extradites former Ohio state deputy treasurer

Happy Thursday, Cincy! Better yet, tomorrow's Friday. So here's today's headlines to make the week pass a little quicker. 

• Mayor John Cranley vetoed a Nov. 3 ballot-bound charter yesterday that would allow city council to meet in secret about certain topics, including property sales, the city manager's performance and some economic development deals. The charter amendment ballot initiative was passed by council on Monday with a vote of 6-3, with Councilmembers P.G. Sittenfeld, Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman voting against it. Despite Cranley's veto, the amendment isn't dead. The mayor admits it could very well end up back on the ballot as council appears to have the six votes needed to override his veto. The mayor said he vetoed the amendment allowing Council to use executive session for transparency reasons. The special executive sessions would have been restricted to items like assessing the city manager's performance, buying or selling property, disputes possibly ending up in court, security arrangements and items required to be kept secret by law.  

• Have trouble paying your bills on time? So does the city of Cincinnati! A city audit from January 2014 through July of this year found that taxpayers spent an additional $130,000 from late fees on the city's electrical bills. Taxpayers have been shelling out just under $7,000 on average per month for late fees for the first half of 2015. The city previously escaped Duke Energy's late fees as the company didn't charge them to the the government until a crackdown in 2014. City Manager Harry Black says a fix has reportedly come out of the City's Innovation Lab, but Councilman Kevin Flynn has expressed anger over the fees saying it shouldn't have taken a year to catch. 

Ian James, executive director of ResponsibleOhio, the political action committee trying to legalize marijuana, has accused Secretary of State Jon Husted of intentionally putting confusing language on its Nov. 3 ballot initiative. James accused Husted, who opposes the legalization, of using the word "monopoly," which he calls a "loaded term" on the ballot to confuse voters. The term has been floating around the group's initiative a lot, which would enact a constitutional amendment to legalize the plant, but restrict its growth to just 10 commercial farms in the state owned by the PAC's investors. State initiative 3 as of now will read, “Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes.” ResponsibleOhio says it's actually unfair to call it a monopoly when the amendment would allow for 1,150 retail stores that are not operated by investors.

In other weed news, gazing upon ResponsibleOhio's new mascot, Buddie, might make you feel like you've already smoked a couple Js. He has a marijuana bud for a head. Just gonna leave it right here for you to check out. The mascot has caused controversy because critics say he/she/it is too cartoonish and could be viewed as an attempt to entice kids to smoke weed.

• A Columbus charter school has abruptly closed its doors just after the start of the school year leaving 300 students stranded. FCI Academy was suspended by its Toledo sponsor, Education Service Center of Lake Erie West, for mismanagement, but apparently things had been going downhill for the charter school for awhile. The Columbus Dispatch reports that it found the school was keeping afloat for so long by deferring debt, borrowing money and not paying federal withholding and Medicare taxes. The school also received Fs from the state report card on things like graduation rates, gap closing and overall value-added. But despite these setbacks, the school is still determined to keep fighting, according to a note left on the school's locked door in front of its deserted parking lot on Wednesday. In the summer of 2014, FCI Academy laid off 17 employees, and a 2013 state audit showed a $700,000 operating deficit.  

• Former Ohio state deputy treasurer Amer Ahmed has been extradited by Pakistan to the U.S. to begin serving a 15 year sentence for bribery, wire fraud and money laundering. Amer was sentenced to prison by U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson of Columbus late last year. He and three co-conspirators were ordered to pay $3.2 million to the feds. He plead guilty to federal charges in 2013 then fled to Pakistan using fake travel documents. Ahmed served under Democratic state Treasurer Kevin L. Boyce until his defeat in 2010. During his tenure, he devised a plan to direct Ohio state brokerage business to a Canton securities broker. 

• One thing I noticed when I moved to Cincinnati is that people here love their chili.  Cincinnatians flock to the nearest Skyline after a long night of drinking the way the rest of the country flocks to IHOP. So with that, I am truly sorry to report the passing of the final surviving founder of Skyline, William Nicholas “Bill” Lambrinides on Tuesday at the age of 87. Lambrinides worked with his father, Nicolas, a Greek immigrant, and his two brothers, Lambert, Jim, Christie and John to open the first restaurant in 1949. The store has since grown to 110 locations to bring late-night happiness to folks in four states.

That's it for today! Email me with story tips!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.26.2015 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

Naming rights for streetcar up for grabs; activists demand more community involvement in UC reforms; Columbus Dispatch demands charter school public records

Hey all. Here’s a brief rundown of the news this morning.

So, do you want to see your name written really big on something attention-grabbing and controversial that will zoom around downtown most of the day and night? Do you have hundreds of thousands of dollars you’re not quite sure what to do with? Here’s an idea: buy some naming rights to the streetcar. Officials with the newly-created Cincinnati Street Railway, a nonprofit promoting the streetcar, are reaching out to marketing firms to help design advertising packages for corporate sponsors for the project. Similar marketing pushes in other cities with streetcars have netted millions in advertising revenues to go toward operation of the transit systems. Locally, some officials say the naming rights could net as much as $250,000 a year, though others say the project’s controversial nature makes it uncertain if big local corporations will want to put their names on it. A suggestion: maybe reach out to deep-pocketed, eccentric megalomaniacs? Perhaps Donald Trump will want to raise his profile here in town next year? What could be better than seeing The Donald’s giant face careening toward you on the front of a streetcar as you spend time in OTR just before the election? Though, hm, come to think of it, streetcar supporters may not be his target demographic.

• I’m not sure this is much news to anyone, but I’m going to say it anyway. We have an amazing library system here in Hamilton County. From its Maker Space to its innovative programming and events to the sheer amount of material available to check out, we have a rare thing here. And the numbers show it. Last year, The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County was the fifth-busiest library in the country, checking out more than 18 million items, according to data from the Public Library Association. Now, granted, at least a couple hundred of these check-outs were me borrowing the library’s DVD copies of the Bill and Ted movies, but still. Pretty impressive. The library moved up a spot on the ranking from 2013, when it was the sixth-busiest in the country. More than 600,000 people have library cards with the system. Not bad for the country’s 28th-biggest metropolitan area.

• Local faith leaders and activists are demanding more community involvement in changes the University of Cincinnati is undertaking in the wake of the Samuel DuBose shooting. Dubose was killed last month by UC police officer Ray Tensing after a routine traffic stop. Since that time, the university has vowed reform of its police department, including adjustments to off-campus patrols and joining in on the city’s collaborative agreement, which Cincinnati Police Department already abides by. That agreement was drawn up after the police shooting death of Timothy Thomas in 2001 caused days of civil unrest in Cincinnati. Activists and faith leaders are asking that UC compensate the DuBose family for his death, as well as submit to an external investigation into the school’s policing practices. A group including community activist Iris Roley, University of Cincinnati activist Alexander Shelton, Bishop Bobby Hilton, Pastor KZ Smith and others met with UC officials yesterday in a private meeting later described by Shelton as “tense” at times. UC President Santa Ono and newly-hired Vice President of Safety and Reform Robin Engel were among representatives for the university.

• Damn. Here’s the Columbus Dispatch throwing down about charter school transparency. In an editorial published today, the paper slams state officials for not releasing documents about the Ohio Board of Education’s omission of some data on poor-performing online charter schools in the state. The failure to include that data in reports about charter school performance led to an inflated evaluation for at least one organization that sponsors charters in the state. ODE official David Hansen was responsible for that data collection. He resigned following revelations of the omissions. His wife, incidentally, heads Gov. John Kasich’s presidential campaign. He’s a big, big supporter of charters in the state. The Dispatch, along with a number of other publications, has filed numerous public records requests for documents about the decision to withhold the less-than-flattering charter data, according to the editorial. And now they’re getting tired of waiting, it seems.

“If state Superintendent of Education Richard Ross is not covering up something embarrassing or illegal at the Ohio Department of Education, his recent actions aren’t helping his credibility,” the piece begins.

• Let’s circle back around to Donald Trump, since he’s leading national GOP presidential primary polls, and it seems like the whole world is kinda revolving around his circus of a campaign at the moment. The Donald  may well have taken it upon himself to offend Spanish-speaking Americans as much as possible lately, which is a questionable campaign strategy at best. In the past, Trump hasn’t done himself any favors with this large portion of the American population, describing Mexicans immigrants as "rapists" and criminals. But in true Trump fashion, he’s taken it a step further. Yesterday, he had Spanish-language news station Univision's lead anchor Jorge Ramos physically removed from a news conference for asking a question out of turn. He eventually let Ramos back in, but the exchange was heated, awkward and really just a bad idea all around. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists fired off a statement last night condemning Trump for the confrontation. Spanish-language media has covered Trump more extensively than mainstream media because the leading GOP contender keeps talking about his immigrant plan, which includes building a wall along the southern border and ending birthright citizenship.

That’s it for me. See ya tomorrow.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.25.2015 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Council private meeting amendment to go on November ballot; no more camping out for magnet school enrollment; former CPD captain in pro-weed ad

Good morning all. Here’s the news today.

Cincinnati City Council yesterday moved along at least one charter amendment proposal, putting it on the November ballot for voters to approve. That amendment would clarify when council can meet in executive session, away from the staring eyes of the public. Ohio state law allows some use of executive session for municipal governments, and the charter amendment proposed would specify limited times when council could get together for discussions behind closed doors. Those include discussions about certain sensitive property transactions, ongoing court cases, security measures for city facilities and personnel, certain information about development deals and some discussions about the city manager’s job.

The Charter Review Committee, a group charged with suggesting changes to the city’s governing document, had suggested four other amendments. At least one of those, a measure that would clarify how long the mayor has to refer legislation to council committees, seems to have died on the vine. While it sounds arcane, the issue has big, contentious implications. The mayor’s ability to hold on to legislation amounts to a so-called “pocket veto,” critics on council claim, or a way for the mayor to effectively kill council actions he doesn’t like. Mayor Mark Mallory used this power more than 200 times during his time as mayor. Cranley is opposed to the amendment, but he also claims that the pocket veto isn’t a real thing. Some council members agree, saying that the mayor clinging on to legislation could be challenged in court. One thing is clear, however: an amendment won’t clear up the issue. Advocates for the measure fell one short of the six council votes needed to put the amendment on the November ballot.  

Other amendments, including one that would give council the power to fire the city manager, are hanging in there and might be considered next week, just short of the deadline to get the proposals on the November ballot.

• In other council news, a new tax levy for parks improvement will also go on the upcoming ballot. The property tax boost of 1 mill would mean that owners of a $100,000 home would pay about $35 extra a year. Council’s vote is somewhat symbolic. Organizers of a petition drive collected enough signatures throughout the city to put the initiative up before voters. If voters approve the measure, it would raise about $5 million a year. About $1.25 million of that would go toward park maintenance. The rest would go to new projects decided by the mayor and the park board. Parks funding has been cut in half in the last decade and a half, Cranley has noted.

• A long-held tradition for Cincinnati parents is over, at least for now. Folks in the Cincinnati Public School district looking to get their kids into magnets like the Fairview German Language School will no longer be able to sign up on a first-come, first-served basis, but instead will be entered into a lottery system. That will eliminate the yearly camp-outs that parents undertake as they wait to sign their children up for those schools. CPS has cited fairness and safety concerns for ending the first-come, first-served practice. Last year’s camp out lasted 16 days. Enrollment for CPS’ high-demand magnet schools has several tiers. First are priority students who already have a sibling attending the school. Then a number of seats are set aside for students whose nearby schools are among the district’s lowest performers, an effort to offer those students a chance at a better education. The rest have been up for grabs. Until now, seat availability was through the first-come, first-served approach. Now, a computer will randomly choose who gets to enroll.

• City officials and business leaders yesterday launched Union Hall, a facility in Over-the-Rhine that is touted as a one stop shop for entrepreneurs looking for help in launching start-ups. The site on Vine Street houses startup incubator The Brandery, Cintrifuse and CincyTech, all of which are aimed at helping get startups off the ground. The historic building, which has been a brewery, night club and speakeasy, will house about 100 employees.

• A former Cincinnati Police captain is appearing in an ad advocating for legalized marijuana. Retired Capt. Howard Rahtz, a member of a marijuana policy task force led by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, is seen in the commercials supporting ResponsibleOhio’s legalization effort arguing that the state’s marijuana laws don’t work and that it’s time to reform them. Rahtz touts his time as a Cincinnati police officer, saying he learned a great deal about drug addiction during his service. Opponents of the ResponsibleOhio measure, which would legalize marijuana for anyone over the age of 21, but restrict commercial growth to 10 sites across the state, say they’ll be airing their own commercials. Groups like Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies say ResponsibleOhio’s plan amounts to an unfair monopoly that will only benefit the group’s rich investors.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.24.2015 10 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pollution

Morning News and Stuff

Historic King Records site endangered; 'Nati air quality is nasty; Deez Nuts endorses Gov. Kasich

Good morning y’all. Hope your weekend was as fantastic as mine was. Yesterday I finally made it down to the Taft Museum to check out their exhibition of Edward Curtis photographs. Curtis spent 30 years in the early part of the 1900s photographing Native American tribes across the West. His work is technically stunning and in some ways, pretty problematic, contributing to some stereotypes and perceptions of Native peoples as a “vanishing race” living bygone lifestyles. The exhibit is interesting— the photographs are beautiful and the underlying questions they bring up are worth wrestling with.

Anyway, this isn’t morning art blabbering, it’s morning news. So let’s talk news, eh? The thing that caught my eye around town today is this story about the former King Records site in Evanston. I’ve been hearing buzz that part of it might be in danger, and turns out that may be true. The owner of one of the buildings at the historic site, which hosted early recording sessions by James Brown and a number of other significant musicians, has applied for a permit to demolish the structure. That’s led to an outcry from historic preservationists, music historians and general boosters for Cincinnati. The city’s planning commission Friday declared the site a local historic landmark, echoing a similar declaration by the city’s Historic Conservation Board. City Council has to give final approval to the designation, which it could do next month. In the meantime, the owner’s demolition permit application is on hold. Will the city be able to save this historic landmark, which could cost up to half a million dollars to stabilize? We’ll see.

• Stressed about pollution? Take a deep breath. Or maybe, uh, don’t. A new report says Cincinnati is among the worst cities in the country when it comes to air quality. Website 24/7 Wall St. analyzed air quality data from the American Lung Association and determined that the Greater Cincinnati metropolitan area is the eighth worst in the country for air pollution. The report compares the area to California’s central valley region, which landed seven cities in the bottom 10 of the air quality list. Like that region, Cincinnati is in a valley and has fairly high traffic volumes. But that’s not the only culprit here: coal plants play a big role in air pollution around Cincinnati, the ALA suggests. Take heart, though. We’re not the only Ohio city on the list. Cleveland came in at number 10 in the most polluted air ranking.

• So there’s a new interchange going in on I-71 into Walnut Hills and Avondale, and the State of Ohio has purchased millions in property near the future on and off ramps. Specifically, the state has spent nearly $4 million on 83 parcels of land around the project. When all is said and done, the state will have purchased 140 pieces of property, officials say. That’s part of a bigger land-buying frenzy in the historically low-income neighborhoods. The $106 million interchange looks likely to change the face of the area around Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Reading Road, with new development featuring a proposed tech corridor and other big developments. We first reported on the interchange last year. Stay tuned for more updates on how the development will affect Avondale, Corryville and Walnut Hills.

• Here’s your daily dose of Kasich news: does the Ohio governor and GOP presidential hopeful talk straight on the campaign trail when it comes to Ohio’s economy? Not quite, according to some fact checkers.  A recent Washington Post article dug into some of Kasich’s favorite claims about his role in Ohio’s economic recovery and issued one and two-pinocchio ratings (some shading of the facts and significant omissions/exaggerations, respectively) about his claims. Kasich’s claim that Ohio was “$8 billion in the hole” when he took office, for instance, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, according to the Post article. The state’s actual budget for the year Kasich took office saw significant revenue increases from an economic recovery that began before Kasich’s term, leading to significantly less shortfall than Kasich’s claim.

• Speaking of Kasich, we live in a world where I can say the following and it’s not just some vulgar joke I would text to my friends but actual (debatable) news: Deez Nuts has endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the GOP presidential primary. Deez Nuts is the name assumed by a 15-year-old Iowa farm boy who somehow raked in 9 percent of the vote in a recent poll of that primary state. Mr. Nuts has also endorsed U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. He is of course endorsing himself for the general election.

• Finally, in other GOP primary news, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was in Ohio recently courting the tea party and the Koch Brothers at the billionaire industrialists' Americans for Prosperity Summit. Bush promised to uphold the staunch conservative values of slashing government spending and you know, making it easier for rich folks to get richer at the summit. The event in Columbus drew a big group of conservative activists as well as a large number of protesters.

That’s it for me today. E-mail me your news tips or tweet at me with, well, whatever you want.

 
 
 
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