The Cincinnati Elections Commission will hold a hearing June 23 on City Councilman Christopher Smitherman’s campaign finances after Nathaniel Livingston Jr., a well-known Cincinnati radio personality and former City Council candidate, filed a rather colorful complaint against him.
The complaint filed with the Commission says Smitherman exceeded campaign contribution limits during his 2013 campaign and unfairly gave city contracts to family members.
But it also says so much more.
Livingston goes after Smitherman with the gloves off. He starts off his complaint with some choice words about the councilman, calling him “an arrogant politician who is closely aligned to the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.”
Livingston goes on to say that “Smitherman has publicly stated that his life goals are to become a decamillionaire and President of the United States. Chris will do anything to obtain money and power.”
Dang. That’s harsh. With the first name and everything. But Livingston’s just getting warmed up.
“He basically makes money by selling mediocre insurance products to gullible individuals,” the complaint continues, questioning Smitherman’s credentials as a financial advisor.
Call out someone for their alleged tea party affiliation, sure, but casting aspersions on the value of a man’s insurance products is another thing entirely.
Low blows aside, the complaint says that Smitherman broke campaign finance laws when his brother, Albert Smitherman, gave him a total of $2,200 and his sister-in-law, Liza Smitherman, chipped in $2,700 for his campaign.
The limit for individual donations between city council elections is $1,100. The complaint is made on a bit of a technicality; both Albert and Liza gave their first contributions just days after the 2011 elections, and didn’t donate any other money in that earlier election. Cincinnati Election Commission rules do allow for carryover of funds from previous elections under certain circumstances.
Another donation of $500 by Liza Smitherman under the name Brewster Pumping LLC is also flagged in the complaint. That donation was made in October 2013, and the address listed for the contribution is that of Liza and Albert’s business, Jostin Construction LLC.
Livingston says this is evidence of corruption, and that Councilman Smitherman has been actively working to get jobs for the company. Jostin was subcontracted for $22,000 worth of work on the city’s streetcar project in November 2013, but later declined the job.
Livingston himself has been in trouble for campaign finances. In 2009, the Ohio Elections Commission sued him for $43,000 for not filing campaign finance information for his 2001 City Council bid. That suit was later dismissed.
Here's what's up today in Cincy, Ohio, and beyond.
Vice Mayor David Mann isn’t super happy about the fact that LumenoCity tickets sold out in 12 minutes yesterday morning and then popped up just as quickly on Craigslist and eBay. He’s requesting an investigation into the ticket giveaway to find out about any illegal sale of the free passes.
In a statement yesterday, Mann said he wants to make sure “all members of the public — including all neighborhoods and income ranges — have an opportunity to avail themselves of any opportunities to get tickets to this extraordinary performance in the future.”
The event was so crowded last year, organizers decided to give out tickets this time around. The tickets were available online and also at several branches of the library. Organizers stress only a small percentage of the available passes were given out online, and that more will be available ahead of the event, which takes place Aug. 1-3.
• Here’s a heartwarming story about a city doing everything it can for its residents. Err, wait, no, this is actually a nightmarish scenario in which the city of Middletown has been working to eliminate a number of its Section 8 vouchers by investigating landlords and tenants and then kicking them out of the program for minor violations of law or policy, including late water bills. An Enquirer investigation found the city was actively working to eliminate many of its more than 1,600 HUD vouchers. HUD is now looking at shutting down the city’s public housing authority.
Nearly a quarter of Middletown residents live below the poverty level, according to 2008-2012 Census data. The city of 50,000 has more than half of the Section 8 vouchers in Butler County.
• Ohio is imposing new requirements on those receiving unemployment benefits, because not having a job is easy and awesome and if the state didn’t impose tons of busy work on those seeking benefits, everyone would crowd around the government teat.
Anyone receiving benefits in Ohio must update an automatic resume made for them on OhioMeansJobs.com, Ohio’s job search site, take three assessments on their skills within 14 weeks and fill out a survey within 20 weeks to figure out careers that might suit them. Recipients will still need to apply for two jobs a week as well. State officials say they hope this will help recipients transition to work more quickly, because clearly most job seekers have no idea what kind of skills they have and just plum forgot to put their resumes online somewhere. Ohio’s unemployment rate hovers around 6 percent. About 67,000 in the state were receiving unemployment benefits in May.
• The Justice Department is giving support to a proposal to shorten the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison. The move could save taxpayers more than $2 billion. Some measures to reduce sentences have already been approved, but the new proposal would make those reduced sentences retroactive, meaning those already imprisoned for nonviolent drug crimes may see freedom sooner.
There is a surprising amount of bipartisan interest drug sentencing reform, with libertarian-minded conservatives, rank and file Republican budget hawks and those on the left all calling for a new approach to the drug issue.
The federal government spent more than $25 billion on the drug war in 2013. More than half the inmates in federal prisons are there for drug-related crimes, according to studies by the federal government.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled June 5 that a Butler County judge acted improperly when he sealed records relating to a 2012 rape flier posted at Miami University.
Judge Robert Lyons ordered the records sealed after a student at Miami University was charged with and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for posting a flier listing the "Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape" in a coed residence hall bathroom at the school.
When sealing the record, however, Lyons cited a law pertaining to sealing cases that don't reach a conviction, an error that he acknowledged later.
The case drew national attention, in part due to the graphic nature of the list, which included pointers like "If your [sic] afraid the girl will identify you slit her throat." It also drew scrutiny for Lyons' unusual move making the records in the case, and thus the student's name, unavailable to the public.
The Cincinnati Enquirer sued to have the records released. After the suit was filed, Lyons allowed the student to withdraw his guilty plea. The state of Ohio then dropped its case against the student, and Lyons sealed the case again under the same law he had cited previously.
Misdemeanors require a one-year waiting period before cases can be sealed. Judge Lyons argued that this isn't the case for minor misdemeanors like disorderly conduct and that no waiting period applied. In a 5-2 ruling, the Ohio Supreme Court disagreed, holding that there is no such distinction.
The student left Miami shortly after the incident.
You can find the full text of the court's decision here.
Good morning all. Let’s start out this Monday news rundown by going uptown.
•On Friday, Cincinnati’s Planning Commission passed a sweeping new plan for the area in the coming years. The plan anticipates the upcoming reworking of Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and envisions big changes to the area in Avondale, Corryville, and Mount Auburn.
Planners hope after the new interchange at MLK and I-71 is completed, Reading Road will become a kind of innovation corridor, with new biomedical and other scientific research facilities lining a redesigned, more pedestrian-friendly roadway.
The plan also calls for increased development in neighboring business districts, new construction on the numerous vacant plots in the area and increased housing stock close to the central cores of Clifton, Avondale, Corryville, CUF and Walnut Hills.
•Other changes are coming to Avondale. Four large apartment buildings housing Section 8 tenants and another vacant building in the neighborhood will be renovated, and the owners of the buildings are looking to have them placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Alameda, Ambassador, Crescent, Poinciana, and Somerset buildings, built between 1896 and the 1920s, will be overhauled starting this fall. The Ambassador, currently empty, will be revamped first, and then the other buildings will follow suit. The Community Builders Cincinnati, the buildings’ owners, will help 120 families who will have to vacate during renovations move to other buildings temporarily.
The renovations are expected to cost about $25 million and will finish up sometime in 2016.
• Hey, do you wanna go to LumenoCity? Too late. Tickets sold out in 13 minutes this morning. Yeah, I didn’t get any either, because 8 a.m. is way too early for me to operate a computer. But if you’ve got a hundred bucks to drop, you can still scoop some tickets up on eBay.
• Nationally, the 2016 presidential race is shaping up to be a wild ride. While Democrats so far seem pretty content with Hillary, the GOP is still courting their man (and yes, their nominee will almost assuredly be a man). Lately, Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas has been getting a lot of attention. Cruz handily won a straw poll at the Texas Republican Convention this weekend. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who is often cited as a front-runner, came in third. Chalk it up to home-state advantage. It’s hard to know who to root for in a contest like that, so I’m just going to hope that somehow the GOP jumps on the whole throw-back trend and nominates Abraham Lincoln again.
• Finally, a woman in Kentucky was found selling $3 million in ill-gotten Nikes from her front lawn. That’s a lot of stolen shoes. She said she didn’t know they were stolen and was selling them for $5 a piece. Not a bad deal, really.
Tweet at your boy (@nswartsell) or email me tips: firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s that time again when I tell you all about the weird stuff that has happened in the last 24 hours or so. Cincinnati’s a crazy place, and the rest of the world isn’t far behind, so let’s get started.
• Remember those folks who hung the Greenpeace banners off the side of the Procter and Gamble building back in March? You know, the ones protesting P&G’s use of palm oil, the production of which leads to massive deforestation and loss of habitat for a number of endangered animals, including tigers? Of course you do. They were 50-foot banners with tigers on them, for godsakes.
No surprise, the nine activists responsible ended up in Hamilton County Court on felony counts. Today, lawyers for the group asked a judge to dismiss those charges.
The nine were charged with burglary and vandalism. However, there was no breaking and entering. One of the group, dressed in business attire with a fake badge, told security she had a meeting in the building and snuck the others in through a regular old door she unlocked.
The group’s lawyers insist burglary charges would only stick if the group had planned on committing another crime, and they say the political speech inherent in hanging banners off a building doesn’t count. They’re asking the courts to dismiss the charges on First Amendment grounds, saying the group is being punished for its political speech.
If that doesn’t fly, the activists could face up to nine and a half years in jail and/or a $20,000 fine. P&G claims the activists did $17,000 in damage to their windows while gaining access to the outside of the building, a charge the group denies.
• Yesterday, Mayor John Cranley explained his vision for Clifton as a place that pumps out the city’s future CEOs. The mayor said he’d like to make the area appealing to “the future Carl Lindners, the future Dick Farmers, the future folks who will build up business in this city” so they’ll stick around.
At an annual event held by the Uptown Consortium, a non-profit development group for the area, Cranley called the University of Cincinnati “the gateway to the upper-middle class” and Cincinnati State “the gateway to the middle class.” He said he’d like to improve the district, including centerpiece Burnet Woods, which he has descrbed as “creepy” in its current state. Specific ideas include a skywalk between the park and UC; more landscaped, Washington Park-like grounds; and more programing in the park.
• Today's job report shows that more than six years after the worst recession in recent memory we've finally regained number of jobs the country had before the plunge. Except we have 15 million more people now to fill those jobs, and the unemployment rate hasn't really budged much lately.
• But cheer up. It's National Donut Day. If you're me, every day is a donut day, but this donut day you can get some free deep-fried deliciousness down at Fountain Square. I started to ditch this news thing to go grab some, but it doesn't start until noon. Hey, free lunch.
from buying alcohol, everyone else can refinance loans for lower interest rates. But at
a time when charges for borrowing money have hit nearly historic lows, students have been
locked into their older, higher rates.
A new bill looks to remedy that and promises to not only pay for itself, but cut government spending.
So, students, graduates and budget hawks are happy, and everybody wins.
tricky part — paying for the program — is something called the
Fair Share Tax. The reduction in spending would come from the second part of the bill.
Also called “The Buffet Rule,” named after Warren Buffet and championed by Elizabeth Warren, the tax mandates a minimum rate of 30 percent on those who bring in a million dollars or more a year.
students loans without a refinancing option is a profitable business — the
government is set to take in $66 billion on interest alone from loans issued
between 2007-2013, according to the Government Accountability Office. Eliminating that money would have big budget implications. That's where the Fair Share Tax comes in.
The Banking on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act would allow those with loans issued before August 9 last year to refinance at the rates passed in 2013 — 3.8 percent for undergraduate loans.
Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, are trying to gather support for the bill. Brown filed the bill with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Warren introduced the bill in the Senate on May 5. She, Brown and other Democrats will be pushing it in the upcoming week.
“Every dollar a current borrower pays in interest is a dollar he or she can’t spend on a car, on a mortgage, or on starting a small business,” Brown said in an email sent out on Thursday requesting signatures to support the bill.
So far, 36 senators have signed it.
Last year, Congress lowered the rate of new loans but left existing rates the same.
Those higher rates are drowning graduates, keeping them stuck in their parents' basements, Warren said on the Senate floor last month.
“Make no mistake, this is an
emergency,” she said. “Student loan debt is exploding and it threatens the
stability of young people and the future of our economy.”
The Congressional Budget Office released a report on the bill Wednesday. The report found that lowering the rates of outstanding loans would increase spending by $51 billion, but with the new tax thrown in, the bill would also increase revenue by $72 billion between 2015-2019.
The report said deficits could be reduced in the next 10 years by about $22 billion.Congressional Republicans are sure to oppose the tax increase, considering most have signed Americans for Tax Reform’s taxpayer protection pledge to not raise taxes.
This won’t be the first time congressional Republicans have opposed the proposed tax. It was introduced in 2012 as the Paying a Fair Share Act and fell short of the votes needed to leave the Senate.
In the meantime, student loan debt totals $1.2 trillion, greater than all outstanding credit card debt.
Cincinnati passed its $358 million operating budget yesterday, and it’s great and all, except for the parts that aren’t. Nearly everyone on council applauded the fact that the budget is balanced, or close to balanced, or … well, I won’t replay that argument, but the city is getting close to leveling spending with what it takes in without layoffs or deep cuts to core programs.
But there are big concerns, too. Council members Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach questioned a few issues surrounding funding of certain non-profits and community redevelopment groups. These included $4 million borrowed from eight neighborhood TIF districts, cuts to the Neighborhood Business District Improvement Program, and some last-minute additions to the budget. Critics of the additions say they’re sweetheart deals built on cronyism. Some of the organizations in question have connections with big political players, including former Mayor Dwight Tillery’s Center for Closing the Health Gap, which will receive $500,000 from one of the Monday add-ons in the budget.
Simpson was the most vocal about the issues surrounding human services and neighborhood redevelopment funding.
“I was committed and part of an administration prior that was really invested in supporting neighborhood development in a significant way,” she said. “And we’ve cut $4.5 million to neighborhood development in this budget, and I think we’re going to regret that.”
• Council also passed Seelbach’s Domestic Partner Registry initiative yesterday, which will allow same-sex couples to register with the city so they can receive equal benefits from participating employers.
“Ten years ago, at this moment … some called this the most anti-gay city in the country, including me,” Seelbach said. “We’ve come a really long way, and this is one of the last pieces of the puzzle. Unfortunately, the state of Ohio doesn’t recognize marriage equality. It will soon, but until then, this is a tool.”
• A new national study by Homes for All Alliance to be released Friday shows that Cincinnati, like much of the country, is in an affordable housing crisis. More than 63 percent of households in Cincinnati are renters, not homeowners, according to the study. Of those households, half pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent, the federal threshold for unaffordable housing. Even worse, 30 percent of renters in Cincinnati spend more than half their monthly paychecks on a place to live.
A panel discussion on the study and affordable housing in Cincinnati is being held Friday at 6 p.m. at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. It will feature Vice Mayor David Mann, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing Director Mary Burke Rivers, Bonnie Neumeier from Peaslee Neighborhood Center and other advocates for affordable housing.
• The Ohio House yesterday passed a measure to allow electronic tolling, which could have big implications for the Brent Spence Bridge. The bridge is crumbling, and Ohio and Kentucky are currently working on a way to rebuild it. Engineers believe it will take $2.5 billion for a new bridge, and much of that money may have to come from tolls, lawmakers say. Though Ohio is (reluctantly) on board, voters in Kentucky have voiced strong opposition to tolls.
• In the “news that isn’t really new but that you should keep an eye on anyway” category, fixes for the Voting Rights Act are still stalled in Congress and probably will be for a while. The Supreme Court struck down a segment of the law regarding standards that determine which states will receive close scrutiny due to past voting rights violations. Congress can set new standards, but given that Congress can barely decide where they're all going to grab lunch these days, it looks like it could be a long wait.
• Finally, someone took DNA from a relative of Vincent Van Gogh, and, uh, 3D printed a copy of the artist’s ear, which he is said to have cut off in a fit of mental illness in 1888. It’s on display in a German museum, because paintings are kind of boring but Jurassic Park-like replicas of severed ears from long-dead artists are awesome.
Protesting illegal firings, low wages and erratic scheduling, Walmart workers are taking a stand this afternoon in Cincinnati by walking off their jobs.
Workers will protest outside the Walmart on Ferguson Road at 4:30 p.m. this afternoon with Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, according to a press release sent out this morning.
Today’s strike is part of a larger strike movement happening in 20 cities across the country this week, leading up to the annual shareholder meeting.
The meeting is this Friday and hundreds of worker shareholders are making the trip to Arkansas as part of a union-backed workers group called OUR Walmart. They plan to request a living wage and family-sustaining jobs, calling for the new CEO Doug McMillion to “take the company in a new direction,” the press release said.
A typical Walmart worker is paid less than $25,000 a year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average retail worker makes only $21,000 per year and cashiers even less.
Walmart employees say they have to rely on food stamps while their company received $7.8 billion in tax breaks and subsidies in 2013.
OUR Walmart advocates for a $25,000 base salary for all employees.
“A minimum $25,000 salary at Walmart would not only help families, it would boost job creation, consumer spending, and the company’s bottom-line,” the press release said.
The major employer is currently on trial for worker rights violations involving firing workers who went on strike last year at the company’s annual shareholder meeting.
The country’s largest and most profitable corporation is also tightening its belt; Walmart took $740 million out of its cost structure in the past year because its operating income grew faster than sales.
Walmart has had to make some changes lately in response to worker’s claims.
In March, the pregnancy policy was updated after an OUR Walmart campaign, allowing for more accommodations for pregnant women.
In April, the retailer changed its internal scheduling system, making it easier for part-time workers to pick up extra shifts online.
All right. It's morning, it's nasty out, and it's only Wednesday. Let's do this news thing because we've all already uploaded five pics of those ominous clouds to Instagram and doing actual work is hard.
A bill the Ohio House took up yesterday would make it illegal for insurance to cover abortions. House Bill 351, sponsored by State Rep. John Becker, a Republican representing Cincinnati’s suburbs, would ban any insurance coverage for abortion procedures, even in cases of rape or incest. The bill would also keep public employees or those receiving Medicaid from using their insurance to purchase certain kinds of birth control that keep fertilized eggs from maturing, which Becker says is tantamount to abortion.
“This is just my personal view,” Becker said of that scientifically dubious claim. “I’m not a medical doctor.” Just going to leave that quote right there for you to chew on.
• More questions are popping up about Cincinnati’s 2015 operating budget, which City Council is set to pass today. Concerns have emerged about $350,000 in blight removal funds directed last-minute Monday to Bond Hill’s Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation, The Enquirer reports. That’s a third of the money budgeted by the city for such work.
One possible way the corporation might use that money is by purchasing Integrity Hall, a banquet hall currently owned by Steve Reece. Reece has strong ties to Cranley, having done work for his mayoral campaign. His nonprofit, Operation Step-Up, also received a $3,700 donation from the campaign. In addition, Reece’s daughter, State Rep. Alicia Reece, endorsed Cranley’s campaign.
The connections between Reece and Cranley have raised questions from some council members. Councilman Chris Seelbach wondered Monday whether the money represents a “pet project.” Cranley says he has nothing to do with the allocation to Bond Hill and denies discussing the sale of Integrity Hall with Reece. Vice Mayor David Mann says there have been no decisions about what the money would be spent on. Reece hopes to sell his building to Bond Hill’s redevelopment corporation for around $335,000.
• Streetcar advocacy group Believe in Cincinnati met last night in Clifton to talk about expanding the streetcar into neighborhoods beyond OTR. About 80 people showed up at the meeting, which focused on uptown, other neighborhoods like Hyde Park and even interest in the streetcar across the river in Northern Kentucky. Ryan Messer, an organizer of the group, said Believe in Cincinnati wants to advocate for all kinds of transit and hopes to expand awareness and get people talking about the issue throughout the region.
Pete Witte, an advocate for transit going to the West Side, spoke about his efforts “in the lion’s den,” as Messer called the city’s western suburbs. Though transit expansion hasn’t been a popular there, Witte says there are a growing number of people there who want something like light rail or the streetcar as an option in the future.
Councilman Kevin Flynn also spoke, reminding the crowd about the realities of funding for streetcar expansion — that basically, the city has no money to pay for it now and that it will take a great amount of political will and support for the current phase of the project to make future expansions a reality.
• A University of Cincinnati professor is leading a group of students in drone research and development. So far, the group has made five of the hovering, eye-in-the-sky devices, including one with eight arms called Octorotor. The university is hooking up with the West Virginia Division of Forestry this fall to offer a co-op for students looking to push the boundaries of what drones can do while fighting forest fires. Next up, I hope: a drone that delivers pizza to my window at the CityBeat offices when it's storming and I don't want to leave the building.
• Archeologists in China have found the world’s oldest pants, because, you know, that’s what science does. The pants look suspiciously like something you might grab from an Urban Outfitters, with straight legs and a wide crotch that seem to make them direct ancestor of those dreadful drop-crotch skinny jeans Justin Bieber has taken to wearing. On the plus side, these things lasted 3,000 years. Meanwhile I can’t find a pair of jeans that doesn’t start fading and fraying after six months. They just don't make em like they used to, etc.
It's a gross rainy Friday, so grab some coffee and let's settle in with some news.
Two local organizations that help veterans experiencing homelessness will be getting a $1.5 million boost, Secretary of Veterans Affairs and former P&G head Bob McDonald announced yesterday. A program run by Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries in Woodlawn will get nearly $1 million in grant funding from the VA. The Rehabilitation Center Inc. serves seven counties in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region. The Talbert House in Walnut Hills, which serves veterans in Hamilton County, will get the other $500,000. The funding is part of more than $300 million in grants given out nationwide, nearly $9 million of which went to organizations in Ohio fighting homelessness among veterans.
• Is there anything more comforting than the knowledge your local police department is slowly becoming a paramilitary force? Recent revelations about the federal government’s program decommissioning military equipment into the hands of local law enforcement are mind-boggling and also darkly hilarious.
Even among my friends and family who are still afraid of living in urban areas, I would think fear of landmines in Cincinnati is pretty low, maybe non-existent. But that hasn’t stopped the Hamilton County law enforcement officials from receiving two land-mine detection kits from the program. Kenton County got a mine-resistant truck along with 44 pairs of night-vision goggles, 34 pieces of body armor and 22 assault rifles. Newport got a pretty awesome Humvee, though it’s not armor plated. Really important question here, guys — is that thing land-mine proof?
• Caesar’s Entertainment Corp., parent company to Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, will pay the largest fine ever doled out by the Ohio Casino Control Commission. Caesars will pay a $200,000 fine for lack of financial transparency involving the company’s ongoing $23 billion debt restructuring efforts.
• Attorney General candidate David Pepper has received criticism recently for his legal record. Do records show he embezzled money? Took bribes? Sold drugs? No, no, I’m afraid it’s much darker. Pepper, it seems, is a serial illegal parker. Over the past 14 years, Pepper has paid more than $9,000 in parking fines, averaging 13 tickets a year, though the bulk occurred when he was County Commissioner from 2007 to 2009, according to an investigation by the Associated Press. That’s a lot of tickets, sure, but most of them are for parking at expired meters. Some are a bit more serious offenses — displaying expired plates. When you break it down, he’s been fined about $700 a year for all those offenses. Pepper’s campaign chalks the fines up to a busy schedule and a lot of late meetings. But his opponent Mike DeWine’s campaign says the number of offenses isn’t an accident and makes him unfit to be attorney general.
“Nearly everyone has made a mistake by forgetting to go back and feed a parking meter,” DeWine campaign spokesman Ryan Stubenrauch said. “But that Mr. Pepper racked up nearly $10,000 in fines shows a stunning disregard for basic traffic laws — particularly for someone running to be Ohio’s top law officer.”
Pepper’s campaign said it would rather have that smudge than allegations facing DeWine, which include accusations that the attorney general’s office has been engaged in pay-to-play practices, allegedly awarding lucrative legal contracts with the AG’s office to private firms that donate to DeWine’s campaign.
“[Pepper is] happy to debate old parking tickets versus Mike DeWine’s current practices as attorney general,” Pepper spokesman Peter Koltak said.
• Finally, things in Ferguson, Mo., seem to be calming down for the time being. Protests, some violent, have rocked the St. Louis suburb since the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Lately, however, the protests have become somewhat more peaceful. Yesterday the state’s National Guard units withdrew from the city and the number of arrests police have made has been dropping. Investigations into the shooting are ongoing, as the Justice Department works with state and local law enforcement to try and determine what happened between Brown and officer Darren Wilson. Wilson says that Brown attacked him in his patrol car, though others say Wilson was the aggressor and that Brown was retreating when he was shot. An autopsy showed that Wilson shot Brown at least six times.
If you’re like me, you passed work crews installing the first stretch of streetcar tracks in the Central Business District today. If you’re REALLY like me (clumsy), you almost fell off your bike trying to get a better look at the work. This is not recommended. The track work is happening right around between Central Parkway and Court Street along Walnut Street, where the city held a press conference this morning to talk about the progress. Councilman Kevin Flynn, who had been a swing vote during the battle over whether the streetcar would even happen last winter, called the latest progress “a milestone” and said he’s not giving up on some federal money to help operate the streetcar. A $5 million application for a federal grant completed by the city looks unlikely to be successful in its current form. That money would have funded operating costs for the streetcar for the next few years, according to city officials. Other private funds have shored up the transit project’s operating budget to some degree, but more funding is needed.
• While we’re talking about that little corner of the world, check this out. Some day, you may see a new Kroger near the spot where streetcar tracks are going in. A $50 million residential development is being planned for the corner of Central Parkway and Walnut Street. It will feature 200 apartments and 25,000 square feet of retail space. Rookwood Properties, based in Blue Ash, has approached the grocery chain about possibly filling some of that retail space. It’s all speculative for now, though. Kroger is looking to open a new location downtown but will not comment on specific locations, including the development on Walnut. I hope they hurry up, because I need a place close by to purchase all my Triscuits, Arizona Green Tea tall cans and ready-made boneless buffalo wings, which is pretty much my daily lunch these days.
• As we reported yesterday, the Women’s Med Center in Sharonville will cease providing abortions. The facility announced yesterday it will not appeal an Aug. 18 court ruling upholding earlier orders that the clinic close down its abortion services. The clinic will remain open to provide other services, specifically helping prepare women seeking abortions before they receive the procedures at the company’s Dayton clinic location.
• Lots of rumblings about shady dealing at Cincinnati's major airport after an the Kentucky State Auditor released a report Tuesday calling for a restructuring of CVG's board. The audit details high levels of inefficiency, nepotism and back-room dealing in the way the airport is run. CVG is among the most expensive airports in the country for passengers, and its board has been under fire for some time. The audit comes after a nine-month special investigation into its operation. Proposals for restructuring the board focus on making it more regional, folding in a representative chosen by Hamilton County Commissioners, the Ohio governor's office and the Cincinnati mayor's office.
• OK, so there are a lot of complaints about the suddenly ubiquitous ice bucket challenge, but the Cincinnati Archdiocese has a unique one. The trend has attempted to harness social media to raise money for the ALS Association. That part is great. The organization funds research to fight Lou Gehrig’s disease, a degenerative neurological disorder that eventually causes muscle paralysis and death. But a viral trend where people film themselves dumping super-cold water on themselves instead of giving money to charity and then challenge others to do the same as a kind of activism… seems a bit counterproductive. (Though, to be fair, the organization has said it’s gotten some $16 million in donations since the fad started).
Anyway, the Archdiocese has a different sort of problem with the challenge. They don’t mind the inane and narcissistic part. They’re upset about people giving money to the ALS Association, because the group funds research involving embryonic stem cells, the harvesting of which the church equates with abortion. Dump ice on yourself and post it on Vine all you want, the Archdiocese says, but god forbid you give any money to the group that’s trying to heal people.
"We appreciate the compassion that has caused so many people to engage in this," Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said. "But it's a well established moral principle that a good end is not enough. The means to that ends must be morally licit."
The Archdiocese has directed Catholics to send money to a catholic group that doesn’t use embryonic stem cells in its research instead.
• Remember Joe the Plumber? Of course you do! Ohio’s favorite native son first came to prominence during the 2008 presidential election when his shaky math about his small business (which he hadn’t even started yet) was picked up by the McCain campaign. Since that time, he's become a kind of pundit for the far right, writing books, appearing on talk shows and even running for Congress. He recently made national news by taking to Facebook and proposing HIS solution to the Ferguson unrest. His idea achieves a pretty impressive trifecta of being racist, classist and making absolutely no sense whatsoever. His post says “The best way to end the rioting and looting in Ferguson… Job Fair. They’ll scatter like cockroaches when the lights come on!” Great.
• Finally, speaking of working, this New Yorker piece on the trials of hourly workers in the age of employers’ push for maximum efficiency is a good read and very likely familiar for anyone who has ever had to work an ever-shifting schedule in retail, food or other service industries. Lots of interesting data and insights into the way the economy continues to shift in ways that are tough for working people.
Hey all! Was so busy chasing stories yesterday that I didn’t get a chance to do the morning news. Let’s catch up, shall we?
Welp, that’s not good. A spill at a Duke Energy facility about 20 miles upstream from Cincinnati dumped 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the Ohio River late Monday night, officials say. The Coast Guard closed off the area around the spill, and crews are working on clean up, which could take several days. Greater Cincinnati Water Works closed off intake valves on the river to avoid taking in contaminated water, though it has since announced that the spill has passed Cincinnati and that operations have returned to normal. The plant in New Richmond has had a number of environmental issues in the past.
• The race for Republican Chris Monzel’s Hamilton County Commissioners seat just got a little more competitive. Former City Councilman Jim Tarbell has entered the fray as a write-in candidate for the Democrats. Tarbell and a couple other experienced Democrats came up as possibilities for the official Democratic candidate after Monzel’s icon tax plan caused an uproar earlier this month. But Sean Patrick Feeney, who won the Democratic primary, signaled he wouldn’t step down as the party’s candidate. Tarbell ran for the same seat in 2010, when he lost to Monzel.
• Macy’s, the Cincinnati-based department store giant, has agreed to pay $650,000 to settle racial profiling charges brought about after an investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office. That investigation started after customers, including actor Rob Brown, complained they were racially profiled at the chain’s New York stores. Brown was detained by security at the store on suspicion he stole merchandise, which turned out to be false. The investigation looked into profiling practices at the chain’s Herald Square store in New York City. In addition to the money, Macy’s has agreed to institute new employee training policies, post a “customer bill of rights” at its New York stores and its website, and other measures.
• The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is celebrating its 10th anniversary this week, and is having a number of events to celebrate. One of these is the Dreamer’s Summit, happening tonight from 6-8 p.m. The free event features young immigrants who have settled in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky telling their stories — the struggles and triumphs they’ve experienced making their way from places around the world to live here. Seems very worth a trip to the riverfront, and if you get there an hour early at 5 p.m., you can get a free tour of the Freedom Center, certainly one of the coolest buildings in the city.
• A while back we reported on the fight over new Common Core educational standards. Now, that fight is getting real here in Ohio as conservative lawmakers in the state legislature attempt to pass a bill repealing Common Core in the state. But the stakes are higher than just a new set of standards. The legislation in question, House Bill 597, could mean that intelligent design and creationism, for instance, would be taught alongside evolution in science classes.
• The situation in Ferguson, Missouri continues to be tense as a grand jury gears up to consider the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a city police officer. Last night started off quiet, with slightly smaller groups gathering for peaceful protests in the city. But later in the evening, violence flared, causing police to use pepper spray and arrest 47 demonstrators. Despite the unrest, Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol called last night a turning point, saying the crowd dynamics have changed and that calm is slowly returning to the city.
“We had to respond to fewer incidents than the night before,” he said. “There were no Molotov cocktails tonight. There were no shootings.”
• Finally, this is amazing — three teenage sisters from Georgia have made an app that tracks police misconduct, with the aim of creating a database of police abuse and holding law enforcement accountable. The app, appropriately called Five-0, is a kind of “Yelp for police officers,” the teens say. Kids these days.
This is big news for Cincinnati tourism — a sign that the city's ongoing revival is attracting national interest.
Road Scholar, the big tour company that plans excursions around the world — from Cuba to Cambodia — has just added Cincinnati to its Signature (American) Cities offerings. The first trip will be March 29-April 3, 2015, and is being advertised as a visit to "the first truly American major city — founded after the Revolutionary War by American-born settlers."
Here's the description from the brand-new (just released today) North American Preview catalog:
"Historians admire it as the first truly American major city — established after the Revolution by American-born founders. Art and culture lovers revere it for its galleries and performing-arts venues. Now it’s your turn to fall in love with Cincinnati, where laid-back Midwest charm meets artsy big-city sophistication on the banks of the Ohio River. Join local experts at museums and landmarks that interpret the many hats Cincinnati has worn, from America’s original boomtown to waypoint on the Underground Railroad. Admire Art Deco architecture and horticultural artistry unrivaled in the nation. Learn about the city from a unique perspective aboard a riverboat on the Ohio River. Go backstage at the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, enjoy the vitality of downtown right outside your hotel and much more."
A big part of the trip will be an exploration of Over-the-Rhine.
Prices start at $1,075 and include five nights of accommodation, 13 meals, three expert-led lectures and 10 field trips.
Cleveland already has been a Signature City. Road Scholar also is expanding the program to Indianapolis. Additionally, it will have an American Queen riverboat excursion from St. Louis to Louisville along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. This year, Road Scholar had an American Queen excursion that stopped in Cincinnati.
Road Scholar will also have a new "Silver Screen Cinematic Voyage" excursion on the American Queen from Cincinnati to St. Louis starting on July 11. It will visit sites associated with the filming of movies, such as In the Heat of the Night, which was filmed in Sparta, Ill.
For more information, visit roadscholar.org.
Hey. It's news time. Check it.
One of two abortion clinics in the Greater Cincinnati area must close by the end of the week, a Hamilton County judge ruled, unless its lawyers file an appeal.
Women's Med in Sharonville has been fighting for months to stay open after the state of Ohio refused to grant a variance to recent rules that require the clinic to have hospital-admitting privileges. The Ohio Department of Health has granted these exceptions to the clinic in the past, since the clinic’s doctors have individual admitting privileges at hospitals. The clinic appealed the state’s decision, but last month a ruling by a Hamilton County magistrate ordered the clinic to close. That ruling had to be approved by Judge Jerome Metz, who issued an earlier ruling allowing the clinic to stay open while it appealed the state’s decision. On Friday, Metz ruled that he could not overturn the magistrate’s decision and that the clinic had five days to appeal or close.
Val Haskell, the clinic’s owner, said that Gov. John Kasich is “methodically targeting each Ohio abortion provider for closure, one by one, hoping no one will notice. It is our medical center today, one in Cleveland or Columbus tomorrow."
Cincinnati has one other clinic, a Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn. It has been waiting for word from the state about its license renewal for more than a year.
Over the weekend, two Cincinnati activists traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, where unrest continues after the police shooting of an unarmed, 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown. Rev. Damon Lynch III, pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church and Iris Roley, a Bond Hill businesswoman, made the trip to share ideas and best practices for recovering as a community from the trauma of such an incident. They’ll be sharing their thoughts on Cincinnati’s 2002 Collaborative Agreement, which helped define strategies for a more community-oriented approach to policing in the Cincinnati Police Department. Cincinnati knows the pain Ferguson is experiencing well, having seen days of protests and civil unrest following the 2001 death of Timothy Thomas at the hands of a Cincinnati police officer.
• Ferguson continues to roil after a brief respite last week. Over the weekend, crowds refused to disperse, despite a midnight curfew set by the governor, and police again used smoke bombs and tear gas on protestors. Meanwhile, an autopsy performed on Brown determined he had been shot six times. The governor has declared a state of emergency in the St. Louis suburb.
• 3CDC will be pitching in to get a long-running project downtown moving toward completion. The apartment tower at Fourth and Race has been in the works since February 2013, and 3CDC has already had a consulting role. But now they’ll build and own the site’s garage and ground-floor commercial space. Flaherty and Collins, an Indianapolis developer, will still develop the tower’s apartments. In the past, the project has included plans for a 12,000-square-foot grocery store, though those plans have been revised several times. It’s unclear how many units the building will include, though initial plans called for 300 apartments.
• Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald has waded into the sports mascot debate, saying that the Cleveland Indians’ mascot Chief Wahoo should be banned. The clearly racist caricature image of a smiling Native American has been the Indians’ logo for a long time, but continued controversy over professional sports teams’ usage of demeaning names and images based on stereotypes of Native Americans has called the image’s appropriateness into question. See: the whole huge debacle over the Washington Redskins. Gov. Kasich, asked the same question about the Chief, said “of course” the mascot shouldn’t be banished.
• Finally, this amazing story in The New York Times about the Mason Applebees at the center of the world this weekend. When tennis stars come to town for the Western & Southern Open, they flock to the 'Bees for some mozz sticks and appletinis. I’ll leave you with the best quote:
“We didn’t have to talk. Let’s just watch TV and eat.”
It's Friday. News was intense this week. Enough said. Let's get to this so we can all get to our weekends, shall we?
About 100 people gathered yesterday at New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn to observe a moment of silence for Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri. People from all over Cincinnati came to remember Brown and others who had recently died in incidents with police, including John Crawford III. Crawford was shot and killed by police in a Beavercreek Walmart while carrying what turned out to be a pellet gun. Both Brown and Crawford were black, stoking long-simmering anger about police treatment of people of color across the country.
“The call right now is to remember those who have died at the hands of police brutality. … It’s a call to demilitarize our police force,” said New Prospect's Rev. Damon Lynch III, who helped organize the local observance of a national moment of silence. “Tonight is a night just to try and deal with the pain we all feel.”
Groups in Dayton, Beavercreek, Cleveland and other Ohio cities also observed a moment of silence, along with many major cities across the country.
Ferguson police today identified the officer who shot Brown as Darren Wilson. Officials said he was responding to the armed robbery of a convenient store nearby when the Brown shooting occurred. Tensions in the city have eased remarkably, many news outlets are reporting, after the Missouri State Highway Patrol took over management of the protests Thursday. The Highway Patrol have taken a much more tolerant approach to the demonstrations over Brown’s death, and protesters have responded in kind with peaceful gatherings.
• Cincinnati’s Red Bike, the city’s new bike sharing program, is nearly ready to launch. Crews have been installing bike share stations around downtown and six are now finished at City Hall, Fountain Square, Great American Ball Park, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Sawyer Point. Bikes haven’t been installed yet, however. Eventually, the system will have 35 stations. It should be up and running sometime in September.
• Cincinnati is one of two Ohio cities that rank high for students in private schools. Both Cleveland and Cincy made the top 10 of a list put together by real estate website Trulia looking at the percentage of students in private schools in America’s major cities. Cleveland was seventh with 17.5 percent of its students opting out of public schools, and Cincinnati ninth, with 16.9 percent. New Orleans had the highest percentage, with one quarter of its students opting for private schools. Trulia says a number of factors came into play in the list, including the concentrations of Catholics and other religious groups who most often send their children to religious schools, as well as the quality of public schools in the area.
• Ohio’s unemployment rate rose for the first time this year, according to data from the state. The rate had been at 5.5 percent in May and June, the lowest it’s been in seven years, but jumped to 5.7 percent in July as employers cut the number of jobs in the state.
• So here’s a pretty creepy report about Ohio’s use of facial recognition software and how it’s been available to a huge number of people over the past year. Basically, the programs can grab a photo of someone’s face and match it up with information about that person in a database. The state has limited access to the program somewhat recently, but measures are still not in place to audit the system and detect inappropriate usage by state employees. About 8,900 searches have been conducted so far on the system.
• Finally, I have this for you. Basically, it’s what would happen if Jesus had done the whole loaves and fishes thing during shark week. A concerned San Antonio man donated a bunch of shark meat to a homeless shelter after spending seven hours fighting it out in the Gulf of Mexico, going all Old Man and the Sea on an 809-pound tiger shark. He donated about 75 pounds of the meat to Timon’s Ministries in Corpus Christi. The church remarked that it was the biggest fish they've ever had donated. I guess that blue whale I dropped off last year doesn't technically count as a fish. The shark meat fed about 90 homeless folks, most of whom liked it a lot, the church said.
Here at the morning news, we usually lead with things local and work our way out to the national stuff. But dear lord, it’s impossible not to talk about what’s going on right now in Ferguson, Missouri right off the top. I touched on the unrest in the St. Louis suburb a couple days ago, which started when an unarmed, 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer last week, apparently while he had his hands up. The police say Brown was trying to wrestle the officer’s gun away from him while the officer sat in his car. Eyewitnesses say something else entirely.
Things have only gotten more intense, with paramilitary-style law enforcement efforts, including snipers and police in body armor with assault rifles. Law enforcement has begun arresting journalists as well, including The Washington Post’s Wes Lowry. You can read the veteran reporter's account of his encounter with Ferguson police here. Police have released very little information about their activities or the events that unfolded to start the unrest.
Meanwhile, many are drawing parallels between Brown's death in Ferguson and a police shooting that happened Aug. 5 in Beavercreek, outside of Dayton, when 22-year-old John Crawford was shot to death in a Walmart by officers while holding a pellet gun sold in the store. Police officials haven't released details about the incident yet, other than to say that it appears the officers "acted appropriately." Ohio is an open carry state, and it is lawful to carry rifles or handguns in public.
• Closer to home, some very important questions face county voters this fall. Do you believe in aliens? How about ghosts? Sean Feeney, the Democratic candidate for Hamilton County Commissioner, has stated he’s in the race for good, even after Hamilton County Democrats asked him to step down in favor of someone with more name recognition. Feeney, 27, is an information technology consultant who has held a couple local political posts. He was also heavily into paranormal research for a number of years. He said he’s not necessarily a believer himself but has been interested in hunting for UFOs and ghosts because he wanted to bring “some order to a chaotic field,” though he hasn’t had time for such investigations recently.
As the fallout continues from the icon tax debacle, Hamilton County Democrats have been taking a much keener look at tea party-backed Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel’s seat. Monzel is up for reelection in November, and with all the ire from both Republicans and Democrats over his move to cleave Music Hall from a tax levy that will now only repair Union Terminal, the time seems ripe to challenge him. Officials with the Cincinnati Museum Center, which runs out of Union Terminal, have yet to signal whether they'll go along with the new deal.
Democrats missed their chance to switch out Feeney for someone more experienced like former Mayor Charlie Luken or former city council candidate Greg Landsman when the deadline to change candidates passed Monday. But I like this guy. I’d vote for someone who goes hunting for outer space aliens over someone whose party insists on irrationally harping and fear-mongering about the undocumented sort.
• Hey, though, here’s something really cool — a little-known Charley Harper mural will soon be reintroduced to the world. The Duke Energy Convention Center has a Harper mosaic, though it’s currently hidden behind drywall because it didn’t really go with the Center’s aesthetic or something, and because back in 1987 when it was covered up fewer people knew who Harper was. That’s dumb. Now, as the center undergoes a $5 million renovation, workers will free the mosaic from its “Cask of Amontillado”-like prison. The mosaic, called “Space Walk” and finished in 1970, is supposedly somewhat more abstract than much of Harper’s work. Councilman Chris Seelbach has pushed for the mosaic’s reintroduction to the world.
• Democratic candidates at the state level are having a tough time of late. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald ‘s campaign is stuck in a fight over revelations that police once found him in a car in a parking lot at 3 a.m. with a woman who wasn’t his wife and that he hasn’t had a full driver’s license in 10 years. Combined with low fundraising numbers and polls suggesting his recognition among voters hasn’t gained traction, the struggles have put some serious drag on his challenge to Republican Gov. John Kasich. That’s also affected down-ticket candidates, including attorney general hopeful David Pepper and secretary of state candidate, current State Senator Nina Turner, who said it's been "a tough week" on the campaign trail.
The thing about mornings and news is that they both keep happening over and over again, and you've gotta work to keep up with them. So here we are.
The furor over the icon tax change-up is not going away just yet. Mayor John Cranley had some choice words for Hamilton County Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann yesterday on the subject, calling for the two to take the Union Terminal-only tax initiative off the November ballot. He also questioned the commissioners’ disregard for former P&G head Bob McDonald’s input. McDonald is the head of the Cultural Facilities Task Force, which researched, vetted and recommended the initial tax plan.
“I fear for the future of our county when the project can be hijacked – I’m not even sure by who,” Cranley said, lambasting the commissioners and their plan. “Nobody was pushing the plan they put forward.”
Hartmann shot back that Cranley was making statements out of emotion and that county voters would not have approved the original plan. He said the county has a relationship with Union Terminal it doesn’t have with Music Hall. Cranley has said the city won’t be putting any money forward toward Union Terminal without Music Hall in the plan.
• The Ohio Department of Transportation is commissioning an $8 million study to determine the impact tolls would have on traffic and low-income drivers if part a replacement to the outdated Brent Spence Bridge. The move comes after officials in both Ohio and Kentucky have said that tolls are the only way to pay for rebuilding the bridge, which will cost $2.6 billion. That’s a crazy amount of money. Isn’t anyone out there selling a gently used bridge on Craigslist or something? Or maybe just a big, Evel Knievel-style ramp system that shoots drivers over the river? I don’t know, just trying to think outside the box here. I’m imagining those angles won’t be covered by the study, which will be used to set the specifics of tolls, including possible variable rates for local drivers and various traffic levels at different times. There may also need to be adjustments for low-income drivers, though it is unclear what those would be.
• While we’re crossing the river, let’s talk about Covington. The city is opening up its Section 8 waiting list today, and before Covington City Hall even opened its doors, people were already lined up around the block. The Housing Authority of Covington serves all of Kenton County, which, like most other areas around the region, has experienced shortages of affordable housing since the Great Recession. The HAC office is at 2300 Madison Ave.
• A local radio host who lives in Maderia was arrested last night for allegedly shooting his wife after an argument. Blake Seylhouwer, who hosts Small Business Sunday on 55KRC and runs a cleaning business, says a gun he had with him accidentally went off as the two argued in their driveway, though authorities say Seylhouwer purposely fired at Misty Seylhouwer when she turned her back. She sustained wounds from bullet fragments in her chest, leg, neck and head. She was taken to the hospital and is expected to recover fully. Seylhouwer called 911 to report his wife’s injuries and was arrested shortly after paramedics arrived at the house. He’s been ordered to stay away from her and the couple’s two children and is being held on $250,000 bond.
• There’s really nothing like the wild rush of freedom that comes when you shrug off the bonds of state regulations to play the slots while enjoying a nice calming smoke. Customers of Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino downtown will soon be able to experience that most basic and noble of liberties should a proposed expansion at the casino be approved by the Ohio Casino Control Commission. The expansion will create a 10,000 square foot smoking deck where gamblers can puff while they play. Casino owners in Ohio say other gaming sites in Indiana have an advantage in the market because they aren’t burdened by anti-smoking regulations.
• Finally, did Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul ditch ultra-conservatives in Iowa to hang out with none other than Alec Baldwin, an icon of the liberal media celebrity complex? That’s the word on the street. Paul skipped the Family Leadership Summit on Saturday, citing family commitments, but was later spotted with Baldwin and others at a fundraiser for a library in the Hamptons. The Summit has been a regular stop for GOP presidential hopefuls in the past, and it was expected Paul would attend as he builds steam for a presidential run in 2016. But he said family affairs called him to New York and that the Hamptons fundraiser was just a side stop. To be fair, I'd ditch a bunch of cranky tea party folks to hang out with the guy who played Liz Lemon's boss, too, and other conservatives, including Bill O’Reilly, were also in attendance at the fundraiser. Which is just a stirring reminder that nothing brings people together like libraries. Or maybe just parties thrown by people in the Hamptons with lots and lots of money. The ultra-posh region is a destination for cash farming, with everyone from Hillary Clinton to Sen. Ted Cruz heading that way to shake the area's various money trees.
News time. I haven't even had coffee yet and I did all this. Be impressed.
Troubled charter school VLT Academy in Over-the-Rhine is closing its doors, Superintendent Valerie Lee says. VLT, which we reported about last month in a story on charters, has faced some serious questions about its academic performance and financial structure. In Ohio, charter schools must have a sponsoring organization in order to operate. The school lost its sponsor in May and shortly thereafter sued the Ohio Department of Education over charges the ODE chased other sponsors away. A judge ordered ODE to sponsor the school and pay teachers’ salaries, though that order was stayed on appeal. Now VLT says it is out of money and must close. The school’s landlords say it owes them more than $1 million in back rent. VLT served about 600 students in the Pendleton area, nearly all of them low-income.
• Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says he’s committed to making t
he best of a terrible idea the new icon tax plan work. The plan to fund the renovation of Union Terminal, which county commissioners substituted for a larger plan that also included Music Hall, has been controversial to say the least. Sigman has the unenviable job of taking an unpopular plan that doesn’t have all the details worked out, negotiating political, engineering and fiscal realities and making it all function. Unresolved questions include the availability of private donations and historic tax credits factored into the original plan. It’s also unclear whether the Cincinnati Museum Center, which runs out of Union Terminal, will go along with the deal. If it doesn’t, county commissioners could pull their support as well.
“We just have to get the details down,” Siman old the Business Courier, noting that his job is to carry out the county’s work without political bias. “I will have to make it work.”
Meanwhile, folks are getting all worked up about the political implications behind Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel's decision to cut the proverbial baby in half. Check out this opinion piece written by a former Hamilton County judge, who calls the move a "mix of chutzpah and ignorance." Oh, it gets harsher, too.
• Mayor Cranley participated in the installation of the first station for the city's bike share program, now called RedBike, on Fountain Square today at 11 a.m. He also became the program's first annual member. The bike share, run by a non-profit, will allow residents to use bikes for short trips and then drop them off at stations. The station at Fountain Square will be one of 35 throughout the city.
• Questions are being raised about an incident in which a man was shot and killed by police in a Beavercreek Walmart. Police came to the Walmart last week after another customer in the store called to report a man brandishing and loading an assault rifle. Officers fired upon John Crawford III after they asked him to drop the weapon and he did not. The exact progression of events is unclear and police investigating the incident have asked Walmart for security footage from store cameras. What is clear, however, is that the item Crawford was carrying was actually a pellet gun from the store, albeit realistic-looking. Crawford’s family has called the shooting unjustified, though police say that officers appear to have acted appropriately under the circumstances. An investigation is ongoing.
The death of Crawford, who is black, calls to mind the current (and unfortunately, perennial) national conversation around the shootings of young black men done in "self defense" or by law enforcement personnel. The latest incident in this issue's long, sad history is playing out right now in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed 18-year-old was shot by police while his hands were in the air last week.
Meanwhile, another law-enforcement use of force incident from last year is heading to court. The family of a man who died while in the custody of the Hamilton County Sherriff’s Office in 2013 is suing the county and the officers involved in the incident. Deputies tazed 59-year-old Gary Roell six times last August after responding to calls about Roell breaking windows and throwing flower pots at his condominium complex in Sycamore Township. When the deputies finally subdued him after a struggle, they realized he wasn’t breathing. Roell was pronounced dead a short time later. Roell was a long-term sufferer of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, his family says, and was off his medication at the time of the incident. The federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the family alleges that deputies used excessive force when attempting to subdue Roell.
• In happier news, everyone's favorite ice cream is planning to expand outside the
Graeter Greater Cincinnati area to Chicago and perhaps Nashville. Graeter's is looking to open 10 to 15 new locations in new markets, which could also include St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The $40 million a year company also sells to grocery stores, which has kept me alive in the past as I wandered away from Cincinnati.
• Here’s a cool thing: A professor at the University of Texas in Dallas devised a way to visually plot the most influential cities over the past 2,600 years. The data visualization shows the progression of cultural hubs through time by tracking the birth and death locations of more than 120,000 highly influential people. While it seems to only document the history of western civilization, unfortunately, it’s still a cool look at which cities have gained and lost cultural clout over time.
New week, new... err, news. Let's get to it.
Sean Patrick Feeney isn’t leaving just yet. The Democratic candidate, an IT consultant from North College Hill, is running for Republican Chris Monzel’s Hamilton County commissioner seat. Democratic challengers have expressed a lot more interest in that seat after Monzel's recent icon tax moves. But Feeney said he won’t be stepping aside for any of the party’s heavy hitters who may want jump into the race, at least until Democrats give him a solid answer on who will be taking his place and what that candidate’s game plan is.
“I’m looking to get the groundswell of support,” Feeney told the Business Courier. Feeney has raised a few hundred dollars for his campaign and is little known around the region but hopes to rally and take advantage of displeasure over Commissioner Monzel’s move to cleave Music Hall from the icon tax plan. Meanwhile, former Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken, former city council candidate Greg Landsman and former council member Jim Tarbell have all signaled some interest in running. For now, though, Feeney’s sticking to his guns, despite acknowledging that the Hamilton County Democratic Party has approached him about standing down. Feeney has received some criticism for not stepping down, including a tweet from Councilman Chris Seelbach comparing Feeney’s fundraising results to the $250,000 Landsman raised during his council bid.
• We’ve reported on the rising number of homeless shelters in Cincinnati have been seeing. A new report released today says the number of people spending the night on the street, sleeping in cars, under bridges and other places not designed for human habitation is also on the rise. Strategies to End Homelessness counted more than 1,500 people living on the streets in 2013, a 38-percent increase from 2012 and the highest number since 2006. Half of those surveyed by the organization identified as struggling with a mental illness. Fifty-two percent said they were struggling with addiction, and 68 percent said they had a disability of some kind. People living on the streets, as opposed to in a shelter, are more likely to be chronically homeless, the report says.
• A review of Cincinnati’s charter by a city task force has uncovered something surprising: Due to a long-overlooked provision, the city might get a vote on whether or not it should continue to fluoridate its water. The task force is working to rewrite the charter, stripping out antiquated language and unnecessary provisions. The group has been looking into Chapter XI, which stipulates that the city must vote in favor of fluoridation or halt putting the chemical in the water supply, something Greater Cincinnati Water Works says voters have never approved.
Fluoride was a hot-button topic when the chemical was first added to water supplies in the 1950s. Conspiracy theorists alleged fluoridation was a communist plot; more recent crackpots have called it a government mind-control technique. Health organizations like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention disagree, saying fluoridation is one of the nation’s greatest public health efforts because it can prevent tooth decay. Despite this, many developed countries in Europe don’t fluoridate. Ohio state law requires water be fluoridated, but that law can be overridden by a city if its residents vote to remove the chemical. Twenty-two cities in Ohio don’t fluoridate. A move to vote on the issue would first have to be approved by Cincinnati City Council.
•The Washington Post ranked Great American Ballpark's beer selection best of any ballpark in the country in terms of quality. The Reds' beer offerings were ranked second overall as well, based on a number of factors. 'Nuff said, but if you want more details, here's a story about the rankings.
• A federal judge today extended until January a temporary ban on executions in Ohio following controversy over lethal injection drugs. That means the three executions the state had scheduled for this year will be delayed until next year. The original moratorium was ordered after the Jan. 16 execution of Dennis McGuire. That execution took an unusual amount of time, and witnesses reported McGuire gasped and struggled, though prison officials concluded he felt no pain. Other executions around the country using similar drugs have taken longer and resulted in prolonged suffering of the prisoners being executed. The state has said it will use the same drugs used in the McGuire execution, just in higher doses. The judge has ordered a delay so the state's execution methods can be investigated more thoroughly.
• A big donor to Attorney General Mike DeWine’s campaign owes more than $100,000 in overdue sales taxes. But Sudhir Dubey, a Columbus businessman, had enough cash to put $12,000 in the AG’s campaign coffers July 26, the Columbus Dispatch reports. Just a few months prior, DeWine’s office brought a lawsuit against Dubey for the unpaid taxes. DeWine’s campaign denies knowing Dubey and says proceedings against the donor have gone forward despite the contribution. But his opponent, Democrat David Pepper, has seized on the connection.
“Here, someone with little to no history of political giving gives a $12,000 check to DeWine’s campaign only months after DeWine opened a case against him,” said Peter Koltak, Pepper’s campaign spokesman. “It’s clear that donors believe they influence DeWine’s decision-making by dumping big money into his campaign.”
• As Ebola continues to rage through western Africa, a debate has flamed up about who is receiving experimental treatments designed to shore up victims’ immune systems against the virus. Two American missionaries received the experimental treatment, called ZMapp, upon returning to the United States two weeks ago. Critics have questioned why Americans are getting these new treatments, but not Africans. Supporters of the move point out the unfortunate history of drug tests on impoverished, vulnerable populations, including the infamous Tuskegee experiment. The latest outbreak of the virus is the largest yet known. Nearly 1,000 people have died from the fever, which starts out with cold-like symptoms before destroying organs and causing uncontrollable hemorrhaging.
• I leave you with this hall-of-fame moment in the annals of social media bloopers. On Saturday, Local 12 News tweeted a link to a story about the LEGO toy company, which is releasing a line of scientist figures. But the novel part, Local 12 says, is that the figures are FEMALE. As scientists! Mind blowing. The tweet was especially unfortunately worded, asking fellow Twitterers whether the figures were “a good idea, or ridiculous?” Hm. The social media missive immediately received a number of mocking replies, including “FEMALES are allowed to vote. Good idea or ridiculous?”