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by Nick Swartsell 07.01.2015 99 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Noon News and Stuff

Drug cops seize $11K from man at local airport; Kasich cuts ed funding, keeps strict abortion regulations in budget; Portman's problems

Hey hey all! Hope your week is going well as we speed toward what I’m sure is going to be an awesome July 4 weekend. Before we get to news, I wanted to welcome our new staff writer and news reporter Natalie Krebs, who starts today. Natalie comes to us after working in the Texas Senate. She has a master's in journalism from the University of Texas and also completed the prestigious News21 program at Arizona State University. She’s done work for great investigative magazine the Texas Observer and other publications, and we’re super-excited to have her here. You’ll be seeing her byline start popping up in the next couple weeks.

On to news. A new report in the Washington Post says that local law enforcement agencies seized more than $11,000 from a young black man at CVG airport last year under federal asset-forfeiture laws. Those laws allow agencies to seize money associated with drug trafficking or other major crimes. Drug Enforcement Agency task force members took the money from Charles Clarke despite the fact that they didn’t find any drugs, guns or other illegal substances on him. Clarke, who smokes marijuana occasionally, reportedly had the smell of the drug on his belongings at the time, which was enough along with his one-way ticket and inability to account for the money’s source for cops to stop him and seize his stuff.

The airport’s police force and the Covington Police Department were the two agencies involved in the seizure, but a total of 11 local agencies want a piece of the money, including the Cincinnati Police Department. That’s due to the way DEA task forces are set up and the way they disperse asset forfeiture money. The agency defends the practice, saying it helps fund vital local law enforcement efforts across the country. The Post’s story is a pretty incredible read and definitely something worth knowing about.

• In lighter-hearted news: Soon, the enormous, 20-story ghost of a 19th century man will visit downtown Cincinnati every night. Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to alarm you. The giant specter will be the image of a vintage Cincinnati Red Stockings player, which will be projected onto Carew Tower in the evenings to celebrate the upcoming Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Festivities around the game will take place July 10-14. The haunting… err, I mean… celebration starts tonight with a ceremony at 9:30 p.m. After that, the display will be up every night at that time until 5 a.m. through July 15.

• On to state stuff. Gov. John Kasich used his line-item veto power to cut up the state Senate’s budget yesterday, nixing 44 provisions from the financial plan as he signed it into law. Among those provisions, he cut $78 million from public education funding by eliminating a pay-back for schools that once received money from what was called the tangible personal property tax. That tax has since been eliminated, but lawmakers have carved out the reimbursement to assure that schools continue to get adequate levels of funding. Local schools like Princeton and Mason received millions from the TPP funds and have protested their elimination. Kasich and the Ohio Board of Education say they haven’t nailed down which schools will see decreases in funding from the move. Kasich has argued that the TPP money mostly went to schools in high-income areas that could afford to provide more local support and that the money from the program could be better used to support low-income districts. Kasich tried to adjust the state-funding formula in his version of the budget, but that attempt was punted by state legislators.

• Among the things Kasich didn’t veto yesterday: new abortion restrictions slipped into the budget last-minute. You can read all about that situation in this week’s feature news story. Here’s a little preview: Those regulations could threaten Cincinnati’s last clinic that provides abortions.

• One thing the legislature and governor didn’t tackle in the flurry of legislative activity: charter school reform. As we’ve discussed in past articles, there are calls for the reform of Ohio’s charter school system on both sides of the aisle. But it won’t happen just yet. Lawmakers have tabled efforts at reform of the system until September. Lawmakers cite major changes to a controversial bill that would have adjusted the charter system, saying they need more time than the rapidly approaching summer break allows them. Critics of charters say lack of accountability and big issues with use of funds, testing and attendance records show that the charter system in the state needs to be reworked.

• It’s a big day for statewide news. Ahead of today’s deadline, marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio yesterday delivered nearly 700,000 signatures to Secretary of State Jon Husted. If enough signatures are valid and the initiative makes it onto the ballot, voters will decide whether to green-light the group’s constitutional amendment creating 10 legalized marijuana grow sites around the state run by ResponsibleOhio investors. Possession of marijuana would be legal for anyone over 21, and licenses would be issued for sale of the drug. No other commercial growers would be permitted, however, a detail that has created controversy. Meanwhile, state lawmakers have introduced their own ballot proposal that would make it much tougher for such so-called constitutional monopolies to pass. That law would more than likely invalidate ResponsibleOhio’s amendment. Voters will have a strange and potentially confusing choice at the ballots come November.

• Here’s an interesting read on U.S. Sen. Rob Portman as he runs for re-election. Portman’s taking a shellacking in the polls right now against his presumed Democratic challenger, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. Despite being the incumbent in a state with a Republican governor, Portman is down six points to Strickland in two recent polls. Strickland still has to make it through a Democratic primary, where he faces Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, but he’s opened up a comfortable lead against the young councilman. He’ll also have to contend with Portman’s formidable $8 million campaign war chest, the largest of any GOP Senate candidate seeking 2016 reelection. The above article explores the reasons why Portman is floundering right now in his race — reasons that may be beyond his campaign’s control.

I’m out! Tweet at me about all the fun stuff to do this July 4. Or, you know, email me your boring news tips. I love em.

by Nick Swartsell 06.30.2015 100 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Union to sue SORTA, city; Kasich poised to sign $71 billion Ohio budget; Texas city charges journalists $80,000 for public emails

Good morning all. Here’s what’s going on today in Cincinnati.

If you were wondering what all the traffic was about downtown this morning (I was) this probably had something to do with it. The Hamilton County Courthouse was evacuated around 8:20 a.m. due to a suspicious suitcase that was flagged by bomb sniffing dogs there. The perimeter around the courthouse was cleared and a bomb unit and federal anti-terrorism personnel were dispatched to the scene. No word yet on what the item in the suitcase turned out to be.

• Guess what I have for you… it’s… you guessed it. More streetcar drama. The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents employees for the Southwest Regional Ohio Transit Authority, has announced it will file a lawsuit against SORTA and the city of Cincinnati to try and prevent them from accepting a bid that wouldn’t use union employees to operate the transit project.

According to the union, Cincinnati City Council must direct SORTA on which bid to select. Some members of Council supported a more expensive pro-union bid that cost $4.7 million to the non-union’s $4 million in the first year of operations, but couldn’t reach an agreement to recommend that bid during voting. The union-friendly contract comes in about $500,000 over budget for the city, which has caused conservatives on council to balk at the option. Democrat Wendell Young also voted against the pro-union deal, sinking it the last time it came before council, because he worried the $2 million from the city’s general fund Mayor John Cranley agreed to use toward the project wouldn’t be enough and that a shortfall would cause reduction in service for the streetcar.

Without an agreement, council punted the decision to SORTA, which says it has no choice but to choose the less-expensive option. The ATU is seeking an injunction in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to force council to make the decision, saying that is what is required under the language of a motion about streetcar operations council passed last year. A separate operations and maintenance agreement between SORTA and the city makes no mention of such a stipulation, however.

• Seven projects in Cincinnati representing more than $61 million in development will receive Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits, the state announced today. Among those projects is the revamp of the Baldwin building on Gilbert Avenue in Walnut Hills. The historic former piano factory will be converted from office space into market-rate apartments by Cincinnati-based Neyer Properties. Neyer will receive $4.8 million in tax credits on the $39 million project.

• New affordable housing for seniors is coming to Northside. Episcopal Retirement Homes is building the 56-unit, $10 million development at Knowlton and Mad Anthony streets, one of 10 the group is doing in Greater Cincinnati. The Northside development will be LEED certified and handicap accessible. Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved tax exemptions on the development yesterday and full council is expected to approve them tomorrow.

• Gov. John Kasich today is expected to sign into law the state’s $71 billion biennial budget drawn up by state lawmakers. Kasich didn’t get a lot of what he wanted in the budget — sweeping tax cuts for businesses and high-earners, taxes on oil and gas fracking, his revamp of the state’s educational funding formula — but the state legislature’s budget is still plenty conservative, ushering in its own big income tax cuts. And Kasich will have a bit of revenge as he vetoes some items in the state house’s budget, though it’s unclear what he will slash with the veto pen.

Abortion advocates hope against hope he’ll cut out some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, which conservative lawmakers slid into the budget at the last minute earlier this month. Those include a stipulation that clinics’ partner hospitals must be within 20 miles of the abortion provider and a tweak to the rules over how clinics without agreements with local hospitals are licensed. You can read in-depth about those rule changes and what they mean for Cincinnati and the state in tomorrow’s CityBeat print edition. Kasich is much more likely to veto items that limit his executive authority, including an attempt to close out a method Kasich used to expand Medicaid in the state over lawmakers’ objections. Kasich is ushering in the state’s budget even as he has his eye on bigger things: He’ll announce his run for president in Columbus July 21.

• Finally, this is a story that is probably most interesting to journalists, but here we go anyway. The city of McKinney, Texas, where police officer Eric Casebolt resigned earlier this month after he was shown on video pointing a gun at teenage pool party goers and slamming a teenaged girl to the ground, is charging journalists almost $80,000 for access to public records about Casebolt. Gawker Media has requested all official emails about Casebolt’s 10-year career as well as his personnel file. McKinney officials say that the city’s emails predating 2014 aren’t searchable and that they’ll have to hire a computer programmer to retrieve them, thus the huge expense. 

by Nick Swartsell 06.29.2015 101 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Woman who removed confederate flag at S.C. capitol has local ties; same-sex marriage could boost Ohio's economy; Kasich, presidential campaign now officially "talking," may start seeing each other soon

Hello all. I hope your weekend was great and you got to spend some time soaking up the victorious vibes at the pride parade Saturday following Friday’s historic Supreme Court decision. It was indeed epic.

But now it’s Monday, so let’s talk about news for a minute. You may have seen the news about Bree Newsome, the woman who climbed up a flagpole in front of the South Carolina State House and took down a confederate flag flying there. It turns out she has a pretty strong local connection. Newsome’s father, Clarence Newsome, is the president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center here in Cincinnati. The elder Newsome hasn’t commented publicly on his daughter’s actions. Bree Newsome and another activist were arrested immediately after removing the flag. She is currently out on bond and is charged with defacing a state monument. That misdemeanor has a maximum penalty of three years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Newsome’s actions come as debate rages about whether the banner should come down from state buildings there after the horrific shooting of nine black churchgoers in Charleston. The gunman, Dylann Roof, prominently displayed confederate flags on his car and other belongings and was a supporter of white supremacist causes. Roof’s act of violence has been followed by a spate of arsons against black churches in the South.

• Here’s a lighter story. You can now get a lil tipsy while pedaling around the city. No, I’m not talking about the old whiskey in the water bottle trick some local cyclists swear by, though that one is especially useful in dulling the pain of Cincinnati's hills. Recently-passed legislation allows passengers on so-called Pedal Wagons, which have been carrying people around downtown Cincinnati since 2012, to sip on some adult bevs while they ride. It used to be you had to pedal those 15-passenger wagons sober. But don’t worry. Those partaking only provide the pedal power, not the steering and navigation. A sober nerd… err, driver… does all that.

• Back to that historic same-sex marriage decision for a couple beats. Boone County will continue issuing marriage licenses today following a halt after the SCOTUS decision Friday. County officials said they had questions about the law for the Kentucky attorney general and would cease issuing the licenses until they were answered. But since those answers could take a while, and since it looks pretty bad to clam up and stop issuing licenses to everyone just because gay folks suddenly have the same rights as straight ones, the county clerk’s office has resumed granting the licenses as it waits for clarification. 

• More overt in their opposition to the SCOTUS decision: a dozen or so marchers in the pride parade, who carried signs about eternal damnation and the like, along with conservative groups like Greater Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values and the Ohio Christian Alliance. The latter group released a statement Friday warning that the country is "heading into a moral unknown" and that states' rights are being trampled by the ruling.

• Meanwhile, some economists expect that newly-legal same-sex marriage will pump millions of dollars in economic activity into Ohio. Nearly 10,000 same-sex couples are expected to marry over the next three years — half of the state’s total number of same-sex couples — according to a study by economic researchers Regionomics LLC. That could bring an extra $127 million to the state’s economy, creating 930 new jobs in the first year. And that’s just the money spent on the weddings. Other factors weren’t accounted for, including the benefit of keeping young people in the state who won’t have to leave to marry their partners. The study isn’t the end-all, be-all on the matter, of course, and it should be noted pro-marriage equality group Freedom to Marry commissioned the report. The study estimates that about 1,000 same-sex couples in Hamilton County will marry over the next three years, bringing in about $8 million in economic activity.

• Well, it’s kind of official. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has taken the next step in a dance rivaled in complexity and ambiguity by only the dating rituals of Millennials. Kasich's campaign staff has announced that he will announce July 21 that he’s going to run for the GOP’s nomination to run for president in 2016. Got all that? Basically, the pre-announcement shows that Kasich is serious and settled about his bid and will be mobilizing support for what is certain to be an uphill battle winning over GOP primary voters. It's basically Kasich 2 a.m. texting all those voters he's been flirting with to say, "Wut's up?" He’s got a lot of work ahead of him in wooing those voters though: polls show him catching about 1 percent of the primary vote right now, well behind front runners like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, also from Florida.

That's it for me today. Tweet or e-mail me with any news tips or rainy-day bike commuting tips that don't involve rye whiskey in my water bottle. I need 'em.

by Nick Swartsell 06.26.2015 104 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley unveils big parks plan; abortion restrictions advance through Ohio Senate; same-sex marriage legal across country after historic SCOTUS ruling

Goood morning y’all. I’m a bit bleary today, having spent yesterday on a bus to Columbus and back to watch the State Senate do its thang. More on that later, though.

In somber news, today is the funeral for Sonny Kim, the 27-year Cincinnati Police Department veteran who was shot to death last week while responding to a 911 call. The funeral service is being held at Xavier University’s Cintas Center, and Kim will be laid to rest at Gate of Heaven Cemetery. Tributes to Kim have poured in from around the city and across the country, and officers from places near and far have made the trip here to pay their respects. Thousands came to the visitation yesterday and are attending the funeral today.

• Mayor John Cranley made a big announcement yesterday, rolling out his plan for a huge revamp of Cincinnati’s parks. Cranley is proposing a property tax levy on the November ballot to raise about $5 million a year toward big parks and recreation revamps and new projects. In addition, the mayor has proposed issuing up to $100 million in bonds to fund those projects. Recipients of the money would include proposed bike trails like the Wasson Way Trail, a mountain bike trail through Mount Airy Forest, additions to one along the Mill Creek that could eventually extend from Queensgate to Carthage and beyond and the Oasis River Trail on the city’s south east side. The big bucks would also be used to revamp Inwood Park in Mount Auburn, Smale Riverfront Park downtown and Burnet Woods in Clifton. That last one has me a little worried. I’ve seen different descriptions of proposed changes to my favorite Cincy urban forest, and they sound harmless enough: updated parking lots, removing a road, installing a concession stand and restaurant at the park’s opening. But I also remember Cranley once remarking that the park was “creepy” because the trees are too dense there. Please don’t touch the trees. Other proposals include working to restore former King Records studios in Evanston and an urban campsite in Roselawn.

• Do you wanna know the top-paid CEOs for public companies in Cincinnati? Of course you do. Everyone wants to know about money and power brokers, right? The Cincinnati Business Courier just published its list of the highest earners, and it’s worth perusing so you know who’s got the cash and who’s got the clout. No surprises here, really. Procter & Gamble’s CEO A.G Lafley comes in at number one. He raked in $19.5 million in 2014. American Financial Group’s Carl and Craig Lindner came in at number two with a $15 million haul last year. Execs from Macy’s, Kroger and Ashland, Inc. rounded out the top five.

• The Ohio Senate has passed its version of the state’s budget, and today the Ohio House will vote on it as well. The big news about that, which I’ll be telling you about in detail next week, is that two anti-abortion provision that were squeezed into the budget last-minute look likely to make it through the process unscathed. One bans nearly all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The other would require all clinics to get a variance within 60 days on requirements that they have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Cincinnati’s last remaining clinic providing abortions, a Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn, has been waiting on a variance to that rule for more than a year. Under the proposed rule change, the Ohio Department of Health would have to issue the variance within two months or it would be automatically denied. If the Mount Auburn facility shuts down, Cincinnati would be the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to a clinic. The state House and Senate have already reconciled their differences and the votes are mainly ceremonial, meaning the last hope for preventing those rules is a line-item veto from Gov. John Kasich.

• Other points from the state budget: the state’s historic preservation tax credit program will live to see another day, despite threats to zero it out for two years. Journalists lose big because a provision in the budget will seal concealed handgun license records, meaning we won’t be able to file public records requests for that information. Oil and gas companies will dodge a new fracking tax proposed by Gov. John Kasich, which wasn’t included in the budget. The legislature said no thanks to Kasich’s proposed huge tax cut for high-income earners and businesses, but did implement a more moderate cut for businesses and income taxes across the board. Kasich got a compromise on cigarette taxes: the Senate budget raises them by 35 cents, less than the dollar Kasich wanted but at least some boost to offset the budget’s big tax cuts.

• Here's some news that isn't really new: even after yesterday's big Supreme Court decision upholding a key tenet of Obamacare, Ohio Republicans are still promising to kill the president's signature healthcare law. Yawn.

• South Carolina State Senator, civil rights leader and Charleston church shooting victim Clementa Pinckney is being laid to rest today. President Obama is delivering the eulogy. Other victims of the massacre are also being remember today and over the weekend.

• Finally, you’ve probably already heard about the fact that history happened today in a major way. After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this morning, same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. You can read our coverage here. Click through all those links, get to know the Cincinnati plaintiffs in the case and what they’ve been fighting for, and hear Ohio’s reasoning for why it didn’t want to give up its ban.

That’s it for me. Tweet at me or e-mail me with info on where the celebrations will be this weekend.

by Nick Swartsell 06.26.2015 104 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Supreme Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage Nationwide

In a 5-4 decision, court rules that 14th amendment requires all states to allow marriage between same sex couples

Just moments ago, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, a set of cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. The court ruled in a 5-4 opinion that the equal protection clause of the constitution requires all states to grant marriage rights to same-sex couples. 

"The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state," the decision, penned by Justice Anthony Kennedy reads. ""It is now clear that the challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality," the decision later states.

The Supreme Court showdown arose from an earlier decision released by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati. That court upheld the same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. That decision put the Sixth Circuit at odds with other federal circuit courts, which had struck down marriage bans in other states. Lawyers for the plaintiffs appealed, bringing the case to the nation's highest court.

The Supreme Court case Obergefell vs. Hodges gets its name from Jim Obergefell, one of the plaintiffs, who hails from Cincinnati. Richard Hodges, the director of the Ohio Department of Health, is the named defendant. Cincinnatians

Brittani Henry-Rogers and Brittni Rogers are also among the plaintiffs. They're fighting to both be listed on their son Jayseon's birth certificate. You can read more about the Rogers and Obergefell and their involvement in this historic case in CityBeat's coverage here.

Marriage licenses will be available in Ohio counties immediately. In Hamilton County,. couples can obtain them from the Hamilton County Probate Court downtown among other locations.

The First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati has announced that Rev. Sharron Dittmar will be performing same-sex marriages to couples with marriage licenses free of charge June 30-July 2 at the Hamilton County Courthouse or at the First Unitarian Church in Avondale. You can reach the church at 513 351 6530.
Brittani Henry-Rogers and Brittni Rogers display son Jayseon’s birth certificate. The Rogers are part of the U.S. Supreme Court case over Ohio’s gay marriage ban.
Nick Swartsell

by Nick Swartsell 06.25.2015 105 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar operating plan once again back to SORTA; parking garage mania; huge Supreme Court decisions

Hello all. Here’s what’s up this morning in Cincinnati. Before I begin, I want to repurpose a joke I made on Twitter as a (not really) serious proposition. Someone should be allowed to sell beer at City Hall. Heck, they could brew it in the basement. Two words: REVENUE STREAM. Am I right?

I say all this because yesterday was another crazy day at City Hall as Cincinnati City Council rushed through a number of last-minute deals before it goes on recess for the rest of the summer. It also got in more streetcar wrangling and a surprise twist fitting of any season finale. Council, which couldn’t come to an agreement previously on whether to choose a union or non-union streetcar operations contract, punted that decision to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, which look poised to choose the cheaper, non-union option. That bid, called the turnkey scenario, would cost $4 million in the first year of operation, well less than the $4.7 million union-friendly bid called the management scenario. 

But City Manager Harry Black and Mayor John Cranley re-introduced that decision this week after Cranley pledged to allow $2 million from the city’s general fund to be used toward streetcar operations in an effort to pass the union-friendly operating agreement. That’s a big switch-up for Cranley, who previously pledged that he wouldn’t allow any extra city money to be used for the transit project. All seemed primed for the five Democrats on council to pass the union version of the contract. But Councilman Wendell Young, one of the Democratic coalition, voted against the measure. Young expressed serious concerns that the $2 million pledged by Cranley wouldn’t be enough, citing a letter by SORTA stating such. 

With the more expensive contract and less than enough money to operate the streetcar, Young expressed concern that operating hours for the streetcar would be cut. That could have put Cincinnati in a showdown with the Federal Transportation Administration since it stipulated the frequency of streetcar operations in its successful applications for millions in federal dollars for the project. So now, the ball is back in SORTA’s court, and the transit agency will almost certainly opt for the cheaper, non-union contract. Young and other Democrats decried what they called a false choice as yet another “game” turning the streetcar into a political football. Phew. Got all that? All right moving on.

• Cincinnatians in the 1880s had Music Hall. Local folks in the 1930s had Union Terminal. One-hundred years from now, architecture buffs and historians will look back fondly on this era as the golden age of magnificent edifices in which to leave your aging 1997 Toyota Corolla. What I mean to say is congrats, taxpayers! Soon, you’ll own more parking garages downtown and elsewhere. That’s great for me since I don’t own a car at all. Maybe I can park my bike in there. Council passed a number of big development deals yesterday, shoveling a ton of public cash to developers. These deals included more than $5 million in taxpayer money for a $34-million,130-unit apartment complex with commercial space and a parking garage at Eighth and Sycamore streets. That public money includes a $3.5 million city grant, which is awesome because I’m totally going to use one of those taxpayer funded apartments (I’m not) and a $2 million loan to 3CDC, which will build the city-owned parking garage. The development, undertaken by North Pointe Developers and North American Properties, will also receive a 15-year property tax abatement. On the other side of downtown, at Fourth and Race streets, the city will spend another $3 million to build another parking garage for another big development. An eight-story, 200-unit apartment building will sit atop that city-owned garage. Council also gave away some land, amending a deal with Model Group to give the developer property at Elder and Race streets in Over-the-Rhine for $1 upon the timely completion of a planned $21 million project that will bring 23 new apartments and 10 condos to that location. Should Model Group not finish the project in time, it will pay $106,000 for the land.

• Services for fallen Cincinnati Police officer Sonny Kim begin today at Xavier’s Cintas Center. A visitation for Kim will be held there starting at 1 p.m. Kim’s funeral is tomorrow at 11 a.m. Both are open to the public, which is asked to arrive and be seated by 10 a.m. tomorrow for the funeral. Officials say they expect crowds of thousands to attend, including officers from across the country. Kim died Friday after he and other officers were lured to Madisonville by a gunman who called 911 on himself.

• Wrong place. Wrong time. Incredibly unfortunate name. Mason City Councilman Richard Cox (can’t make this stuff up folks) is answering some tough questions today after he was spotted during a police sting at a motel room with a suspected sex worker. Authorities were led to the room by online ads and insider tips. Officers saw Cox leave a room occupied by the alleged sex worker, but Cox says he was simply there because an older man at a nearby store had asked him to deliver a note to the woman there, and Cox complied because he thought she was the man’s daughter. No charges have been filed in the incident.

• U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is cosponsoring two new bills designed to provide more help to opioid addicts. The Recovery Enhancement and Addiction Treatment act would expand treatment options for addicts, including lifting a limit on how many patients addiction treatment doctors can see in a year. That limit has left many in the state seeking treatment on long waiting lists. Another bill, the Jason Simcakoski bill, would provide more pain treatment options for military veterans. That bill is named after a Marine vet who fatally overdosed last summer. Ohio continues to struggle in the grips of a large-scale heroin and opioid crisis, with overdoses and overdose deaths on a steady incline. Overdose deaths in Ohio tripled between 2003 to 2013, when 2,100 died of drug overdoses.

• A huge U.S. Supreme Court decisions were announced today. SCOTUS upheld Affordable Care Act subsidies to states, including Ohio, meaning the ACA remains structurally sound. A challenge to the ability of the federal government to facilitate those subsidies called King v. Burwell could have shook Obama's signature healthcare law to its core; without the subsidies, many low-income residents in states with health care exchanges would not have been able to afford health care plans. Another important SCOTUS decision in a case around affordable housing in Texas delivered a huge victory for those looking to desegregate low-income, subsidized housing. Read more about that decision here. 

That’s it for me. I’m heading to Columbus to cover the final days of voting on the state’s budget, specifically some last minute provisions that Republican lawmakers have slipped into the financial plan that would make life very hard for Cincinnati’s last remaining abortion clinic and other clinics around the state. More soon. In the meantime, tweet at me or email with your suggestion for best lunch around the capitol.

by Nick Swartsell 06.23.2015 107 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Council poised to approve big development bucks; shooting interrupts anti-violence march; Ohio mulls eliminating "pink tax"

Good morning all. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s going on today.

City Council’s budget and finance committee yesterday approved pushing more than $6 million in TIF funds into building a parking garage in Oakley. The 383-space garage would serve Oakley Station, which just landed its first big office tenant. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield will be bringing 400 office jobs to the development. Developers Al Neyer and USS Realty will put up the land for the garage. The city will pay the developer for the construction of the garage and lease the facility to them for 35 years. Neyer and USS will have the option to buy the building during that time, or purchase it from the city for $1 after the lease expires. TIF money takes property taxes from nearby new developments and reinvests those funds in other projects there instead of flowing them into the city’s general funds. The city must own a property to use TIF funds on it; thus the lease structure. A final council vote on the deal is expected today.

• Speaking of city money for development, the city will give more than $7 million in financial assistance to a downtown project at Eighth and Sycamore streets. That deal involves the development of a $35 million, 130-unit apartment building by North American Properties. The city will kick in a $3.5 million grant for the developer as well as $1.8 million in tax abatements for the project. In addition, the city will loan the Cincinnati Central City Development Corporation $2 million to build a parking garage and retail space as part of the deal. 3CDC will pay back that loan over the course of its 35-year lease. So how much money is all that, you ask? To give some perspective, the $7 million involved in the deal is about twice the amount of money the city has committed to human services funding for next fiscal year. But the development will create four full time and 24 part-time jobs worth about $2.2 million in income taxes, so there’s that.

• Mayor John Cranley has said he'll OK $2 million from the city's general fund for streetcar operations in an effort to ensure that SORTA approves a streetcar operations bid that uses union employees. But some city council members worry that the money won't be enough for the long-term operation of the streetcar, and are calling for more funds. Officials believe the project will cost about $4 million in its first year.

• The city’s dramatic struggle with gun violence continues. Last night during a march through Over-the-Rhine led by Bishop Bobby Hilton to protest gun violence, two men were shot in the neighborhood. One collapsed just half a block away from where the march took place. One, 18-year-old Justin Crutchfield, later died. Among those tending to Crutchfield was State Sen. Cecil Thomas, who was attending the rally. Thomas, a former police officer, has been active in OTR for years. Thomas said the majority of OTR residents don’t want any part in the violence and that it’s a small minority responsible for the crime. Many of the shootings have taken place during a pronounced spike in violence in the city, including last week’s shooting death of officer Sonny Kim, the first Cincinnati Police officer killed in the line of duty since 2000. CPD Chief Jeffrey Blackwell has drawn up a 90-day violence reduction plan at the request of City Manager Harry Black, but has delayed implementing that plan in the wake of Kim’s death.

• Very quick hit here: Cincinnati Red Bike is launching its first stations across the river in Northern Kentucky today, opening six new stations in Covington. Red Bike opened last fall and has since gained nearly 1,000 members, who have taken more than 46,000 rides.

• Are Pete Rose’s chances at reinstatement into Major League Baseball shot? Some say so. New evidence emerged Monday that Rose bet on baseball not just as a manager — the revelation that led to his suspension from the game in the first place — but also as a player. A notebook held by the federal government as it was investigating Rose has finally been released, and it details Rose’s wagers on the game as a player. Rose bet on the Reds, according to the evidence, though he never bet against his own team. The new revelations have many, including top sports commentators, predicting that Rose has lost any chance to gain reinstatement into the MLB, and thus a shot at the Hall of Fame.

• Finally, efforts are afoot at the state capital to abolish the so-called “pink tax” on feminine hygiene products. State Rep. Greta Johnson, D-Akron, is pushing the bill. She says women in Ohio spend $6-$10 a month on state taxes for hygiene products and that it’s time for Ohio to end the practice of putting state sales taxes on the items. Five other states have nixed their taxes on feminine hygiene products, including Maryland, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

by Nick Swartsell 06.22.2015 108 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Community supports fallen officer; Uptown Rental Properties buys entire Corryvillle block; Strickland leads in Senate race

Good morning y’all. Here’s what’s going on in Cincy as we all try to wake up and do work.

It’s been a somber few days in Cincinnati since Friday, when Cincinnati police officer Sonny Kim was shot and killed by a gunman in Madisonville. Though I can’t imagine how devastating that loss must be for his family, the community has come together to try and help them in their time of need. A GoFundMe account started by Mason Police Association President Derek Bauman has raised about $95,000 for the Kim family. University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono has announced his three sons will receive free undergraduate tuition at UC should they choose to go there.

Kim was responding to a 911 call about a man with a gun when he encountered 21-year-old Trepierre Hummons. Police say Hummons texted friends about his plan to commit “suicide by cop” and placed the 911 call himself to lure police to him. Hummons shot Kim before Hummons himself was killed by police. Kim was the first officer killed in the line of duty in Cincinnati in 15 years. Hummons was the 29th person killed by police in that time. Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell called Kim “one of our best,” citing the numerous commendations he’s received. In his off time, Kim, a resident of Evendale, ran a karate dojo in Symmes Township. Mayor John Cranley has asked Cincinnatians to wear blue Friday, June 26 in memory of Kim. In the wake of Kim’s shooting, Blackwell has announced a two-week delay in implementation of CPD’s recently announced 90-day violence reduction plan.

• Uptown Rental Properties, a major developer in Corryville and the surrounding areas, now owns an entire city block of properties in the neighborhood. The developer has purchased 11 properties from the New Nazarene Baptist Church as well as another single family home on the block, which it has been interested in for two decades. Uptown has yet to announce plans for the spaces, and the church itself is leasing the building it formerly owned from Uptown until it finds a new location. But the purchase could well be a sign that more major development is afoot in Corryville. Uptown Rental Properties has been very active in the area, currently building more than 250 apartments in two nearby developments collectively worth $55 million. The developer also has big plans for neighboring Mount Auburn, where it has planned another $55 million in apartments and office space.

• Speaking of development, the Cincinnati Planning Commission has given the green light to a Towne Properties development that would feature seven newly constructed 2,800-square-foot townhomes on Elm Street in Over-the-Rhine. However, the city’s Historic Conservation Board wants changes before the project goes forward, saying the buildings are “too short and squat” and should have more individuality overall, among other criticisms. As someone who has been criticized for these same shortcomings, I feel for these prospective buildings just a little. No one has ever told me that I “need more detailing around the corners” or that I need to be three stories tall to emphasize the verticality of my district, though, so that’s where my empathy ends. Towne will have to tweak the designs to meet the board’s suggestions and come back before it for final approval. The townhomes will be the Mount Adams-based developer’s first foray into Over-the-Rhine, and the development effort will led by former 3CDC VP Chad Munitz. Each townhome will have a garage and a private backyard. Expected starting price for each is $650,000.

• Marijuana legalization effort ResponsibleOhio faces a potential legislative roadblock even if its state constitutional amendment gets on the ballot and is approved by voters. State lawmakers are working to pass a ban on monopolies in the state constitution, a law that looks tailor-made to short circuit ResponsibleOhio’s efforts. If passed, that law would make the weed legalization effort’s proposal, which limits marijuana growth to 10 sites owned by the group’s investors, illegal before it even goes into effect. The anti-monopoly law must be passed by the state House and Senate and signed by Gov. Kasich before going into effect. ResponsibleOhio needs to collect more than 300,000 signatures this summer to get its initiative on the ballot. Its plan would legalize weed for anyone over 21, create the 10 grow sites and also allow for small amounts of non-commercial home growth.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich has said he would support removing the confederate flag from South Carolina state buildings if he lived there. In the wake of the tragedy in Charleston, S.C. last week where a white gunman killed nine black parishoners at a historically black church, a debate has raged about that state’s display of the flag above the state capitol building. Shooter Dylann Roof has expressed white supremacist ideals and sympathies and prominently displayed the flag on his car. The shooting has led to calls for removal of the flag from the capitol, and a number of liberal and conservative politicians have backed the idea.

• Democratic challenger and former Ohio governor Ted Strickland is leading over incumbent Republican Sen. Rob Portman in the 2016 race for Portman's Senate seat, a new poll shows. Strickland leads Portman by six points, according to a recently released Quinnipiac University poll. Meanwhile, Strickland’s Democratic primary challenger, Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, continues to search for state-wide recognition. Eighty-five percent of voters across the state said they didn’t know enough about Sittenfeld to make a decision about him.

• Finally, as you might already know if you’ve been glued to SCOTUSblog like I have, the U.S. Supreme Court today did not release its decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, the landmark case that could decide the national fate of same-sex marriage. The court has just a few more days on which it will release decisions before its term is up at the end of the month. Meanwhile, OTR resident Jim Obergefell, for whom the case is named, continues to wait.

Story tips? Ideas on where I could get a used touring bike? Tweet at your boy or do the email thing.

by Nick Swartsell 06.18.2015 112 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

City passes budget; last-minute state budget change could shut down clinics; mourning in Charleston, S.C.

Hey all. Here’s what’s up this morning.


Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed its $1 billion fiscal year 2016-2017 budget despite worries that wrangling between council and the mayor could spiral into a partial city government shutdown. The budget council passed looks similar to the one proposed by City Manager Harry Black, though it includes the full $3 million for United Way-vetted human services agencies council requested last November. Black’s original budget funded traditional human services at a much lower level.

The budget process this time around was full of last-minute deals and switcheroos by various council members. Vice Mayor David Mann, for instance, stepped across the line between his fellow Democrats on council and Mayor John Cranley to help engineer the final deal. Mann’s negotiations sometimes caused chagrin among his fellow Democrats — his vote against giving infant mortality agency Cradle Cincinnati $275,000 made that priority vulnerable to a veto, which Cranley took advantage of. All told, Cranley vetoed six ordinances containing Democratic council priorities, including a $400,000 grant for Clifton Market and $150,000 for bike lanes. Council had a majority of five votes on those spending measures but couldn’t muster the sixth to override the mayor. You can read all about the fiscal fun times in our coverage here.


• One thing council didn’t pass yesterday was an agreement about who will operate the streetcar. That means the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority will step in to decide which bid to take — most likely the cheaper turnkey option, in which an outside management company chooses its own workers instead of unionized SORTA employees. That option came in at about $4 million, just under the city’s $4.2 million budget for operating the streetcar. Another management bid approved by council’s budget and finance committee Monday involved a company overseeing SORTA employees and came in at $4.7 million. SORTA officials have said in the past that they can’t take up a bid for which they don’t have the money, so it looks like the cheaper option will happen by default, despite pro-union Cranley and five Democrats on council backing the more expensive option.


• But hold up, wait, there’s controversy around those bids. The head of the Amalgamated Transit Union says SORTA is “playing games” with the bidding process and that a cheaper option involving unionized workers might be available. ATU head Troy Miller has been emailing council members saying that one of the bidders, a company called First Transit, didn’t make it as a final bid despite having a cheaper plan that used union workers. That plan would have cost about $4.1 million, just under budget. The company has called that option a turnkey proposal, but says it would use union members. Here’s more on that story in this article by WCPO.


• Speaking of SORTA, and in less divisive news, the agency has released real-time streaming bus-arrival data, which has enabled for the creation of a new app that allows users to track the progress of Metro buses. That app was developed by local tech company Gaslight and will be available starting today. That is amazing. Like, an app that actually does something useful in my life on a daily basis instead of just having me take pictures of the food I’m eating or posting about dogs or something.


• 3CDC will use at least some of the $45 million in federal new market tax credits it just received to change up Ziegler Park in Over-the-Rhine, officials with the development group announced today. The project, which will expand and renovate the park, according to 3CDC, is expected to cost $27 million. Programming in the park, including fitness classes and basketball leagues, will be part of the project. The development group has said it will not be eliminating basketball courts or the pool at the park, a major sticking point with community members during the developer’s changes to Washington Park on the other side of OTR in 2012.


• More last-minute changes to the state budget mean that some women’s health clinics that provide abortions might be in danger of closing, at least temporarily. Ohio law requires clinics to have admitting privileges with local hospitals, or to obtain a variance from the Ohio Department of Health. A new tweak to those laws in the state budget would require those clinics to obtain their variance from the state within 60 days or shut down. Planned Parenthood’s Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center in Mount Auburn and the Women’s Med clinic in Dayton both operate on variances. The Planned Parenthood site in Cincinnati waited a full year to receive its variance last year and is currently awaiting another one. Women’s Med has waited two years for its exception. The state Senate expects to pass the budget today, after which it will negotiate its version with the Ohio House of Representatives ahead of a June 30 budget deadline.


• Finally, I don’t even know what to say about this other than to express some kind of unutterable sadness and anger. As you’ve probably already heard, nine people were shot to death while they prayed in a church in Charleston, South Carolina last night. The African Methodist Episcopal Church is an iconic, historically black church that has been serving black congregations since 1816. Charleston's Emanuel AME church, where the shooting took place, has been there since 1891 and has been a symbol of both refuge and resistance for the black community there. The suspected shooter, who was caught on video, is 21-year-old Dylann Roof, whose social media presence shows affiliation with or sympathy for white supremacist groups. Authorities are calling the shooting a hate crime. Among the dead, according to relatives, is South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney, a civil rights leader and also the church’s pastor.

by Nick Swartsell 06.17.2015 112 days ago
Posted In: News, Budget at 04:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Council Finally Passes FY 2016-2017 Budget

Spending plan restores human services funding, but Cranley vetoes other Democratic priorities

Cincinnati City Council today passed its FY 2016-2017 budget, a $1 billion spending plan that hews closely to the one drawn up by Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black, but with boosted human services funding originally left out of the plan. 

The budget boosts police officers and will spend $110 million on road repair and fleet maintenance, big priorities for Cranley. Cranley called the budget "great" today as it passed, saying it is structurally balanced and forward-looking.

But not everyone got what they wanted from the process, and heightened tensions between the mayor and council may have left some hard feelings. Cranley and council have been fighting back and forth during the budget process. This morning, Cranley compared Democratic council members to children on a WLW talk show. Democrats have fired back with their own harsh words.

Despite the political wrangling, the final budget resulted from a deal cut this morning between the mayor and members of council, including council conservatives and Democrat Vice Mayor David Mann. The compromise provided an extra $500,000 in funding for traditional human services vetted by the United Way, an amount above the $2.5 million in the city administration's previous budget proposal.

That brings human services up to the $3 million for United Way-chosen human services organizations council unanimously requested last November, an amount initially left out of Black's budget. The city aims to fund human services at 1.5 of its capital budget, a goal it hasn't hit in a decade. Today's deal brings the city to .8 percent of the capital budget.

But the deal also left the council's five Democrats facing a mayoral veto on other spending priorities: individual ordinances calling for a $400,000 grant to co-op Clifton Market, $150,000 for bike lanes, $24,000 for new bus stops in Bond Hill and more money for community organizations. 

"If the trade-off is we don't get bus shelters in Bond Hill or work on bike trails or public support for Clifton Market I think it is worth the trade-off," Mann, the Democrat who helped broker the deal, said during today's council meeting.

Those individual ordinances were the result of a move by Cranley to split up Democrats' original omnibus budget counter-proposal. That put the individual pieces at the mercy of Cranley's veto. Each measure received only five votes on council. Six are needed to override a mayoral veto. True to his word, Cranley vetoed all four of the ordinances he took issue with. Cranley says the move increases transparency and keeps extra pork out of the budget. Democrats, however, have accused the mayor of playing politics, noting that the city administration's $375 million operating budget still came in omnibus form. Several, including Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, have said that amounts to ignoring the majority of council.

A standoff over Cranley's capital budget and Democrats' unfunded priorities led to speculation that Cincinnati might undergo a partial government shutdown, but today's deal and subsequent vote effectively funds the city's government when the current budget expires June 30.

City Hall was less successful in making a decision about streetcar operations today, however. City Council couldn't agree on either of the two operating bids presented by the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority, meaning that SORTA itself will now make the call. That means the agency will probably select the cheaper turnkey solution, in which a management company will be able to hire outside employees instead of using SORTA's union workers. That bid came in at $4 million for the first year of operations, under the city's maximum of $4.2 million. A union-friendly management bid came to $4.7 million. SORTA says it legally cannot enter into a contract for which it does not have funding.