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by German Lopez 02.18.2014
Posted In: News, Fracking, Health care, Airport at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_fracking

Morning News and Stuff

State plans for fracking in parks, mayor to help Obamacare, airport’s flood levee decertified

Gov. John Kasich’s administration in 2012 privately discussed a public relations campaign to help bring fracking to three state parks. The plan was apparently abandoned. But ProgressOhio, which released documents showing the discussions, says the plan highlights a trend in the Kasich administration of looking out for business interests first. Fracking is a drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to unlock oil and gas reserves. In the past couple years, the technique has been credited with bringing about a natural gas production boom in much of the United States, including Ohio. But environmentalists worry the poorly regulated practice contaminates air and water. CityBeat covered fracking in greater detail here.

Mayor John Cranley and Enroll America today plan to announce a partnership to get people enrolled in Obamacare. The goal is to fill the insurance pool with healthier, younger enrollees, many of whom qualify for financial assistance through HealthCare.gov, to help keep costs down. CityBeat previously interviewed Trey Daly, Ohio director of Enroll America, about the outreach efforts here.

The two Republicans in charge of City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee want to know why the city decertified a flood levee surrounding Lunken Airport, instead of bringing it up to federal standards, without consulting City Council. The decertification forced property owners around the airport to buy costly flood insurance. City officials say they made the decision because the city did not have the $20-$100 million it would cost to bring the levee up to standards.

The W. Va. chemical spill cost Greater Cincinnati Water Works about $26,000 in treatment chemicals, or about 11 cents per customer.

Getting ex-prisoners enrolled in Medicaid as they are released could save Ohio nearly $18 million this year, according to state officials.

Duke Energy plans to sell 13 power plants, including 11 in Ohio. The company says the move is necessary because of the state’s increasingly unpredictable regulatory environment for electricity generators. Last week, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio rejected Duke’s request for a $729 million rate increase.

With algorithms now capable of breaking CAPTCHA 90 percent of the time, companies might need to find other anti-spam protections.

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by German Lopez 02.17.2014
Posted In: News, Homelessness, Poverty, Taxes, LGBT at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news_gaymarriage_juliehill

Morning News and Stuff

LGBT groups debate timing, Avondale housing project advancing, Kasich tax cuts favor rich

A coalition between Equality Ohio and other major LGBT groups on Friday officially declared it will not support a 2014 ballot initiative that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. Instead, the coalition plans to continue education efforts and place the issue on the ballot in 2016. But FreedomOhio, the LGBT group currently leading the 2014 ballot initiative, plans to put the issue on the ballot this year with or without support from other groups. CityBeat covered the issue and conflict in further detail here.

The group heading Commons at Alaska, a permanent supportive housing project in Avondale, plans to hold monthly “good neighbor” meetings to address local concerns about the facility. The first meeting is scheduled at the Church of the Living God, located at 434 Forest Avenue, on Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. Some Avondale residents have lobbied against the facility out of fears it would weaken public safety, but a study of similar facilities in Columbus found areas with permanent supportive housing facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically comparable areas. In January, a supermajority of City Council rejected Councilman Christopher Smitherman’s proposal to rescind the city’s support for the Avondale project.

Gov. John Kasich’s income tax proposal would disproportionately benefit Ohio’s wealthiest, an analysis from Policy Matters Ohio and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found. Specifically, the proposal would on average cut taxes by $2 for the bottom 20 percent of Ohioans, $48 for the middle 20 percent and $2,515 for the top 1 percent. The proposal is typical for Ohio Republicans: They regularly push to lower taxes for the wealthy, even though research, including from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, finds tax cuts for the wealthy aren’t correlated with higher economic growth.

Local policy explainers from the past week:
What Is Mayor John Cranley’s Parking Plan?
What Is Responsible Bidder?

Mayor John Cranley says he wants Catholic Health Partners to locate its planned headquarters in Bond Hill.

A new Ohio law uncovered more than 250 high-volume dog breeders that previously went unregulated in the state. The new regulations aim to weed out bad, unsafe environments for high-volume dog breeding, but some animal advocates argue the rules don’t go far enough. CityBeat covered the new law in further detail here.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald could face a longshot primary challenger in May. But the challenger, Larry Ealy of the Dayton area, still needs his signatures confirmed by the secretary of state to officially get on the ballot.

Former Gov. Ted Strickland could run against U.S. Sen. Rob Portman in 2016, according to The Plain Dealer. Strickland cautioned it’s not an official announcement, but it’s not something he’s ruled out, either.

A bill that would make the Ohio Board of Education an all-elected body appears to have died in the Ohio legislature. Currently, the governor appoints nearly half of the board’s members. Some legislators argue the governor’s appointments make the body too political.

Science says white noise can help some people sleep.

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by German Lopez 02.14.2014
Posted In: News, Homelessness, Poverty at 03:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
avondale housing

Commons at Alaska Leaders to Meet With Avondale Residents

As project moves forward, National Church Residences initiates community engagement

The group heading a supportive housing project in Avondale on Friday announced it will initiate monthly "good neighbor" meetings to address local concerns, with the first meeting scheduled at the Church of the Living God, located at 434 Forest Ave., on Feb. 25 at 6 p.m.

National Church Residences (NCR) says the meetings will help "set the highest property, safety, and conduct standards" for the 90-unit Commons at Alaska facility, which will aid chronically homeless, disabled and low-income individuals.

"National Church Residences is excited to become part of the revitalization of the Avondale neighborhood," said Amy Rosenthal, senior project leader for NCR, in a statement. "Through this series of meetings, we look forward to sitting down with our neighbors and answering their questions about our organization and in particular the planned apartment community."

The meetings should help address some Avondale residents' concerns about the project. Although several opponents of the facility say their opposition is not rooted in a not-in-my-backyard attitude that follows so many supportive housing projects, critics consistently argue the housing facility will attract a dangerous crowd that would worsen public safety in the neighborhood.

Critics' claims actually contradict some of the research done on supportive housing. A study conducted for similar facilities in Columbus found areas with permanent supportive housing facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically comparable areas.

Still, the controversy eventually reached City Council after Councilman Christopher Smitherman proposed pulling the city's support for state tax credits funding the project. In January, council rejected Smitherman's proposal and voted to continue supporting the project. (It's questionable whether a different council decision would have made any difference, since the group already received state tax credits last June.)

By several economic indicators, Cincinnati's worst-off certainly need more support. About 34 percent of the overall population and more than half of the city's children live in poverty, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Correction: This story originally claimed the facility would house 99 apartments, based on a previous estimate. The amount of apartments was actually reduced to 90 through negotiations. We apologize for the error.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.14.2014
Posted In: News, Economy, Governor at 02:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
policy matters pizza

Report: Kasich's Tax Proposal Favors Wealthy

Proposal would let poor buy a slice of pizza, while top 1 percent could buy a trip to Italy

Gov. John Kasich's income tax proposal would disproportionately favor Ohio's wealthiest, an analysis from Policy Matters Ohio and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found.

Specifically, the proposal would on average cut taxes by $2 for the bottom 20 percent of Ohioans, $48 for the middle 20 percent and $2,515 for the top 1 percent.

The proposal "may allow low-income Ohioans to buy a slice of pizza a year, on average," Policy Matters claims. "Middle-income Ohioans could purchase a cheap pizza maker. For the state's most affluent taxpayers, on average it would cover round-trip airfare for two to Italy, with some money left over to pay the hotel bill and buy some real Italian pizza."

Under the model, Kasich's proposal would cut Ohio's income tax rates across the board by 7 percent. The goal is to bring Ohio's top tax rate, which kicks in only for income above $208,500, under 5 percent, as the governor previously proposed.

Although a plurality of Americans oppose tax cuts for the wealthy, Kasich and other Republicans consistently push the tax cuts to help what they call "job creators." In the most recent state budget, Kasich and Republican legislators approved another series of across-the-board tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the state's wealthiest.

In the aftermath, economic indicators from conservative, liberal and nonpartisan analysts show Ohio's economy is consistently among the worst performers in the country.

The story is typical for Ohio: In 2005, the state cut income taxes across the board by 21 percent. Since then, Policy Matters found Ohio to be one of just a dozen states that actually lost jobs.

Other research backs up Policy Matters' findings. In a report analyzing tax cuts for the nation's wealthiest, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) found tax cuts for the wealthy aren't correlated with increased economic growth.

"There is not conclusive evidence, however, to substantiate a clear relationship between the 65-year steady reduction in the top tax rates and economic growth. Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth," CRS concluded. "However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution."

Meanwhile, Cincinnati's poorest continue to struggle in a vicious cycle of poverty that consumes about 34 percent of the city's population and more than half of the city's children. CityBeat covered poverty and its effects on Cincinnati in greater detail here.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.14.2014
Posted In: News, Energy, State Legislature, Health care at 07:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
peter beck

Morning News and Stuff

Local politician faces charges, Ohio boosts solar jobs, Obamacare enrollment improves

State Rep. Peter Beck, a Republican from Mason, now faces 69 felony counts and increasing pressure to resign. Beck is accused of helping mislead investors into putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into an insolvent West Chester startup company and putting some of the funds from the company into his own campaign. Beck says he's innocent, but that hasn't stopped top Ohio Republicans from calling for him to resign to avoid a potential scandal and losing a seat in the Ohio legislature.

Ohio ranked No. 8 in the nation for solar jobs in 2013, with solar employment growing by roughly 31 percent over the year, according to the latest census from the Solar Foundation. The report found that U.S. solar jobs grew 10 times faster than overall employment across the country. Environment Ohio applauded the numbers, praising Cincinnati in particular for its own solar-friendly efforts. But the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate is looking into ways to weaken or undo the law that makes many solar projects possible across the state. A report from the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy indicates that repealing the law could end up costing Ohioans $3.65 billion on their electricity bills between 2014 and 2025.

The federal government reported slightly better enrollment numbers in January for Obamacare's once-troubled website, but Ohio and the nation still fell short of key demographic roles previously perpetuated by the federal government. Specifically, monthly enrollment actually beat projections for the first time since HealthCare.gov launched. But the cumulative amount of young adults signing up through January only reached 25 percent in the country and 21 percent in Ohio — far below the 39 percent goal the White House previously deemed necessary to avoid filling the insurance pool with older, less healthy enrollees who tend to use more resources and drive up costs.

With Obamacare's online marketplaces mostly fixed, some groups are now doubling efforts to get the uninsured, particularly young adults, enrolled. CityBeat interviewed Trey Daly, Ohio state director of one of those groups, here.

Explainer: Everything you need to know about responsible bidder.

Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected a Democrat-backed petition that would create a statewide ballot initiative for a Voter Bill of Rights, but proponents of the initiative say they'll come back with tweaked language. In a statement, DeWine said the proposal ran afoul of federal law in two places. Even if DeWine approved the language from a legal standpoint, supporters would still need to gather roughly 385,000 valid signatures before a July deadline to get the issue on the ballot in November. CityBeat covered the Voter Bill of Rights in greater detail here.

Following the large amount of charter school closures last year, State Auditor Dave Yost is launching an investigation into three Ohio charter school sponsors and the Ohio Department of Education.

The Cincinnati area could get 2 inches of snow.

A Ky. auditor says the former finance director of Covington stole nearly $800,000.

Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes posted pictures of downtown Cincinnati circa 1968 here.

Sam Adams is pouring millions into a Cincinnati brewery.

Grizzly bears could offer a better solution for weight loss.

Watch Dale Hansen, a Texas sports anchor, take on the NFL and Michael Sam’s anti-gay haters:

Video | News | Weather | Sports

Mon Feb 10 20:43:08 PST 2014

Hansen Unplugged: Celebrating our differences

Michael Sam would be the first openly gay player in the NFL; says he knows there will be problems... and they’ve already started. view full article

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by German Lopez 02.13.2014
 
 
news1_headwatersgatewaydistrict_provided

What Is Responsible Bidder?

City’s rule for MSD projects attempts to increase local employment, job training

Following county commissioner’s Feb. 12 meeting, the dispute between Cincinnati and Hamilton County over contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects appears to be heading to court.

The court battle comes after the county dismissed multiple concessions from the city and put MSD’s revamp of the local sewer system on hold in protest of the city’s rules. With a federal mandate looming, both sides agree a resolution is needed soon to avoid costly fines from the federal government.

For many across the city and county, the conflict is understandably confusing. The debate has often been mired down by biased media reports and political talking points that obfuscate the issue. Jargon referencing “responsible bidder,” “local hire,” “local preference,” unions, apprenticeship programs, a pre-apprenticeship fund and contractors make it even more difficult to grasp what is going on.

Cutting through the politics, here is what the responsible bidder rules actually do and why the city and county seem incapable of compromise.

What is responsible bidder?

It’s a city ordinance that essentially forces MSD contractors to adopt job training measures known as apprenticeship programs and pay for a pre-apprenticeship fund. By requiring the training options, the city hopes workers will be able to improve their skills and successfully transition to other jobs once their MSD work is finished.

Apprenticeship programs take workers through extensive on-the-job and classroom-based training in which they can hone their skills in a specific craft, such as electrical or plumbing work. Because workers get paid for their work while participating in an apprenticeship, the programs are typically characterized as an “earn-while-you-learn” model.

The pre-apprenticeship fund will put money toward programs that will teach newcomers basic skills, such as math and reading, so they can eventually move up to an apprenticeship program.

The rules don’t apply to every MSD contractor. Contracts worth less than $400,000, which make up roughly half of MSD’s sewer revamp, are exempted.

What about local hire and local preference?

Those are ordinances separate from responsible bidder that give preference to Cincinnati-based businesses. They try to keep MSD contracts within local companies.

What’s the conflict about?

The conflict is between Cincinnati and Hamilton County, which jointly run MSD. The Democrat-controlled city supports the rules, while the Republican-controlled county opposes them.

The city and county also dispute which governing body can set policy for MSD. Under a 1968 agreement, the county owns and funds MSD, and the city operates and maintains it. City Council argues the agreement allows the city to set policy for MSD, but the county disagrees. Both sides acknowledge the set-up is far from ideal.

So, did the city’s rules halt MSD projects?

No. Nothing in the city’s ordinances forces MSD projects to stop. County commissioners singlehandedly halted MSD projects in protest of the city’s rules. If it were up to the city, work would continue today.

Why are these projects so important?

By federal decree, the city needs to revamp the sewer system to bring it up to environmentally safe standards. The project will cost $3.2 billion over 15-20 years, making it one of the most expensive in the city’s history.

If the city and county don’t carry on with the revamp soon, the federal government will begin issuing fines. By some guesses, the fines could begin rolling in by the end of the year.

Why does a majority of City Council support responsible bidder?

Councilman Chris Seelbach, the Democrat who championed the rules, says they will boost local employment and create more job training options for the city’s struggling workforce.

Other Democrats on council agree, although some, like Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, believe the ordinance is “imperfect.”

Does responsible bidder benefit workers?

Some research suggests it would.

The left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) in a December report argued apprenticeship programs provide an opportunity to revitalize the U.S. workforce.

“By 2020, America is projected to experience a shortage of 3 million workers with associate’s degrees or higher and 5 million workers with technical certificates and credentials,” the report claimed. “Compounding our inadequate workforce development system, research shows that employers are now spending less on training than they have in the past. At the same time, industry surveys show that a lack of qualified workers is a top concern for many employers.”

Citing a 2012 study from Mathematica Policy Research, CAP estimated apprenticeship programs alone can boost a worker’s lifetime earnings and benefits by more than $300,000. Over 36 years of employment, that’s an average gain of nearly $8,400 a year.

Why do county commissioners oppose the rules?

In terms of policy, county commissioners say the responsible bidder rules favor unions and burden businesses.

On a legal basis, the county argues the city’s responsible bidder rules conflict with state law and the local hire and preference rules enforce unconstitutional geographic preferences.

Does responsible bidder actually favor unions?

Since unions tend to offer better and more apprenticeship programs, yes.

But the rules don’t exclude non-union businesses from participating. For example, Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors maintains some non-union apprenticeship programs that would qualify under the law.

Still, most of the union favoritism debate centered around a regulation the city actually offered to give up. Specifically, under current rules employers are only eligible to contract with MSD if they have apprenticeship programs that have graduated at least one person a year for the past five years. In October, Seelbach offered to strip the mandate and replace it with an incentive program. The county seemed unmoved by the proposal.

What about businesses? Does responsible bidder burden them?

By requiring businesses to adopt apprenticeship programs and put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund, the law certainly places more regulations on businesses. Whether the requirements are a burden is subjective.

John Morris, president of the Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors and an opponent of the law, told CityBeat the pre-apprenticeship fund’s requirement will increase business costs by $2-3 million over 15-20 years.

Citing MSD estimates for the cost of labor, Rob Richardson, regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said the fund will cost businesses $1.5 million.

Even if someone accepts Morris’ estimate, the requirement adds up to at most 0.1 percent of the $3.2 billion project.

More broadly, some supporters of the city’s rules question whether placing a burden on businesses is innately a bad thing. The basic point of government regulations is to make the economy and businesses work better for the public. In that sense, regulations are always going to burden businesses to some extent.

For example, financial regulations burden big banks and financial institutions. But many Americans agree the regulations are necessary to avoid another financial crisis like the one that plunged the country into the Great Recession.

Still, critics argue the extra regulations would increase the cost of business, and the impact could ultimately be felt by MSD ratepayers.

Why don’t the city and county just compromise?

They kind of tried, but it seems the philosophical split between Hamilton County Republicans and Cincinnati Democrats is too strong to reach a substantial agreement.

The city, for example, has offered multiple concessions to the county. In May, City Council modified the law to ease some requirements and add an exemption for contracts worth less than $400,000, which covers half of the contracts involved in MSD’s sewer revamp. In October, Seelbach offered to replace a strict mandate with a looser incentive program. Seelbach also told CityBeat on Feb. 6 that he would consider raising the contract exemption from $400,000 to $750,000.

In return, the county rejected the concessions and instead offered to establish aspirational inclusion goals and some funding for local job training programs — as long as the city repealed its rules altogether.

Which side would win the court battle?

It’s hard to say. Both sides — and their lawyers — seem pretty confident about their legal standing.

So what’s next?

At the current rate, it looks like the city and county are heading to court. Whether the process involves a full-on legal battle or mediation between the city and county’s lawyers remains uncertain, but it’s clear something will eventually have to give.

This blog post will be regularly updated as the situation develops.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.13.2014
Posted In: News, Energy, Environment at 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_angrypowerplant_ashleykroninger

Ohio Ranks No. 8 for Solar Jobs

Solar sector grew by 31 percent between 2012 and 2013

Ohio ranked No. 8 among states for solar jobs in 2013, with solar employment growing to 3,800 from 2,900 over the year, according to the Feb. 11 census report from the Solar Foundation.

Still, the state actually dropped five spots to No. 23 in per-capita rankings, which measure the amount of solar jobs relative to a state’s overall population.

The U.S. solar industry employed more than 142,000 Americans in November, representing an increase of nearly 24,000 over the year, according to the Solar Foundation. At nearly 20 percent growth, the solar sector grew more than 10 times faster than the overall economy, which on average increased employment by 1.9 percent.

Advocacy group Environment Ohio applauded the latest numbers.

“The sun is an unlimited energy source that could provide all of our energy without the air and water pollution associated with coal, oil and gas,” said Christian Adams, state associate at Environment Ohio, in a statement. “This report shows that the solar industry is putting people to work to meet a growing percentage of our energy needs with a pollution-free energy source that has no fuel costs.”

Environment Ohio praised Cincinnati in particular. In 2012, Cincinnati became the first major city in the nation to support 100 percent renewable energy through electric aggregation. Last year, City Council adopted a motion to put solar panels on one in five city rooftops by 2028 and develop new financing programs to support the goal.

In a 2012 report, Environment Ohio found Cincinnati could become the solar capital of the region and lead a boom of solar jobs.

Under a 2008 state law, utility companies must meet benchmarks that require them to get 12.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, hydro, biomass and solar, and save 22 percent of electricity through new efficiency efforts by 2025.

A 2013 report from the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy found the law will save Ohioans $3.65 billion on their electricity bills between 2014 and 2025.

Pressured by Akron-based FirstEnergy and the ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate is currently looking for ways to weaken the renewable energy and efficiency standards. The renewed effort comes after attempts to dismantle the law by State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who often compare Ohio’s energy law to Stalinism, failed to gain support.

Meanwhile, Environment Ohio says the state should actually increase its standards to help combat global warming and boost renewable energy jobs.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.13.2014
Posted In: News, Health care, Health, Barack Obama at 10:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
obamacarefail

Obamacare Enrollment Improves

Demographics, overall numbers move in right direction

The federal government reported slightly better numbers in January for Obamacare’s once-troubled online marketplaces, but Ohio and the nation still fall far short of key demographic goals.

For the first time since HealthCare.gov’s glitch-ridden rollout, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) numbers show the amount of new enrollees actually beat projections. About 1,146,100 signed up for Obamacare in January, slightly higher than the 1,059,900 previously projected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

More importantly, a small boost in young adults means 25 percent of 3.3 million enrollees across the nation and 21 percent of 60,000 Ohio enrollees were aged 18 to 34. That’s up 1 percentage point for the nation and 2 percentage points for Ohio.

The White House previously said 39 percent of enrollees need to be young adults, who tend to be healthier, to avoid driving up health care costs by filling the insurance pool with older, sicker people who typically use more resources.

HHS’ numbers only reflect people who signed up for a health plan, not people who paid for their first premium, which is widely considered the final crucial step to getting covered.

Nearly nine in 10 single, uninsured young adults could qualify for financial assistance through the health care law or free Medicaid, which expanded eligibility in Ohio through Obamacare, according to HHS. 

 
 
by German Lopez 02.13.2014
Posted In: News, Poverty, Education, MSD at 09:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cover_poverty

Morning News and Stuff

City’s poor struggle to break free, CPS gains nationwide praise, city and county head to court

With Cincinnati’s child poverty and economic mobility rates among the worst in the country, it’s clear the city’s poor can get stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty. Although the impoverished trend afflicts more than half of the city’s children, every level of government has in some way cut services to the poor. The end result: Many Cincinnati neighborhoods show little signs of progress as poor health and economic indicators pile up. Read CityBeats in-depth story here.

Following the adoption of community learning centers, Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) continue receiving praise for establishing a workable model for educating low-income populations. Locally, independent data shows the model has pushed CPS further than the traditional approach to education, even though the school district continues struggling with impoverished demographics. A few hundred miles away, newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says he will implement the Cincinnati model in the biggest city in the nation.

Hamilton County and Cincinnati are heading to court to decide who can set policy for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects. The conflict came to a head after Hamilton County commissioners deliberately halted federally mandated MSD projects to protest the city’s job training rules for contractors. The Republican-controlled county argues the rules favor unions, burden businesses and breach state law, but the city says the rules are perfectly legal and provide work opportunities for city workers.

Commentary: “Legalizing Marijuana Is Serious Business.”

With HealthCare.gov mostly fixed, CityBeat interviewed Trey Daly, who is leading the Ohio branch of an organization reaching out to the uninsured to get them enrolled in Obamacare.

Explainer: Everything you need to know about Mayor John Cranley’s parking plan.

University of Kentucky researchers found tolls would, at worst, reduce traffic on a new Brent Spence Bridge by 2 percent.

After raising concerns over teacher pay and missed classroom time, Republicans in the Ohio House delayed a vote on a bill that would add school calamity days. Gov. John Kasich called for the bill to help schools that have already exhausted their snow days during this winter’s harsh weather.

Ohio regulators fined Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino $75,000 for providing credit to early patrons without running the proper background checks.

Cincinnati-based Kroger faces a lawsuit claiming stores deceived customers by labeling chickens as humanely raised when the animals were brought up under standard commercial environments.

Cincinnati-based crowdfunding startup SoMoLend settled with Ohio over allegations that it sold unregistered securities and its founder misled investors. Candace Klein, the founder, resigned as CEO of the company in August.

Comcast intends to acquire Time Warner Cable, one of two major Internet providers in Cincinnati, through a $45 billion deal.

U.S. physicists pushed fusion energy closer to reality with a breakthrough formally announced yesterday.

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by German Lopez 02.12.2014
Posted In: News, Parking, City Council, Mayor at 04:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)
 
 
news1_parkingmeters

What Is Cranley’s Parking Plan?

Proposal could increase parking enforcement, hours and rates

Mayor John Cranley on Feb. 12 officially unveiled his plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages, providing the first clear option for the city’s parking system since the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority agreed to halt the previous plan.

The proposal seeks to effectively replace the previous administration’s parking privatization plan, which outsourced the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority and several private companies, and maintain local control of the city’s parking assets.

Here’s a breakdown of the plan and all its finer details.

What is Cranley’s parking plan?

It’s a plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages. More specifically, Cranley calls his proposal a “framework” that focuses on upgrading the city’s parking meters and keeps City Council’s control of parking rates and hours.

Cranley’s plan, based on a Feb. 7 memo from Walker Parking Consultants, achieves his goals in a few ways:

• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to upgrade all parking meters to accept credit card payments.

• The amount of enforcement officers under the city’s payroll would increase to 15, up from five, to provide greater coverage of the city’s parking meters. (Currently, a few areas, including major hubs like the University of Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine, are effectively unenforced for two to five hours a day, according to Walker.)

• Neighborhood meter rates would go up by 25 cents to 75 cents an hour. Downtown rates would remain at $2 an hour.

• Sundays and holidays remain free.

Cranley says the underlying idea is to maintain a few key principles, particularly local control over rates and hours. He cautions Walker’s proposal, including expanded enforcement hours, could change with public input and as City Council puts together the final plan.

Does the plan let people use smartphones to pay for parking meters?

No. Cranley says the upgraded meters will support the technology, but it will be up to council to decide whether it’s enabled in the future.

Smartphone capability is a double-edged sword: It introduces its own set of costs, including shorter battery life for meters. It also allows customers to avoid under- and overpaying at parking meters, which decreases citation and meter revenues. But smartphone access also increases ease of use, which could lead to higher revenues by making it easier to pay.

The parking privatization plan promised to provide smartphone access at all parking meters. The previous administration and Port Authority championed the feature as key to increasing convenience and revenue.

OK, that explains the parking meters. What about the parking garages?

Cranley’s plan makes two changes to garages:

• The Port Authority would take over Fountain Square South Garage. The Port would be required to cover expenses for the garage, but any net revenue could be used on projects within the city.

• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to build a garage at 7th and Broadway streets.

Otherwise, things remain the same as today.

In other words, the city would be on the hook for parking garage repairs and upgrades, which Walker estimates would cost roughly $8 million in capital expenses over the next five years.

But the city would also continue directly receiving around $2 million per year in net revenue from parking garages, according to Walker.

Still, the city isn’t allowed under state law to use the revenue from parking garages for anything outside the parking system.

The parking privatization plan tried to do away with the restriction by putting the Port Authority in charge of garages. State law allows agencies like the Port to tap into garage revenues for other uses, such as development projects.

But without the previous administration’s plan, Cranley claims the Port Authority declined to take over more facilities beyond Fountain Square South Garage. Given the rejection, Cranley says its up to council to figure out another way to leverage garage revenues beyond putting them back in the parking system.

What does Cranley’s plan do about the thousands of parking tickets already owed to the city?

Nothing. By Cranley’s own admission, the city needs to do a better job collecting what its owed. But he says that’s something City Council will have to deal with in the future.

So why did Cranley oppose the parking privatization plan?

Cranley vehemently opposed giving up local control of the city’s parking assets. He warned that outsourcing meters to the Port Authority and private companies would create a for-profit incentive to ratchet up parking rates and enforcement.

The previous administration disputed Cranley’s warnings. They pointed out an advisory board, chaired by four Port Authority appointees and one city appointee, would need to unanimously agree on rate and hour changes, and the changes could be vetoed by the city manager.

Without any changes from the advisory board, the 30-year privatization plan hiked downtown parking meter rates by 25 cents every three years and neighborhood rates by 25 cents every six years. The plan also expanded enforcement hours to 8 a.m.-9 p.m. in Over-the-Rhine and parts of downtown.

Still, City Council would lose its control of rates and hours under the privatization plan. Cranley and other opponents argued the outsourcing scheme could insulate the parking system from public — and voter — input.

Cranley also opposed the privatization plan’s financial arrangement.

Under the old deal, the city would receive a lump sum of $85 million and annual installments of $3 million, as long as required expenses, such as costly garage upgrades or repairs, were met.

In comparison, the city currently gets roughly $3 million in net revenue from parking meters and another $2 million in net revenue from parking garages. (As noted earlier, the parking garage revenue can only be used for parking expenses.)

Cranley characterizes the lump sum as “borrowing from the future” because it uses upfront money that could instead be taken in by the city as annual revenue.

Related: Compare Cranley’s plan with the parking privatization plan.

Why does Cranley think his proposal is necessary?

It solidifies the death of the parking privatization plan. That’s important to begin the process of legally dismantling the previous plan.

The plan also increases net parking meter revenues from roughly $3 million to $6 million in the next budget year and more than $7 million per year within five years, according to Walker’s original estimates. (The estimates are likely too high because they assumed evening hours would expand around the University of Cincinnati, Short Vine in Corryville, Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But Cranley shelved the expansion of hours, with no estimates for how the changes will affect revenues.)

Since parking meter revenue, unlike garage revenue, can be used for non-parking expenses, the extra revenue could help plug the $20 million gap in the $370 million operating budget.

Why do some people oppose Cranley’s plan?

Some people supported the parking privatization plan. They saw the lump sum as a great opportunity to invest in development projects around the city. Without the lump sum, critics claim Cranley’s plan accepts all the pain of the previous plan — increased enforcement, rates and hours — for very little gain, even though the city would get more annual revenue and upgraded parking meters and garages.

Politics are also involved. After the contentious streetcar debate, there’s not much Cranley can do without some critics speaking out.

When will Cranley’s plan go into effect?

City Council first has to approve Cranley’s plan for it to become law. Council will likely take up and debate the plan at the Neighborhood Committee on Feb. 24 and set a more concrete timeline after that.

This blog post will be regularly updated as more information becomes available. Latest update: Feb. 19.

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 07.22.2014 7 hours ago
Posted In: News, Drugs at 10:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news_needleexchange_jf

Northside Community Council OKs Needle Exchange

Northside program an effort to fight disease, demonstrate benefits of exchanges

Northside Community Council voted July 21 to allow a needle exchange program in the neighborhood. The effort, run by the Cincinnati Exchange Program, will start sometime in August and operate from a van one day a week for three hours at a time. Planned Parenthood will also participate, providing testing services for diseases like HIV and hepatitis.

Exchanges, which aim to cut down the transmission of those diseases among intravenous drug users, have been controversial in the city. A similar effort in Springdale earlier this year was shut down after just a few weeks due to outcry from some in the community. But the community council in Northside thinks the program is worth it.

“The community has been doing its due diligence as to how the program would work and what the repercussions are, and decided the health benefits definitely outweigh any consequences,” said Northside Community Council President Ollie Kroner. “Northside wants to be part of the solution to the heroin epidemic.”

A 2012 study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that needle exchange programs can greatly reduce the number used syringes found littering streets. And a 2004 study by the World Health Organization found that exchanges do not increase the rate of heroin use in areas where they are undertaken.

Heroin addiction has been rising steadily in Ohio in the past five years. 2012 Ohio Department of Health data shows that 159 people in Hamilton County died from heroin overdoses, a 6 percent increase over the year before. Experts trace the epidemic to an increase in the availability of prescription opiates in the last decade. As Ohio has cracked down on those drugs, addicts turn to other, similar drugs to experience the same high. The most popular by far is heroin.

Local organizations, including Northside-based Caracole work hard to fight heroin addiction and prevent overdoses. But as heroin use increases, needles infected with various blood-borne diseases including HIV and hepatitis are a serious concern. Hepatitis C in particular has been increasing among intravenous drug users in the area. Needle exchanges allow a person to exchange a used needle for a new, sterile one, so they at least won’t catch deadly diseases associated with intravenous drug use. The exchanges also cut down on the level of needle litter, meaning less risk of exposure for community members who aren’t using.

Opponents say exchanges encourage heroin use, but supporters of the programs say the availability of clean needles alone won’t sway a person to take or not take the incredibly addictive drug.

Kroner said the effort is a six-month pilot program to demonstrate the benefits of needle exchanges. Though some in the community have expressed concerns that the exchange will create a perception that Northside has a heroin issue, Kroner emphasized that the program isn’t a response to any specific drug problem in the community.

“What we’re really hoping is that Northside can show that this kind of program can work in other communities,” Kroner said.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.22.2014 8 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

National Urban League comes to Cincy, landmark renovations may cost more cash, Cranley says cities don't need to annex the burbs

It's morning! I have news! Morning news! Wow, sorry, that's a lot of exclamation points. I sprung for the large iced coffee this morning and probably need to settle down a little. Anyway, here we go:

Cincinnati is playing host to the annual National Urban League Conference this week. The event, held by one of America’s oldest and largest civil rights organizations, is expected to draw 8,000 people to the city for events Wednesday through Saturday.

The conference is a big deal for Cincinnati. Last time the city tried to host the event in 2003, it was recovering from the 2001 civil unrest that gave Cincinnati a national reputation for race problems. Notable black entertainers boycotted downtown and the Urban League took its conference elsewhere. Since then, some reconciliation and a lot of revitalization has happened, but many old problems remain. In a report called “The State of Black America,” the Urban League ranked the city 74th out of 77 peer cities in terms of economic equity between blacks and whites. Blacks in the Greater Cincinnati area make an average of $24,272 a year compared to $57,481 for whites, the greatest disparity of any city in the region.

Here’s a quote worth thinking about in a Cincinnati Enquirer piece on the event:

"The riots ... were also about economic frustration," said Donna Jones Baker, president and chief executive of the Urban League of Greater Southwest Ohio. "These economic gaps continue. And while we have a vibrancy in the city because of wonderful things happening, we have a group of people who can't access them. We can’t expect people to suffer in silence forever.”

Among those attending the event are Vice President Joe Biden and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Biden will make opening remarks Wednesday and Paul will deliver a town hall speech Friday. This seems like a good opportunity for both to keep their speaking short and their listening long, but yeah.

• The cost of renovating Union Terminal and Music Hall may be more than initially estimated, a group of consultants say. International real estate company Hines looked over engineers’ $331 million cost estimates and found places where more money may be needed for both projects. The possible overrun could amount to $10 million more added to the project.

The revelation comes during a continuing disagreement about where renovation money should come from. Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann suggests the city chip in to help shore up the landmarks. Hartmann argues that the county can’t “go it alone” in efforts to fix the buildings. A further city contribution would be in addition to the $10 million the city has already pledged for the renovations. Mayor John Cranley shot back at Hartmann yesterday with an editorial detailing the city’s ongoing commitment to the buildings.

• A group of parachutists landed on a parking garage at Fourth and Elm yesterday, according to police. Annnd…. that’s about all anyone knows about it. The group may have been BASE jumpers parachuting from Carew Tower, or may have jumped from an airplane, though air traffic controllers at Lunken Airport didn’t report anything out of the ordinary. Maybe they were protesting something, but none were wearing tiger suits or waving banners shaming Procter & Gamble, so it's hard to tell.

• Horseshoe Casino, which has been open just over a year, is undertaking a half-million dollar, 8,700-square-foot expansion. The new addition sounds like it will be a patio for people to take smoke breaks when they need to cool off from all the fun they’re having fighting battles against the one-armed bandit (that’s a slot machine for those not hip to casino lingo). The patio will be enclosed, have a bar and will only be accessible from inside the casino, Horseshoe representatives say, though they’re tight-lipped so far about further details.  

• Cincinnati and Mayor Cranley are featured prominently in a Governing magazine article about changes in the way cities view their outlying suburbs. The article discusses how some cities are shifting away from the view that suburbs are valuable prizes to be annexed or wrapped up in Indianapolis/Louisville-style city and county combined governments. A renewed interest in cities among the young and well-to-do and an increase in suburban poverty are cited as reasons for the shift in thinking from some city leaders.

Cranley’s view that Cincinnati is just fine without taking over surrounding suburbs challenges conventional accepted wisdom.

“You had a sentiment that urban cores need the wealth of the suburbs to have a better budget picture,” he says in the article. “People in the suburbs escaped the city to flee the problems. But that’s changing. You’re going to see cities in a better financial situation than a lot of the suburbs.”

• Finally, a story that could (hopefully) only happen in New York City, where a developer has won permission from the city to have two separate entrances in a new apartment building — one for well-to-do residents of its luxury units and another for the tenants of its required-by-law affordable units. So, basically, a poor door.

Last year, another developer explained just such a plan for another building thusly:

“No one ever said that the goal was full integration of these populations,” said David Von Spreckelsen, a senior VP at Toll Brothers, a New York development company. “So now you have politicians talking about that, saying how horrible those back doors are. I think it’s unfair to expect very high-income homeowners who paid a fortune to live in their building to have to be in the same boat as low-income renters, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood.”

Translation: Being rich is hard when you have to rub elbows with not-rich folks, who should just shut up and enjoy the crumbs we’re throwing them.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.21.2014 32 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
voices_wwe_greenpeaceprotest_jf6

Morning News and Stuff

Greenpeace case moves forward, local activists rally for Palestinian civilians and an epic achievement

Heavy stuff in the news today, but there’s a bright spot at the end of this rundown, something so inspiring it will probably change your life. Well, maybe just your week. Err, I don’t want to oversell it. I promise you’ll be amused for at least a couple minutes if you make it to the end of this. Read on.

The next chapter in the saga of nine Greenpeace activists who hung banners from P&G buildings happens today. A pretrial hearing will determine whether lawyers for the activists will be able to access P&G e-mails about the event to use in their case. Lawyers are also requesting records about maintenance of the building, more than likely related to the alleged $18,000 in damage done to windows in the building. That damage is part of prosecutors’ case that the group should face felony charges. Meanwhile, the Greenpeace activists are considering a plea deal that would keep them out of jail but saddle them with probation and felonies on their records. A date for the trial is expected to be set today.

Update: One of the nine protesters will take the plea deal, WLWT reports. The other eight will go to trial to face burglary and vandalism charges.

Hundreds rallied downtown Sunday to show support for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, where more than 400 civilians have been killed over the past few weeks in clashes between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas. Local protesters said their rally was about highlighting Palestinian civilians’ human rights.

“We have to be the voice for the voiceless," said Zeinab Schwen, a Symmes Township resident with family in Gaza. "For the children and parents, we have to speak up. It is not OK. It is not OK what Israel is doing.”

Israel launched a ground offensive Sunday in Gaza in response to rocket attacks from Hamas. Israeli leaders say they’re not trying to hurt civilians, and that Palestinian militants are putting them in harm’s way. But some witnesses claim that the Israeli army is targeting ambulances and other civilian vehicles as it carries out its offensive. In addition to the hundreds killed in Gaza, more than 3,000 Palestinians have been wounded by the fighting. 20 Israeli soldiers, including two with American citizenship, have also been killed.

• Macy’s, the Cincinnati-based department store behemoth, is nearing a settlement in a civil rights suit brought by actor Rob Brown. Brown, the star of TV series “Treme,” says the chain’s New York City store profiled him and others due to his race. He is black.  According to his suit, Brown was handcuffed and detained by security at the store for more than an hour when attempting to buy a watch for his mother. Other shoppers have filed similar complaints alleging they were held by security and accused of stealing because of their race. Details of the upcoming settlement have not been released.

• More questions are arising about ethics in the Ohio Attorney General’s office. The Dayton Daily News had an investigative piece Saturday about the AG’s office and the way it hands out contracts to outside firms. It’s a subject that has been reported on in the past–a number of media outlets have investigated law contracts the AG has awarded to legal firms who donate to the DeWine campaign and the Ohio GOP. Today’s piece finds similar connections with contracts awarded to firms to collect on debts owed to the state. The piece finds a high correlation between firms that donate to DeWine’s campaign and ones that get those collections contracts. Especially noteworthy are instances where firms run by those close to DeWine win contracts over more experienced vendors.

• Death and destruction. Racial Profiling. Allegations of cronyism. To give you a break from all the doom and gloom in this morning news, I found someone who has attained an amazing, completely laudable achievement, someone who can restore our faith in humanity and expand our understanding of what is possible in this world. It’s this guy, who just set the world record for number of tattoos of the same cartoon character on a person’s body. He has 41 Homer Simpson tats, all on his arm. He’s reached this pinnacle of human achievement despite having been forbidden from watching the show by his father, who he calls “a real life Ned Flanders” when he was growing up. Next time you think you can’t do something, that your goal is too hard, that the world is too harsh, remember this man. 

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.18.2014 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
fountainsquare-downtowncincinnati-resized

Morning News and Stuff

New housing downtown, tea party IRS suit goes forward, penal pizza party

The news transpiring this morning is all across the board.

The reshaping of Cincinnati’s downtown continues, and one of the biggest signs of more impending changes is the increase in housing in the city’s urban core. More people are interested in living in or near downtown, and developers are happy to oblige. Construction is ongoing for nearly 1,000 new apartments and condos in and around downtown, The Business Courier reports in a rundown of new construction today. The biggest projects include phase two of The Banks, which will have 305 new apartments, the so-called 580 building on Walnut Street, which is being converted from office space to 179 luxury apartments, and between 180 and 225 new apartments going in above Macy’s downtown location. There are also a number of projects happening in Over-the-Rhine, including a $26 million development in the Pendleton area that will also include 40,000 feet of retail space.

• All that change isn’t going unnoticed. It seems like I’m talking about Cincinnati making it onto some top 10 list or national publication at least a couple times a week here at the morning news, and here’s another one: Fortune magazine included Cincinnati in a list of top five cities with up-and-coming downtown areas. The article highlights Over-the-Rhine, saying, “while it’s still a work in progress, it’s already been transformed into one of Cincinnati’s most vibrant communities.” Oh, to work at a national magazine, parachute into a city for a couple days and reduce complex, decades-old dynamics into pithy, erudite observations. But I digress.

Tea partiers won a victory of sorts in U.S. District Court yesterday when Judge Susan Dlott ruled a group of the political activists could pursue suits against Internal Revenue Service employees in Cincinnati. The activists’ claims, first filed last year, state that IRS officials unfairly flagged their applications for nonprofit status based on the fact the groups have names indicating they are conservative or have “tea party” in the name. Nonprofits can’t be primarily political, and in assessing a groups’ application, the IRS must determine the level of political involvement in which a group engages. While the IRS admits it did flag tea party groups, it also did so for some liberal groups, including Occupy-affiliated activists. Still, the conservative groups argue that the IRS acted in a discriminatory way by delaying or denying their applications. The judge’s ruling clears the way for the groups’ lawsuits to go forward.

• There’s a new senate candidate in Kentucky joining the Mitch McConnell/Alison Lundergan-Grimes fray, and he wants you to know he’s full of crap. “Honest” Gil Fulbright is a fake candidate created by represent.us, a group advocating to get big-money influence out of politics. Fulbright, who is played by an actor from New York, is pretty honest about his intentions.

“People of Kentucky, you deserve complete honesty, so here it is,” he says in a video. “I don't care about you. Unless you are a donor, a lobbyist who can write a big fat check, the result that you get from voting for me is negligible."

The parody is a way for the group to drive home its point that most politicians in Congress are beholden to the big-money donors who help them get elected. The group says satire is a more effective way to reach people than traditional news. Probably true.

Kentucky’s senate race, where Democrat Lundergan-Grimes is working to unseat incumbent and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is expected to be the most expensive in history. Candidates and outside groups are on track to spend $100 million to convince voters they’re the better choice. A good deal of that money comes from big-money donors and PACs.

• Finally, while we’re talking about Kentucky, I need to share this story with you. The morning news absolutely does not condone law breaking, but if you’re going to do it, you might take a tip from this criminal genius. A Corbin, Kentucky man was arrested Tuesday for shoplifting. When taken to the station, he asked to make his requisite one phone call. Did he use that call to get in touch with a family member, friend or significant other who could bail him out? No, no. He used his only phone call to order five pizzas in the name of the officer who arrested him. The pizzas were then delivered to the police station, to the confusion of officers. This was either an A-plus troll move or an act of kindness. Something tells me this guy knew it was going to be a long night for everyone involved and just wanted to get the party started right. The authorities were not amused, however, and are now adding charges of impersonating an officer to his shoplifting counts.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.17.2014 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
an_lumenocity_365cincinnati

Morning News and Stuff

The ins and outs of the landmark tax, charter school concerns, Lumenocity-themed beer and bears on a plane

Here it is: Everything (well, probably) that you need to know today.

The struggle to pay for renovations for Union Terminal and Music Hall continues to make news, with articles out this morning exploring the details of the buildings’ ownership and why a tax hike to fix them up won’t be like the much-loathed 1996 stadium deal. The Enquirer delves into the reasons why the city isn’t responsible for upkeep of the buildings even though it technically owns them. Basically, non-profits that lease the spaces are contractually obligated to pay for their maintenance, though the city also pitches in some funds to help.  Meanwhile, the Business Courier has a look at the way a tax hike would be structured. The piece points out that the increase doesn’t make the same assumptions about economic growth that the stadium deal did, and is therefore unlikely to balloon out of control.

• P&G left the game, but it turns out the game needs it. That game is adult diapers. The Cincinnati company is considering jumping back into adult incontinence products after leaving a decade ago. P&G already makes diapers for babies, and with the market for adult diapers growing by 8 percent a year, it’s an easy and attractive step that could net P&G $500 million annually. That’s great, but I find it a little depressing that as a nation we’re having a harder and harder time not peeing ourselves. But hey, the market is getting bigger because we’re all getting older because we’re living longer, right? That’s a good thing.

• One of the many reasons I left my former city of residence, Washington D.C., was a whale. A pink, cartoonish whale with a smug smile. Call it a reverse Ahab situation–I tried to avoid it, but instead of being elusive, it was ubiquitous. I came back here, to landlocked Ohio, partially to escape it. But now it has followed me. I’m talking about the logo for Vineyard Vines, an up-market clothing brand that recently announced it may build its first Ohio store in Kenwood. The brand specializes in a certain kind of east coast prep look. Think boat shoes. Novelty ties. Business casual pants in salt water taffy colors, or with little whales all over them. It’s a very Washington vibe, and before now you had to drive hours to get it. But soon, you too can be covered in little pink whales. It’s great news on the development front, to be sure, but it also gives me flashbacks to my time elbowing through gaggles of Georgetown grads for a spot at many a bar in DC.

• Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Christian Moerlein are teaming up to create a Lumenocity-themed beer for next month’s light show. Do I really need to say anything else about that? Sounds awesome.

• Ohio’s Board of Education is investigating reports that a Dayton charter school has been the site of racism, sexual misconduct, testing irregularities, misreporting of attendance figures, and other problems. A number of former teachers have testified that Horizon Science Academy has been mismanaged. The school is run by Chicago-based Concept Schools, which operates 19 schools in Ohio. The education organization is already under investigation by the FBI.

• Finally, the Transportation Safety Administration (you know, the folks who make you wait in line forever and have a machine that can see through your clothes) is probably one of the most-hated government agencies, but they can write a good blog. Their last few, about some of the crazy things people try to take through airport security, are pretty good reads (with pics!) Highlights include loaded guns, bullet-shaped knives, throwing knives, blades stashed in Scooby Doo greeting cards, fireworks, spent artillery shells and bear repellent. Four words for Samuel L. Jackson in case he’s looking for his next project/sequel opportunity: Bears on a Plane.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.16.2014 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ed fitzgerald

Morning News and Stuff

DOJ will jump in on Ohio early voting; Cincinnati tops for design; race for governor heats up

Good morning all. I may be writing this news rundown from my porch at home, enjoying the amazing weather and eating Graeter’s black cherry ice cream for breakfast, but that doesn’t mean I’m not real, real serious about the news. Let’s do this.

As we reported yesterday, the Obama administration is expected to jump into the fight over early voting in Ohio. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made remarks, released yesterday, indicating that the Justice Department will file with the Ohio ACLU and other civil rights organizations already fighting reductions to early voting in the state. The administration has made voting rights a key issue following last year’s Supreme Court decision that rolled back certain sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

• The head of Cincinnati Metro resigned yesterday, according to a press release by the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority. Metro’s CEO Terry Garcia Crews will step down immediately and will be temporarily replaced by Darryl Haley, who was Metro’s executive director of development. Metro will conduct a national search for her permanent replacement. In the press release, Crews says she’s leaving to focus on her family, including her parents, who live out of town, and to continue her transportation consulting business.

“I have great confidence in the leadership and the team at Metro and community leaders to carry forth the discussion and implementation of expanding public transportation in this community,” Garcia Crews said.

Metro gives about 17 million individual rides each year. Its role looks to grow as transit needs in the city expand and the streetcar comes online next year.

There was some drama in Over-the-Rhine last night, though the actual situation was not quite as intense as initial reports made it out to be. Police entered a building at 13th and Walnut to do an inspection at the request of the building’s owner. They came upon a man who fled from them. As he fled, a gun the man was carrying went off. Multiple news outlets reported the officers had been fired upon and that a standoff situation was developing. In reality, the gun accidentally went off as the man attempted to hide it in his pants. Which, yeah, probably not a great idea, but there you have it. The man fled to another building, threw the gun out a window and hid. He was arrested a short time later and faces multiple charges today. Still a scary scenario, but, you know, not exactly a police shootout.

A list put together by CityLab shows that Cincinnati is among the top cities in the country when it comes to design. While we all know the Queen City has some great graphic design and marketing talent, it’s surprising to see the city also ranks impressively high for industrial design. Our fair city is well-represented in nearly every category measured, which is pretty cool.

• Remember that guy who threatened to shoot down a helicopter a couple days ago? Yeah, a judge told him today to cool it with the guns for a while, and required him to turn over his firearms to authorities. I’m sure there are some hardcore gun rights activists out there fuming about how the government is infringing on his 1st Amendment right to express displeasure with helicopters and his 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, but me, I’m perfectly OK with it in this particular case. At least he didn't try hiding them in his pants.

• The race for Ohio governor is getting interesting. Democratic contender Ed FitzGerald’s campaign is citing polls that show him neck and neck with incumbent Gov. John Kasich, though, as with any poll that a campaign is excited about, it’s probably best to be wary. The poll was paid for by the Ohio Democratic Party and echoes another recent Democrat-funded poll showing FitzGerald within striking distance. However, both of these polls contradict earlier independent polling done this spring showing Kasich ahead by as many as 15 points.

FitzGerald’s campaign is getting proactive, though, dropping its first TV ad today. In the ad, FitzGerald implies that Gov. Kasich is all about the 1 percenters.

“Who is the promise of Ohio meant for?” FitzGerald asks in the 30 second spot. “Just the wealthy and well-connected?”

FitzGerald gives a shout out to “Ohioans who get up early and get it done every day,” which made me kind of feel bad about working from home while eating ice cream. He goes on to promise support for the state’s middle class, including more funding for teachers, police and firefighters. Though he never mentions Kasich by name, he hits on the idea that the current administration favors the wealthy again at the end of the ad.

Meanwhile, an attack site paid for by the Ohio Republican Party against the challenger called fitzgeraldforohio.com just sprung up. The site mostly attacks FitzGerald on his first choice of running mate, former lieutenant governor candidate Eric Kearney. Kearney quit the ticket in December last year after it was revealed he owed a large amount in back taxes. The site also features an ad linking FitzGerald to former Gov. Ted Strickland, who has endorsed FitzGerald. The ad argues that Strickland was bad for Ohio and FitzGerald would be, too.

In a kind of strange twist, however, the ad seems to blame Strickland for many ills Ohio faced due to the great recession, including spiking unemployment and budget overruns. As if those same dynamics weren’t happening in nearly every state around the country during Strickland’s term from 2007 to 2011, when the recession was at its worst. The candidates’ next filing deadline is just a couple weeks away, and it will be interesting to see if either grab more big bucks. Stay tuned.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.15.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: Voting at 03:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Obama Administration to Join Ohio Early Voting Fight

U.S Attorney General Eric Holder says DOJ will use its power to defend the right to vote

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last week said the Justice Department plans to join a lawsuit against the state of Ohio seeking to restore early voting in the state.

Holder revealed the DOJ’s intention to join the fight in Ohio over early voting during an interview about terrorism with ABC News in London July 11. That portion of the interview was unaired. Holder’s comments were revealed when the DOJ released transcripts to the press this week.

The Ohio suit, originally brought by the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups, claims the Republican-led elimination of early voting hours is unconstitutional because it will disproportionately affect minorities.

Ohio’s General Assembly, which is controlled by Republicans, passed laws in February eliminating six early voting days and same-day voter registration. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted subsequently eliminated early voting the last two Sundays before elections and on weekday evenings in the days before elections.

Some of Husted’s cuts to early voting the Sunday before elections were undone by a federal district court judge, who ruled that the state must reinstitute early voting in the final three days before an election. Despite that victory, the other cuts have yet to be restored and are the grounds for the ACLU’s lawsuit.

In the interview, Holder said voting is “the most basic of our rights” and vowed that he “will use every power that I have, every ability that I have as Attorney General to defend that right to vote.”

Holder also said the DOJ will file in another voting rights case over Wisconsin’s voter ID law, which has seen a pitched battle in federal courts.

Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald applauded Holder’s comments in a news release today.

“I’m pleased that the U.S. Department of Justice will be joining the fight to protect voter rights in Ohio,” FitzGerald said in the release. “Under Governor Kasich, access to the polls has significantly decreased for hardworking Ohioans across the state.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.15.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
to do_washington park opening_photo 3cdc

Morning News and Stuff

Charter school stays open, city settles Washington Park suit and the loftiest of living spaces

Morning, y'all. It's only Tuesday and there is already lots and lots going on. Here we go.

A Hamilton County Common Pleas judge has allowed troubled charter school VLT Academy to stay open and ordered the Ohio Department of Education to help fund it. In a decision yesterday, Judge Nadine Allen ordered ODE to become the school’s sponsoring organization and provide almost $300,000 to pay staff and administration there. The school, which serves about 600 students in Pendleton, was scheduled to close last month because its sponsoring organization did not renew its contract. Education Resource Consultants of Ohio declined to continue supporting the school due to its academic performance and financial situation.

Ohio law stipulates that charter schools must have a sponsor to operate. VLT tried unsuccessfully to obtain a new sponsor, asking several organizations including the Ohio Department of Education. When ODE declined, citing the school’s poor academic performance, VLT sued in Hamilton County Common Please Court. VLT argued that its performance was never poor enough to trigger automatic closure. The school says that ODE is playing politics and that it warned other potential sponsoring organizations not to sponsor the school. ODE acknowledges it made organizations aware of the school’s performance issues.

Allen ruled that ODE made it difficult for the school to find a new sponsor and that closing the school would do harm to its students. Ninety-nine percent of VLT’s students are economically disadvantaged. The school has lost a third of its student body, and subsequently almost $2 million in funding, in the past three years as Pendleton and Over-the-Rhine undergo demographic shifts.

• State Rep. Connie Pillich will hold a roundtable discussion today in Cincinnati as part of a state-wide tour around veterans’ issues. That tour began July 2 in Huber Heights. The meeting with local veterans will focus on financial challenges facing the military community, including the need for financial literacy education for veterans and state-level unemployment benefits for their spouses. Pillich is a Democrat who has represented Montgomery in the state legislature since 2009. She’s currently vacating that seat to challenge State Treasurer Josh Mandel. She’s touting her efforts on veterans issues and her service in the armed forces as she travels around the state to meet with veterans and their families. Before her political career, Pillich served in the U.S. Air Force for eight years and did support duties during Operation Desert Storm.

• The Cincinnati Park Board settled a federal lawsuit today brought by several residents of Over-the-Rhine regarding rules put in place after the 2012 renovation at Washington Park. The residents said the rules, which forbade distributing food and clothing in the park and taking items out of trashcans, were drawn up without public scrutiny and designed to keep the homeless out of the park. The city dropped the rules in September 2012. The city has not commented on how it decided upon the rules in the first place. The amount of today’s settlement in the case wasn’t disclosed.

Architect Magazine pulled no punches in an editorial on General Electric’s proposed new building at The Banks yesterday.  Written by former Cincinnati Art Museum Director Aaron Betsky, a noted architecture critic, the piece caustically derided the building, and The Banks, for a gutless lack of panache.

“Cincinnati, a proud city with a great heritage busily squandering it, will be stuck with the results of its own shortsightedness,” Betsky wrote in the piece. Ouch.

• Gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald and attorney general hopeful David Pepper will ask the Ohio General Assembly to provide more money for heroin clinics today in a press conference in Columbus. The Democrats say clinics around the state face a $20 million shortfall after recent changes in the way federal money is distributed. The heroin crisis has been a big talking point for Pepper, who has criticized Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine over his handling of the surge in addiction-related deaths.

• The number of people commuting by bicycle is up 60 percent nationally from the year 2000, according to recent data from the U.S. Census. But that data also show another dynamic–most of that increase has come from relatively wealthy, white commuters who can afford to choose how they roll. Among low-income people, especially people of color, the desire for car ownership is much higher and the value placed on alternate means of commuting is much lower. This may be because people in low income neighborhoods face much longer commute times and an environment without the necessary infrastructure for safe cycling. But there are also probably social factors at play — cars are still strong symbols of success across all levels of society in the U.S., and low income commuters desire those symbols as much as anyone.

• Finally, if you’re looking for the next big (literally, huge) thing in hip living arrangements, I’ve got you covered. If a renovated row house makes you yawn, and a partially reconstructed loft space is just too domestic for you, how about living in a Boeing 727? Bruce Campbell (no, not THAT Bruce Campbell, though I can totally see this plane abode being the setting of a campy horror flick) of Oregon is leading the way on this brave new trend. Share with all your friends who are still really, really, into Lost.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.14.2014 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

First anniversary of streetcar contracts, compost gone wild and shooting at helicopters

One year ago today, the city signed contracts to start construction on the streetcar. Fast forward 365 days, and the new transit loop through downtown and Over-the-Rhine is quickly taking shape. Roads are closed as major sections of track go in. Workers are constructing concrete slabs for the passenger stops. The cars themselves are being built. And the city recently named downtown-based Kolar Design to do branding work for the streetcar. The Business Courier has photos of the progress so far. Or you can just drive through Over-the-Rhine and see for yourself. Just don’t take Race Street if you’re hoping to get downtown — it's still closed at 12th Street.

• We’ve all lived with roommates who don’t always take out their garbage. It’s gross. But I guess it could be worse. Like, tens of thousands of times worse. The city recently shut down a compost company called Cincy Compost in Winton Hills after two years of complaints from miles around about the ghastly smells emanating from what is effectively an 80,000 pound pile of rotting food, but things could get worse before they get better. The heap, which is piled two feet deep, needs to be cleaned up by the city now that the company is no longer in business. It seems the business didn’t get the correct balance of garbage for the compost process to work and was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of garbage it took in. It racked up 45 code violations while it was open. Now the city will have to spend $250,000 to kick-start the process and finish turning the garbage into soil. That involves stirring all that garbage around, basically, which is only going to make the smell worse in the short-term. Gross.

• Community groups in the city will be holding a rally calling for an end to violence in the city at 7 p.m. in Piatt Park today. Last week, four people were shot, one fatally, in two separate but related incidents at the park. Cincinnati saw a surge in shootings early in the year, though that trend has slowed and the city may not see an increase over last year’s 75 murders. Forty-two people have been murdered in the city this year, many with guns.

• One guy who will not be at that rally, I’d imagine, is this dude, who threatened to shoot down a University of Cincinnati Health Air Care helicopter yesterday. Angry that the helicopter was flying too low over his Green Township house, Leonard Pflanz is accused of driving to Mercy West Hospital and telling the helicopter’s pilot that he would shoot him if he did it again. Pflanz is appearing in court this morning over charges stemming from the threat.

• General Motors may soon be in some big trouble with federal prosecutors, who are investigating whether the company made false statements about a defect in some of its cars that has killed at least 13 people. The defect relates to an ignition switch problem that has caused some GM cars to lose power while operating. The feds accuse GM of making misleading statements to the public about the defect, downplaying the dangers of the defective switches. The company has already been fined $35 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for dragging its feet in response to the problem. Some believe GM’s ultimate liability could end up being even more than the $1.2 billion Toyota was ordered to pay earlier this year over similar charges.

• Finally, Smithsonian Magazine reports that skin cells may be able to detect odors and that some of these odors may aid the body in the healing process. Basically, this means the whole surface of your body is receptive to smells in one way or another. This is interesting, maybe even great news, unless of course you live near a failed composting facility or something.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.11.2014 11 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
japps5_jilliantellep

Morning News and Stuff

Gay blood drive, CPD out in force for Bunbury, Esquire visits Cincy

We're mere hours from freedom, folks. I'll be quick today and give you the morning news rundown in short order so you’re ready for the weekend.

If you’re a gay or bisexual man, the Food and Drug Administration won’t let you give blood. A blood drive today at UC’s Hoxworth Blood Center in Corryville is drawing attention to that rule hoping to get it changed. The FDA first instituted the policy in 1984 at the height of the AIDS crisis.

Gay and bisexual men are encouraged to bring eligible proxy donors to Hoxworth today as well as sign a national petition to the White House asking it to reconsider the rule. Organizers hope to get 50 donors, and if you want to give to the cause, get to Hoxworth or call for an appointment before 4:30 today. The center has computers where you can sign the petition, which needs 100,000 signatures nationally by the end of the month. The blood drive is part of a national gay blood drive taking place in 60 cities today.

• After a pretty harrowing week downtown (four people were shot in two incidents near Piatt Park, one of whom died of his injuries) the Cincinnati Police Department says it will be out in force this weekend for Bunbury Music Festival.  CPD has instituted a no vacation policy for officers over the next few days so they can cover downtown and the rest of the city. Apologies to all the hard-working officers out there who were looking forward to partying with Andrew W.K.

Police Chief Ken Blackwell says it’s part of a larger effort to make sure police are ready for big summer events. These include the National Urban League Conference coming the last weekend in July, which features a keynote address by Vice President Joe Biden. That weekend will also be an all-hands-on-deck scenario, Blackwell says.

“The bottom line is that we took an oath to protect the city, and sometimes police work calls on you to work long hours and do stuff you ordinarily wouldn't want to do,” he told WLWT yesterday.

• Those fancy New Yorkers at Esquire stumbled across our quaint little river town yesterday, it seems, and decided it was noteworthy enough to write about. Overall, it’s a super-positive piece about the city, which is awesome. There are some stumbles in the article, though–originally it spelled the city’s name as “Cincinatti,” called Vine Street “Vine Avenue” (both since fixed) and asserted that local treasure and all-around swell bar Japp’s Since 1879 has been serving for 120 years. That's especially befuddling because the name implies it’s been open for 135 years, though it actually opened in 2011. Also puzzling is the writer’s assertion that revitalization in the city is without “inherent class warfare.” As far as I can tell, that’s been a pretty visible fight here in the city for decades, but, you know. These are small quibbles. The piece does highlight some great spots in town, including Japp’s, Everybody’s Records (no Shake-It, though!) and Holtman’s Donuts. It also enlightened me on a possible place to get a haircut downtown. Anyway, you should check out the article, even if it’s only to copy edit it further.

• Finally, here’s an interesting article about how ride share company Uber is restructuring how much it charges for rides, and why that matters in the grand scheme of urban transportation. With Uber and Lyft becoming more of a force in the Cincinnati area, it’s a good read.

 
 
 
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