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by Nick Swartsell 06.16.2015 110 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Cincy budget battle gets real, folks freak out; Fairfield police accused of improper use of force; half of Ohio charter school's students found to be fictitious

Good morning y’all. Did you hear that the city government is grinding to a halt? Only not really, not yet at least.

You see, the city must have a financial plan in place by July 1 and there’s a battle afoot over the city’s capital budget. That funds a lot of things like road repairs, fleet updates and the like. But it’s different than the operating budget, which, you know, keeps the city government operating. You can find out more about the battle in our coverage yesterday, but it basically boils down to a struggle between city council, which is trying to get some of its priorities included in the capital budget, and the mayor, who has broken what is usually a single, omnibus budget ordinance down into individual pieces so he can veto parts he doesn’t like. Make no mistake: not passing a capital budget would be bad, bad, bad. It would mean that the city was out of compliance with state law, opening city government up to lawsuits and even temporary state oversight.  But the folks at City Hall have two weeks to hammer something out. In the meantime, at least we have the Cincinnati Enquirer to explain this situation to us. Yesterday’s headline blared, “Cincy faces government shutdown,” while an editorial today councils folks to “take a deep breath” because “the process is working as it should.” Great to see our intrepid daily has started reporting from multiple alternate dimensions instead of the single alternate dimension it normally covers.

• Last year, the federal tax credit geyser ran dry in Ohio for a minute, leaving groups like 3CDC and Cincinnati Development Fund without federal tax credits. It was the first time ever no projects in the state received credits. But that dry spell was short-lived. This year, 3CDC and CDF will get $45 million and $42 million respectively in new market tax credits for development projects. 3CDC has been Cincinnati’s major developer in downtown and Over-the-Rhine in the past decade, spending almost $1 billion in OTR in that time. CDF, meanwhile, has provided a quarter-billion dollars in loans in Greater Cincinnati, most of which have gone to affordable housing in low-income neighborhoods.

• Forest Park faith leader Bishop Bobby Hilton today made accusations that police in the city of Fairfield broke a 12-year-old’s jaw and fractured three of her ribs during an incident at a pool last week. Police were called to the Fairfield Aquatic Center last week to remove a group of teenagers who refused to leave after they were asked to vacate the area. Fairfield Police Chief Michael Dickey says the officers were defending themselves during the incident, a claim he says is backed up by video footage he’s witnessed. Dickey said he had not heard about the girl’s injuries until he was informed about Hilton’s news conference.

• A battle over tax credits isn’t stopping a Noah’s Ark themed attraction in Northern Kentucky. Religious group Answers in Genesis is going ahead with construction on the $84 million Ark Encounter park in Grant County despite a court battle around $18 million in state tax credits for the park. The application for those credits was eventually rejected by the state because of the group’s religious work and hiring stipulations that make potential employees profess their faith. Answers says it won’t use those hiring practices at the Ark Encounter park, but the state still says the attraction is part of its religious ministry, not just a tourist attraction. The project is about 20 percent complete, Answers says.

• Lawmakers in the Ohio Senate have walked back on a plan to eliminate the state’s historic preservation tax credit program for two years. Republican lawmakers tucked a provision that would have frozen the program as the state transitioned from a tax credit-based system to a grant system. That caused widespread criticism from across the state, convincing lawmakers to back off the proposal. Initially, it looked like $25 million in tax credits awarded to Cincinnati’s Music Hall  would be in jeopardy if the proposal was adopted, though lawmakers said that project and others already promised credits would receive them. Now, thanks to the uproar, Republicans in the Senate say they’ll remove the provision from the budget and form a commission to study shifting from credits to grants in the future.

• A really quick hit: a state audit at a now-defunct charter school found that half of the school’s students didn’t exist. State Auditor David Yost revealed yesterday that half of the 459 students listed by General Chappie James Leadership Academy in Montgomery County were fictitious. Yost says that the discrepancy seems to be a result of fraud and not simple record-keeping errors.

• Finally, on to national news. You’ve probably already heard about the strange case of former Washington State NAACP head Rachel Dolezal, who has for many years presented herself as a black woman even though both of her parents are white. Dolezal was thoroughly and embarrassingly outed by her parents recently, a move that rocketed Dolezal to all the wrong kinds of viral fame over the weekend. And it’s only gotten weirder from there: in an interview today, Dolezal says she's identified as black since the age of five and still considers herself black, in part because she has biracial children. But the story gets more befuddling still. Reports show that Dolezal sued Howard University, where she attended an MFA program, over what she claimed was discrimination… because she was white. This entire situation is so confusing and problematic I don’t even know what to say, so, there you go.

Hit me up on Twitter or send an old-fashioned e-mail, why don’t ya?

by Nick Swartsell 06.15.2015 111 days ago
Posted In: News, Budget at 03:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Council's Big Bad Budget Adventure

Council, mayor wrangle over spending priorities as deadline ticks closer

Cincinnati City Council's Budget and Finance Committee today wrangled over the city's upcoming, $1 billion budget, passing the operating portion of that financial plan but leaving a fight over capital spending for another day.

Basic services like police and fire aren't under threat in the budget battle — those are paid for from the city's $375 million operating budget, which council looks poised to pass. But other services could be temporarily shelved and the city could face legal action or state oversight if it doesn't pass a complete budget before its June 30 deadline.

A complex dance for power between council Democrats and Mayor John Cranley has left the capital part of the budget, which funds everything from road improvement to economic development to bike lanes, at an impasse.

The majority coalition of council members say Cranley is trying to block their will, but Cranley says the group is trying to force a shutdown.

“A majority of City Council seems poised to vote down the City’s Capital Budget and threaten a government shutdown because members couldn’t get their pet projects funded,” Cranley said in a harshly-worded statement June 15.  “Because some councilmembers were upset that their pet projects weren’t included, the City will not be able to repave our roads or replace our aging police cruisers, fire trucks and ambulances.”

The five Democratic council members — Yvette Simpson, Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Wendell Young and David Mann — have prioritized six expenditures in the budget that Cranley opposes. Those priorities were by and large left out of City Manager Harry Black's initial budget, so Democrats drew up their own omnibus budget proposal, which Cranley looked likely to veto wholesale, since he can't line-item veto things. At least, not officially.

Cranley says the budget Democrats on council have presented is structurally unbalanced because it uses one-time sources of money to pay for some of council members' spending priorities.

Cranley takes issue with six spending priorities Democrats on council have promoted, calling them wasteful. Those priorities include $400,000 for Clifton Market, a co-op looking to fill the vacant former Keller's IGA in Clifton, $24,000 for high-tech bus shelters in Bond Hill, $150,000 for repairing and building new bike lanes, an extra $500,000 for the city's human services fund, bringing it up to a level council unanimously voted to fund last year, and extra funds for the health department. Those extra expenditures would be paid for in part by pausing some of the city manager's proposed extensive $100 million in road repairs.

"I cannot support these items and hope that City Council won't either, but I am referring these items as stand-alone ordinances to the Budget Committee so that council will have the opportunity to have an up-or-down vote on all of the City Council requests," Cranley said in a statement this morning. "The people of Cincinnati created a Charter in which six votes are required to overcome a mayoral veto.  We should not try to subvert the Charter we took an oath to uphold."

Council Democrats met with Budget and Finance Chairman Charlie Winburn late last week to hammer out a compromise, and it looked as though things would be O.K. In the meantime, however, Cranley moved to have council's budget priorities broken down into 19 individual ordinances, giving him the ability to veto them on what amounts to a line-item basis.

"We worked with his budget chair. We sat down with Charlie Winburn and worked out a budget that his budget chair supported," Young says. "And then we get, 'you're trying to bankrupt the city.' If we're working with Charlie and something Charlie says he supports, and suddenly Cranley's having a hissy fit, we don't even know what it's all about. That's where we are."

Winburn said Cranley didn’t take up the compromise budget because he wasn’t “in the loop” about it.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld called presenting the operational budget as an omnibus document and council's captial budget as a series of ordinances "weird" and "overtly political." Sittenfeld said he felt like a majority of council's wishes were being disregarded by the move.

“Treating different items so differently raises suspicion I think for any member of the public,” Sittenfeld said. “I don’t see why funding for the health department or human services or Clifton Market would be separate. Some things are protected behind the veil of an omnibus, and some things aren’t. I’d say put it all together, and if the city administration or the mayor doesn’t want to do that, it’s kind of on them whether or not they want to shut down the city government.”

The maneuvering has caused the current impasse as the four Democrats in today's budget and finance committee meeting balked at voting for the administration's capital budget. That raised alarms from council conservatives, including Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman, who both cautioned against going down the road toward "a government shutdown."

That language echoes statements Cranley made in a news conference this morning when he accused council Democrats of attempting to shut down city government over their priorities and compared them to Republicans in Congress. Councilmembers Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young shot back.

"I defy anybody to look at the budget we've proposed and see how that shuts the city down," Young said. "That's just not what we're trying to do. I'm really offended that he'd even say that about us."

"The concern that we as members of council have is that a budget was prepared by the city manager, and then the mayor had the opportunity to weigh in on it, and then it got to us," Simpson said. "It's our turn as policy makers to say, 'here's where we would make adjustments.' "

Council was scheduled to vote on the budget June 17, but it's unclear whether it will pass at that meeting. The city has until June 30 to pass a budget. If it does not, Cincinnati's city government could be subject to legal action, or even state oversight, as it is required by state law to have a full budget passed. The city's current budget expires July 1.

by Nick Swartsell 06.15.2015 111 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
cranley veto

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley vows budget vetos; highway means demolition for Newport housing project; Ohio Senate's budget bad for low-income, report says

Good morning all. Here’s what’s up today.

The back and forth about the city’s budget continues. In a news conference this morning, Mayor John Cranley said he would divide up council Democrats’ budget proposal and put individual spending items to an up or down vote. That’s significant because the five Democrats on council don’t have enough votes to override a mayoral veto on those items. Cranley has said Dems’ proposal, which came in response to City Manager Harry Black’s budget, isn’t structurally balanced and that he’ll veto any spending items he deems wasteful or unnecessary. That would include $400,000 for co-op grocery project Clifton Market, an increase in bike lane spending and other provisions. In saying he would veto the bike lane spending increase, Cranley called the Central Parkway bike lane a “disaster.” Cranley also got in a dig at his fellow Democrats, comparing them to Republicans in Congress and warning them not to “shut down the city” over disagreements about the budget. Cranley has also suggested he will cut suggested funds for human services by $500,000, continuing the wrangling between the administration and city council over the hot-button issue. There is a City Council Budget and Finance Committee meeting today at 11:30. I’ll update this as I find out more.

• In the meantime, let’s cross the river for a couple stories, shall we? The last large HUD housing project in Newport is slated for demolition next year as highway Ky. 9 is extended through the city. That means residents who live in the complex’s 171 units will be moved elsewhere around the region. That’s caused mixed feelings among those who live there and others in the city, this Cincinnati Enquirer story reports. Some residents are excited for the chance to move elsewhere with more room and new neighbors. Others are apprehensive about where they’ll be next year and say they’re not sure how they’ll make the change. The demolition fits in with HUD’s general movement away from large-scale public housing toward Section 8 vouchers and smaller sites scattered around the region.

• Whistle blowers have filed two lawsuits against a Northern Kentucky state agency alleging thousands of dollars a day in wrongful billings. The suits also allege that the whistleblowers were terminated by that agency when they tried to address those problems. One suit alleges that the Northern Kentucky Area Development District, which is supported by state and federal grants, billed for senior care services it did not actually provide. A former employee claims that when she tried to bring those billings to light, she was terminated from her job. Another alleges that an employee who tried to bring attention to possible card abuse within the agency was unjustly fired for doing so. The NKADD says the agency has investigated those claims and is clear of any wrongdoing, and that the two former employees were let go for reasons unrelated to their allegations. The suits, filed separately, are in Boone County Circuit Court.

• The Ohio Department of Transportation could lose more than $1 billion in federal funding if it doesn’t find a way to include more minority- and female-owned businesses in the contracts it awards. A federal review found that ODOT is not in compliance with federal laws around inclusion in contracting and must draw up a plan for how to improve. If it doesn’t, or if its plan doesn’t meet federal muster, the department could lose out on the federal money. ODOT has until July 20 to submit its plan, and officials there say they’re confident they can satisfy federal requirements.

• Finally, let’s circle back around to budgets for a minute, but on the state level this time. The Ohio Senate’s state budget proposal is worse for low-income Ohioans than even another conservative plan in the Ohio House, a new report by the progressive-leaning Policy Matters Ohio says. The state Senate’s plan would lower taxes for the top one percent of wealthy Ohio residents to the average tune of $10,000 a year. Meanwhile, the middle 20 percent of Ohioans would see only a $20 reduction in taxes and the bottom 20 percent of earners would actually see an increase of $26 in taxes a year. Much of that boost for the highest one percent comes from a decrease in taxes on businesses, according to the report. You can read the whole breakdown here.

And I’m off to city council. Tweet at me or e-mail me.

by Nick Swartsell 06.12.2015 114 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

Family, community speak out about Hicks shooting; state Senate plan wouldn't axe Music Hall credits; Deters: weed should be legalized

Good morning Cincy. Here’s what’s happening today.

Local activists and the family of QuanDavier Hicks held an emotional rally yesterday at Northside’s  Hoffner Park, just blocks from the apartment on Chase Ave. where police officer Doris Scott shot the 22-year-old Tuesday night. The rally was organized by Cincinnati Black Lives Matter and drew more than 200 people, culminating in a march down Hamilton Ave. and across the I-75 overpass. The event was peaceful, but anger and tension were obvious.

“We’re here because no matter what version of what went down Tuesday night you lean toward, there’s a lot that’s wrong,” said Cincinnati Black Lives Matter organizer Brian Taylor. “The media has very quick to demonize Hicks. Hicks may have had a criminal record. He may have done some things wrong in the past… But his record has nothing to do with whatever happened that lead to him being killed. He should not have been killed in contact with police.”

Hamilton County Clerk of Court records show Hicks had five minor drug charges, some of which had been dismissed.

Among those in attendance at the rally were Hicks’ mother, Erica Woods, who came from Atlanta with Hicks’ father and siblings for the rally. At one point during the march, Woods collapsed from exhaustion on the overpass and was aided by marchers and police. She was then taken away in an ambulance.

“I birthed the boy in 1993,” she said earlier in the evening. “I had to come 800 miles here because nobody told me my child was taken from me. The community of Northside and social media told me my son is dead. Two days later, he’s laying frozen in a box. I haven’t been able to look at his face. I still haven’t gotten an answer from any police. I just want an answer. Because what you’ve printed six different times just doesn’t make any sense.”

Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell was at the rally and march, along with a large contingent of officers. Police say they were in an apartment building at 1751 Chase Ave. Tuesday night searching for Hicks because a 911 caller on Colerain Ave. said he had earlier entered her house without her permission and threatened her life over the phone. While police were knocking, they say, Hicks opened a door adjacent to one officer Scott and partner Justin Moore were standing at and pointed a .22 caliber bolt-action rifle at them. Moore grabbed the rifle and Scott shot Hicks in the chest, officials say. Woods and others question that version of events, however, and have pressed police for more information. Police held a press conference Wednesday where they played the 911 call and showed pictures of the rifle and crime scene. CityBeat will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.

• So yesterday I told you about the Ohio Senate’s plan in its budget proposal to roll back the state’s historic preservation tax credits, ending the program for the next two years. As written, that proposal would have nixed $25 million in tax credits awarded to Music Hall, a key piece of that landmark’s restoration. Now, however, lawmakers have said they don’t mean to take credits from projects like Music Hall that have already been promised the money. Republicans in the Senate say they want to create a grant program to replace the tax credits, and that the ceasation of the program is the only way to move toward that change. Critics point out that state grants must be renewed every two years, while the credits do not. They say it is hard to complete long-term preservation and economic development work without the assurance of funding over the long haul.

• The Wasson Way bike trail could be up and running in two years, Mayor John Cranley said yesterday in a news conference along the path of the proposed bike project. That timeline could extend, however, if the city doesn’t get $17 million in TIGER grants it applied for last month. The city recently agreed to purchase 4.1 miles of railroad right of way from Norfolk Southern Railway at $11.8 million to make the project a reality. The total cost of the project is estimated at $30 million. Nonprofit the Wasson Way Project also announced yesterday it was beginning a fundraising drive to collect $600,000 for design and engineering work around the project.

• A task force headed by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters and funded by legalization group ResponsibleOhio has released its study on marijuana legalization, and guess what: the report paints a generally positive picture of the impacts of legalizing weed. The report predicts the creation of 35,000 jobs from legalization and more than $7 billion in economic activity. It also says increased crime would be unlikely. The study, completed by Deters and a host of other task force participants including Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman, uses a number of previously existing data sets to ascertain legalization’s impact on the economy and law enforcement in Ohio. The report’s rather rosy tint might seem surprising at first, given Deters’ relatively conservative record as prosecutor, but when you zoom out just a little it all becomes more clear. First, there’s the fact that the report was underwritten by ResponsibleOhio. Deters says he and the rest of the task force are objective in their findings. But critics, including Ohio State Auditor David Yost, point out that the task force seems to be stacked with supporters. Deters has close business ties with head ResponsibleOhio organizer Chris Stock. Both work at the same Cincinnati law firm, critics point out. The legalization effort, which looks to land an initiative for voters to consider on the November ballot, has been controversial. The plan would legalize marijuana for anyone over the age of 21, but would restrict commercial growth to 10 ResponsibleOhio investor-owned facilities around the state.

• Finally, a Cleveland Municipal Judge yesterday found that there was enough evidence to charge two officers in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice last November. Rice was shot by officer Timothy Loehmann while the child was playing with a toy pistol on a playground in Cleveland. Judge Ronald Adrine ruled there is probable cause to charge Loehmann with murder, involuntary manslaughter, dereliction of duty or reckless homicide. The ruling is mostly a symbolic gesture, however, as the Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Office is charged with convening a grand jury to hand down those charges.

by Nick Swartsell 06.11.2015 115 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

QuanDavier Hicks shooting: what we know; classes offer bicycle/streetcar safety tips; state Senate budget would cut child protective funds, shift affordable housing funding

Good morning, all. Here's the news today.

Cincinnati Police, including Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, yesterday held a press conference about the shooting death of 22-year-old QuanDavier Hicks by CPD officer Doris Scott. Hicks died on the scene of the shooting in Northside. Police officials say that Scott and fellow officer Justin Moore, who was on his third day with the Cincinnati Police Department, were on a second-floor landing of Hicks’ apartment building at Chase Avenue knocking on a door looking for him when Hicks opened up an adjacent door and immediately pointed a rifle at the officers. Moore then grabbed the rifle barrel and Scott shot Hicks in the chest.

The official police version of events says that a 911 call from an address on Colerain Avenue caused officers to be dispatched to Hicks’ address.

“Hicks is known to both the 911 caller and the caller’s boyfriend,” Blackwell said during the news conference. The caller said Hicks had a key to her house and had entered without her permission.

“He’s talking about coming to kill me and all this other stuff,” the woman said in the call, which police played for the press. A dispatcher asked if Hicks carried weapon, and the caller responded, “he probably do,” saying others have told her he had a weapon, though she admitted she had never seen him with one. Officers then went to Hicks’ address at 1751 Chase Avenue to try and find him, leading to the shooting.

Hicks has a few minor drug possession violations in Hamilton County, according to clerk of courts records. Police officials say he has a criminal charge in his former home of Atlanta, but did not provide details about that history, saying they were still waiting for more information.

Meanwhile, another side of Hicks’ life has come out from neighbors and family members, who describe him as a kind man who they have a hard time imagining brandishing a rifle, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Family members are demanding to know more details about the incident, as are community members and police accountability activists.

Dozens lingered at the scene of the shooting afterward, where rumors circulated that the police kicked down Hicks' door. Two men were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after police say they tore down caution tape around the scene. We'll update with their names when we have them. Some, including members of activist group Cincinnati Black Lives Matter, question that and other police assertions, however.

The group released a statement yesterday demanding a full, transparent investigation, the release of any audio or video evidence and the release of the two people arrested for disorderly conduct after the incident. The group is holding a rally at Hoffner Park in Northside at 6 p.m. today.

"Black Lives Matter Cincinnati (BLMC), offers condolences to the family and friends of 22 year old Quandavier Hicks," the group said in the statement. "Conflicting information has circulated regarding whether Hicks was armed, yet we stand with Quandavier Hicks’ family in this challenging moment and call for an immediate release of all details of police conduct in this shooting. This incident has fueled righteous suspicion of the police and heightened existing tensions resulting in the arrest of two individuals at the crime scene. Aaron Roco, BLMC organizer witnessed the two arrests at the crime scene stated, 'At no point did either of the arrestees cross the police lines, they were vocally criticizing the police killing of their neighbor and the cops just grabbed them out of the crowd.' "

About the officers: Moore previously served with the University of Cincinnati Medical Center Police, and before that, was a long-time officer in Clermont County. Scott is an eight-year veteran of the Cincinnati Police Department. Her record with the Citizen’s Complaint Authority shows four minor complaints about discourtesy and lack of service. She was exonerated on two of those. Both officers are on a seven-day leave from the department. Meanwhile, investigations continue into the shooting. Blackwell says at this early point that officers seem to be justified in the incident, but cautioned that the investigation is far from over.

Here is audio of Blackwell’s press conference, including the 911 recording (I don't have my audio editing software here, so the chief's remarks begin at 1:58, the 911 call at 2:40) and the police incident report CityBeat has obtained through an open records request. 

• Are you a cyclist who could use some pointers on riding around the city's coming streetcar? Queen City Bike and Cincinnati Red Bike are offering free workshops on cycling safety around the streetcar every second Saturday of the month. Those workshops will offer tips on how to ride safely alongside the streetcar, how to cross tracks without taking a spill and other things you need to know. The classes will run until October.

• I gave you a lot of local news yesterday, so I'm going to finish this thing off today with a bunch of state news you should know about. The first is about the Republican-led state Senate's budget proposal, which could cut funding for county child protective services agencies by $17 million next year through the phasing out of tax reimbursements. The budget would give $600,000 less than even the House's bare-bones budget to child protective agencies at a time when Ohio already ranks last in spending on such services and Hamilton County's Job and Family Services faces large-scale changes after tragic deaths of children who needed protective services.

* Also in the Senate's budget: a measure that could cost affordable housing efforts and aid to the homeless millions. The measure would take half of the money currently received by the state's Housing Trust Fund, which is compiled from county recorder fees and used for affordable housing projects and homelessness prevention efforts, and distribute it back to Ohio's 88 individual counties to spend how they see fit. Given that county governments generally tack conservative in Ohio, it's not hard to see how that could lessen the pot of money available for affordable housing here and in many Ohio counties. Advocates are trying to convince lawmakers to strip that measure from the budget before the General Assembly passes it on to Gov. John Kasich for his signature. Also on the potential chopping block: state historic tax credits, which could seriously slow redevelopment efforts in neighborhoods like OTR.

• Have you been wondering what's new with Kasich's campaign for president? Let's spend a few minutes finding out what's up with John these days. The big news is that his super PAC has hired Fred Davis, creator of some of the most... um... creative political ads of the last few years. Davis' ads, like the so-called "Demon Sheep" ad (just click the link and watch) are, by my subjective aesthetic and narrative standards, totally awful. A few samples of dialogue from these videos: "He's not in it for the balloons." Also: "I'm not a witch." Can you picture Kasich saying either of those things? Hilarious. But they do stick out from the crowd of boring political TV spots, which I guess is kind of the point.

• Finally, I just wanna say I'm bummed that Ornette Coleman died. One of my all time favorite jazz musicians.

That's it for me. Email, tweet, you know the drill.

by Nick Swartsell 06.10.2015 116 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Police shoot 22-year-old in Northside; streetcar stalemate looms; CPD chief, city manager unveil anti-violence plan

Hello all, there are a couple big stories happening this morning so let’s get right to them.

• First, a Cincinnati Police officer shot a man last night in Northside. Police say the man, 22-year-old Quan Davier-Hicks, pulled a rifle on officers after they entered a home on the 1700 block of Chase Ave. around 11 p.m. last night. A struggle ensued and an officer, whose name has not been released, fired one shot and killed the man. Officers were looking for a suspect in a nearby report of aggravated menacing at the time, according to police officials. Some community members gathered near the scene after the shooting, and two men at the scene were arrested. They have been charged with disorderly conduct after police say they tore down police tape around the scene. This isn’t the first time an officer-involved shooting has happened in the area. In April 2011, police officer Andrew Mitchell shot David “Bones” Herbert on the same street. In 1999, another man, Michael Carpenter, was shot by police nearby. That shooting led to federal lawsuits against CPD. CityBeat has filed public records requests to find out more about the incident and subsequent arrests and will update as information becomes available.

• If you thought anything around the streetcar was going to get any easier or simpler any time soon, welcome to Cincinnati. You’ve obviously only lived here a few days. Sit down, because you’ve got a lot to learn. Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority officials yesterday presented to Cincinnati City Council’s transportation committee, and the proceedings very much resembled the streetcar itself: a slow-moving circular trip it seemed would run well into the evening. Some very interesting information did come out of the meeting, however, including details on the cost differences between the management bid, which would use SORTA’s union employees and cost about $4.7 million in the first year, and the turnkey option, which would allow a management company to hire its own workers. That option costs about $4 million, or about $200,000 under the city’s maximum budget for the transit project’s first year. If you do the math, you’ll see that the union bid is about $500,000 over that budget. But Council’s five Democrats say they’ll vote for the management scenario, saying they would like public employees to operate the streetcar and using SORTA employees will make it easier to them to hold operators accountable for performance.  

Mayor John Cranley also supports the management option, but here’s the snag, and it’s a big one: Cranley is opposed to using city money to shore up streetcar spending. He wants to respond to the union-related operating bid’s cost overruns by cutting the streetcar’s operation frequency. SORTA President Dwight Ferrell said the streetcar would have to reduce operations by 30 percent to meet the spending limit under the management scenario. That, he said, would lead to a “death spiral” for the project, since most rail operations costs are fixed, no matter how many or few riders use a system. Democrats on council say they won’t let that happen, but Cranley has vowed to veto any attempt to spend more city money on the project. That looks likely to produce a stalemate, which could lead SORTA to pick the turnkey option by default. They’ve given an end of June deadline for a decision on the bids, and will have to pick the less-expensive option if no directive is handed down. SORTA by law can’t choose a bid for which money is not allocated, its officials say. Phew.

• City Manager Harry Black, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell and Mayor John Cranley announced the city’s 90-day anti-violence initiative at a news conference today. That plan includes tweaks to off-duty time to make more officers available, two crews of walking officers in every district, added protection in parks and areas where kids play, and a curfew program — two churches will be curfew drop off centers for juveniles caught out after 10:00 pm (or midnight for 16 and 17 year olds) curfew.

“We will not sit on our hands waiting to take action,” City Manager Harry Black said of the plan. “When the weather turns warm, there’s usually a spike in crime. Unfortunately for us, this year’s spike was bigger than usual.” Black said that spike seems to be stabilizing now, however.

In delivering the plan, Blackwell cited the five goals of the city’s post-2001 collaborative agreement: police community partnership, trust between community and police, oversight of police department, equitable treatment for all, and engagement and transparency with the community.

“This was a collaborative effort with our clergy and our communities. We’re not going to be overly aggressive in our policing this summer. We’re not going to diminish other units,” Blackwell said. He stressed especially that the curfew element was not meant to be punitive. “It’s not our intent to criminalize curfew aggressively, but rather to take children and take them to a safe spot.”

According to Blackwell, much of the violence of late has revolved around “beefs,” or turf wars between a small group of people. It also has to do with illegal guns streaming into the city, he said.

“Criminal street guns are out of control. Not just in this city, but in every city.” CPD is partnering with feds to investigate gun crimes, find out where guns are coming from and eliminate them, according to Blackwell.

Mayor John Cranley said he’s pleased with the plan, but noted that if it doesn’t work, the administration will “try something else.”

“We’re here to support the chief and the police department. Shootings are unacceptably high, and while it’s true that’s a national trend, that’s no comfort to the families of the victims. Something’s in the air and we have to do something about it. They key is to keep trying to do new things until we get a result.”

Reverend Ennis Tait of the Church of the Living God in Avondale touched on the police-involved shooting in Northside before expressing support for CPD.

 “It’s unfortunate we have to come on the heels of a tragedy last night, but it’s still good we’re here,” he said. “Today we stand with our city manager, our mayor and our police chief.”

Ok. So that’s a lot of big local news. I’ll leave my state and national updates for tomorrow. Tweet at me or e-mail me with news tips or anything else, really.

by Nick Swartsell 06.09.2015 117 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
to do 2-8 iconic market house photo, courtesy the corporation for findlay market

Morning News and Stuff

Council Democrats release budget proposal; imagine a pedestrian walkway between Findlay Market and Washington Park; Alms Apartments fails HUD inspection

Hey Cincy. Here’s your news this morning.

The battle over the city budget continues. Council’s five Democrats yesterday afternoon released their own suggestions for the city’s fiscal year 2016-2017 spending plan, and they’ve made some key changes. Their operating budget proposal would increase human services funding by $1.5 million, bringing it up to the level council unanimously requested back in November, according to a news release sent out yesterday.

The proposal also restores money to streetcar operating funds and programs that help start-up companies, provides a $275,000 boost to the Cincinnati Health Department, $250,000 to Cradle Cincinnati and money to a number of other programs in the operating budget. Democrats’ proposal for the capital improvement budget would provide a $400,000 grant to the Clifton Market, $200,000 each for the Shakespeare and Ensemble Theaters, $1 million for parks and $150,000 for bike projects. The proposal pays for these boosts by eliminating a pay raise for high-level city employees and instituting a one-month hiring freeze for some positions, cutting funding for financial literacy and Cincinnati Business Committee studies, pulling $100,000 from the city’s contingency fund and by moving around money for the city’s share of the 4th and Race garage project, among other changes. Mayor John Cranley is currently reviewing the budget. If no other council members vote for the changes, Cranley has the power to veto the proposals, which would put him on the opposite side of his fellow Democrats again. Council is expected to pass the budget by June 17 so it can go into effect July 1.

• So this is a interesting idea. Findlay Market is working with the University of Cincinnati on a concept that would link the market with Washington Park via a more walker-friendly pathway. The groups held a party in the neighborhood last week to gather input from Over-the-Rhine residents about what they’d like on the path, and feedback included improved lighting, places to sit and hang out, food trucks or more permanent places for vendors and other ideas. A big priority: Make it easier to cross Liberty Street, which runs between the park and market. The proposed pathway would most likely run down Pleasant Street, which currently sees little automotive traffic. The pedestrian walkway could mean that street would be closed to cars, at least during certain hours. UC’s Research Institute and Metro Lab are involved in the process, with the latter devoting a number of graduate students to design and execute some of the suggestions. Right now, the bigger path is just an idea, but another input-gathering party is planned for June 26.

• The Alms Hill apartment building in Walnut Hills, which we told you about in this story a few months back, failed an inspection by the Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this spring. The building scored 45 out of 100 points on the inspection, which requires 60 points for a passing score. The city is mulling what to do about the building, which houses 200 residents and has fallen into a state of disrepair many say is dangerous. Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman, who chairs council’s Law and Public Safety Committee, suggested the city sue HUD, which pays the Alms’ owners subsidized rents for its tenants. The building’s owners have made changes, including replacing most of the management staff there and undertaking some repairs, but city officials say the building is far still far from fit for occupancy. 

• If you see Vice Mayor David Mann or former City Council member Jim Tarbell dangling off the side of a building downtown Friday, don’t worry, they’re supposed to be there. The two and others will be rappelling down the YMCA building on Central Parkway to help raise money for the building’s new construction, which will provide 65 units of affordable housing for seniors. The event, called Over the Edge 4 Elders, is hosted by Episcopal Retirement Homes, which is undertaking the building’s $11.8 million renovation with Cincinnati’s Model Group. The public can register for a VIP party to watch folks rappel, or you can raise $1,000 to rappel down yourself Saturday.

• Because budgets are so, so fun and everyone loves them, let’s talk about the Ohio State Senate’s budget proposal, which it released yesterday. That Republican budget doesn’t include Gov. John Kasich’s proposed 23-percent income tax cut, but it does take a big bite of the state’s income taxes, especially for small businesses, which wouldn’t pay taxes on the first $250,000 in income they bring in. The budget also institutes an across-the-board 6.3 percent income tax cut for individuals. There are few sales tax hikes in the budget proposal, save a tobacco tax hike, which has many anxious to see the details of the plan: Social service advocates, for instance, are worried that proposed income tax cuts will be paid for with cuts to programs that help the poor.

Republican leaders in the Senate have acknowledged there are cuts to some programs, but have yet to release details about which ones will find themselves on the chopping block. The budget does provide more funding for K-12 and higher education than the one proposed by Kasich, however, giving them $935 million and $240 million, respectively. The Senate's proposal wouldn't result in cuts for any school district in the state, unlike Kasich's, which relied on a formula designed to even out funding disparities between high- and low-income schools. Next, the General Assembly will hear testimony on the budget and vote to pass it, potentially next week. Afterward, it will go to Kasich’s desk for a final signature.

That’s it for me. Find me on Twitter or drop me a line with news tips or just to say hey.

by Nick Swartsell 06.08.2015 118 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Could more CPS preschool funding find its way into budget?; CPD anti-violence plan expected today; Texas police officer suspended after pointing gun at teens during pool party

Morning y’all. Hope you had a good weekend taking in the tons of live music downtown. If you’re one of the 10,000 people who saw Ja Rule on Fountain Square, well, I kind of envy you and wish I could’ve taken that early 2000s nostalgia trip. Ah, the days when Ja’s gruff calls of "every thug needs a lady" could unite us. Those were simpler times.

• Today is the deadline for City Council members to file motions seeking to change City Manager Harry Black’s proposed $1 billion city budget. We’re sure to see efforts to change the way human services are funded in the budget — the city manager’s financial plan is a big departure from past budgets in what it considers part of that category, and that's caused a lot of controversy. Look for more on that in our weekly feature story Wednesday. Meanwhile, some other interesting changes might also come up today, including one that would boost the city’s spending on public preschool with some money currently earmarked for street repair. Currently, demand for preschool seats in Cincinnati Public Schools is nearly double the 1,129 spaces available. Council members Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld have floated the idea of taking money from a $110 million loan the city is taking out for pothole repair and fleet updates and spending it to create more preschool opportunities. With Cincinnati’s childhood poverty rate the second-highest in the nation, it’s an important step that could give more low-income kids a head start, Seelbach and Sittenfeld say. Getting enough classrooms, supplies and staff for the first year would cost about $8.5 million, CPS officials say. Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee meets today at 1 pm. The committee will discuss proposed changes to the budget.

• Also expected today: Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell’s 90-day anti-violence plan. City Manager Black asked Blackwell to draw up the plan amid the city’s recent summer spike in shootings, the worst in a decade. Black initially suggested a flexible Friday deadline for the chief, but Blackwell asked for the weekend to finish up the plan. Some details have already been released: CPD will put between 50 and 70 more officers pulled from all over the department back on patrol. Those include aides for the chief and other top brass in the department, Blackwell has said. The chief has also recently undertaken a series of three community listening sessions to hear public input about the crime problem. One thing that won’t change, according to Blackwell: Police will not become “over the top” or engage in stop-and-frisk style policing, but will continue to practice a more community-oriented approach that has won Cincinnati national attention recently.

• By the end of the summer, the second-biggest Kroger in the country will be open in Oakley. The store, which will stretch 145,000 square feet, will be the largest in Greater Cincinnati and will feature home décor, a full-scale pharmacy, a natural foods department and other features going beyond the usual grocery store. The store continues the pitched pace of development in Oakley, which has seen a bunch of activity in the past few years. All of which is great, and I’m happy for the neighborhood. I just wanna know when we’re going to get our Kroger super center mega mart thing in Mount Auburn. I’ll probably have to settle for the upcoming update of the Corryville location for now, but hey, keep us in mind, will ya, grocers?

• Despite continually discouraging poll numbers and an ever-swelling list of competitors, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has continued to push his not-yet-official campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, making plenty of trips to New Hampshire, South Carolina and elsewhere. As he does, his specific sales pitch on why Republicans should choose him has come into focus, as this Columbus Dispatch article outlines. Basically, Kasich says he’s uniquely qualified, having spent nearly two decades in Washington, run a large state and worked in the private sector. He’s also willing to stick to his guns, he says, even when a crowd might not like what he has to say. Then there’s the big one — he can give Republicans Ohio’s electoral votes, which history suggests they absolutely need to win the White House. Kasich’s campaign has said  speech attendees around the country have responded to his message, but of course his campaign would say that. Kasich’s poll numbers, however, are still in the 2 percent territory, far behind frontrunners like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and oh, about 10 other folks.

• You’ve probably already seen the national news item I have for you today because it’s gone viral in the past 24 hours. A police officer in McKinney, Texas, a wealthy suburb north of Dallas, has been suspended after he slammed a 15-year-old girl to the ground and pulled his gun on some teenagers at a pool party. The interaction Saturday was captured on video and uploaded to Youtube, where it has been viewed more than a million times. The incident is the latest in a long line of racially charged incidents between white police and black citizens that seem to show unnecessary use of force. Police were called to the scene of the pool party after a fight broke out between teens and adults at a high school graduation celebration. Reports say that fight might have been racially tinged: Many of the black attendees at the celebration were not residents of the neighborhood, sparking ire from the predominantly white members members of the private pool. When police arrived to address the fight, one officer, Eric Casebolt, began aggressively ordering teens, mostly black, to leave the area. When they did not immediately comply, Casebolt began handcuffing them, and, in the case of the 15-year-old girl, pinning her to the ground and sitting on her. When other teens rushed to her aid, Casebolt drew his weapon and chased them off. McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller promised a full investigation into Casebolt’s actions and said he was “concerned” and “disturbed” by the video of the incident.

by Nick Swartsell 06.05.2015 121 days ago
Posted In: Streetcar at 01:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

SORTA Releases Streetcar Operating Costs

Lowest bids $7M apart; union employees would go over budget

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority today released the dollar amounts for the two lowest bids for the first ten years of streetcar operations. The names of the bidding companies were not released, per SORTA's assertion that it would compromise the competitive bidding process. You can read the bids here.

One bid, called the management scenario, would involve a management company using SORTA employees in the Amalgamated Transit Union to run the streetcar, while another, called the turnkey scenario, would let the management company hire its own employees.

The bids look to be politically tricky for Democratic streetcar supporters, who have pushed hard for a union-friendly contract. The turnkey scenario comes in just under the $47,088,828 the city has said it wants to spend over the first ten years of the streetcar at $46,972,813. The management scenario, however, comes in over that amount at $54,933,160. In the first year, the management contract exceeds the streetcar's $4.2 million budget by $500,000, while the turnkey proposal comes in about $160,000 under budget. The bids give numbers for a five-year contract plus an optional five-year extension.

Mayor John Cranley, who campaigned on opposition to the streetcar, has said he supports cutting frequency of service for the streetcar should it go over budget. However, he and other Democrats on Cincinnati City Council support the management bid because it would utilize unionized employees.

Some of the cost overruns in the management bid are attributable to benefits packages offered to union employees. However, employees under the management scenario wouldn't be eligible for state pensions. The ATU could unionize the turnkey bidder's selected employees after they are hired, however, though they still wouldn't get the state pensions.

Cincinnati City Council looks poised to vote on the two options next week.

by Nick Swartsell 06.05.2015 121 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Women's shelter opens in Mount Auburn; CPD second in command steps down; Dems push for payday loan reform

Good morning all. Here’s the news for Cincy today.

Today is the grand opening of the Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women on Reading Road in Mount Auburn. The shelter will house up to 60 women seeking to escape homelessness, as well offer classrooms and other on-site facilities. The shelter is one of two replacing the current Drop Inn Shelter in Over-the-Rhine. The men's shelter will move to Queensgate this fall. Correction: an earlier version of this post said the new Anna Louise Inn opened today. That shelter, also on Reading Road in Mount Auburn, will open Tuesday.

• Cincinnati City Council held its final Budget town hall meeting last night in Price Hill. The fifth meeting unfolded much the same way the last four have: The city administration's change-up on human services funding was the main issue, though a proposed city loan to Clifton Market that didn't make it into the budget also came up often. Last November, council voted to double human services funding, but that decision isn't reflected in City Manager Harry Black's budget. You can read our deep-dive into the human services issue next week, when we tell you how that part of the budget has changed, what council is doing to try to get more money back to social service organizations and what the split between the city manager and council means.

• It’s official: The portion of the  Eastern Corridor project that would have relocated State Route 32 between State Route 50 and Newtown Road through Newtown and Mariemont is dead, according to Ohio Department of Transportation officials. The road relocation proposal was contentious: Both municipalities, as well as some residents, staunchly opposed it. The new route would have run through archeologically significant sites near Mariemont, some opponents said, and ODOT cited other environmental and logistical concerns as reasons it was nixing consideration of that part of the project. Other elements, including proposed light rail through the Oasis Corridor, a little-used rail shipping line, remain on the table, ODOT says.

• Hamilton County Job and Family Services will see big changes in the wake of the recent tragic deaths of local children in abusive situations, county officials announced today. The changes are designed to decrease clients’ wait for mental health treatment, provide more in-home services for families and give better guidance to young parents and other youth.  

• Cincinnati Assistant Police Chief Paul Humphries, CPD’s second-highest ranking official, stepped down yesterday to take a job as head of security for Coca Cola in Florida. Humphries, who has been with CPD for three decades, has twice been in the running for the department’s top job, though both times a chief from outside the department was chosen. Humphries says that if he’d been promoted to the top spot, he would be staying but says there’s “no bitterness” in his decision to move on. The assistant chief’s announcement comes as Cincinnati’s police department has received nationwide attention for reforms it has made since the city’s civil unrest in 2001. Humphries has played a role in those reforms.

The announcement also comes as questions swirl around the police department following the revelation that City Manager Harry Black recently drew up resignation papers for Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, though the chief did not sign them and insists he’s staying on as the top cop. Blackwell has since been the center of scrutiny, with some detractors criticizing the department’s low morale and poor upper-level communication. Others, however, including several city council members, have expressed support for Blackwell. The Sentinels, Cincinnati’s black police fraternity, held a rally in support of Blackwell earlier this week.

• City Manager Black says the city will use Humphries’ departure as an opportunity to expand diversity in the force’s upper ranks, part of a larger push by the Sentinels and the city to foster a more diverse department reflective of Cincinnati’s demographic makeup. None of the city’s three assistant chiefs are black, and only one of the city’s 12 police captains is. The city yesterday announced it would change the way it undertakes promotions — tasking those outside the department with grading and evaluating promotional tests, instead of doing it in-house.

• Meanwhile, Chief Blackwell and the CPD are undertaking community listening sessions to get residents’ input on ways to curb the recent uptick in violent crime in the city. Last night, the department held a listening session in Roselawn, where a large group of residents weighed in. Better economic opportunities, recreation facilities and tighter gun control were all ways suggested to curb the violence. Another listening session will take place tonight in Avondale at the Urban League on Reading Road.

• A local video claiming to detail the emotional and physical aftermath of a break-in in Evanston has gained traction on YouTube, garnering well more than half a million views in just two days. Ron Moon, who says he made the video after he was assaulted by burglars June 3 at the community center he is working to establish in the neighborhood, has parlayed that recognition into a fundraising campaign for the center. That crowdfunding drive for 1853 Kinney Street, the nascent community center, has raised more than $38,440 in the last 16 hours. The emotional video features Moon, bloody and bruised, talking about the ways economic and other disadvantages encourage crimes like the break-in he says he experienced. Moon says three men and two women forced entry into the building, which Moon’s father purchased decades ago, and when he confronted them, they beat him and left.

• Let’s jump straight to national news, where Democratic senators are pushing hard for stringent regulations on the payday loan industry. That’s a big issue for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who earlier this year proposed a law that would allow those targeted most often by payday loan companies to borrow from their federal income tax returns instead. Other Democrats in the Senate, meanwhile, are working to get what they call “debt trap protection rules” passed, which would limit the industry’s ability to make high-interest-rate loans. Opponents of the payday loan business model say it sets incredibly high interest rates that trap low-income borrowers in a cycle of debt. Under the new rules, lenders would either have to verify income and ability to repay debt or limit the amount loaned to low-income customers.




by Nick Swartsell 10.02.2015 65 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Will the Freedom Center get a charter school?; Sheriff Jones won't run for Boehner's seat; Vatican clarifies on Kim Davis visit

Hey all! Here’s a brief news rundown for your Friday. Let’s get to the weekend already.

Is a charter school coming to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center? It could happen, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Carpe Diem is a charter sponsored by Cincinnati Public Schools that operates out of Aiken High School. The school has expressed interest in opening up another CPS-sponsored charter in the Freedom Center, though nothing official has been planned yet. The charter’s CEO has said he’d be interested in having the school open as soon as next fall, though CPS has yet to make a decision about whether it wants another charter, saying such a school would need to perform as well or better than traditional public schools in the city. CPS currently sponsors two charters. Charters in Cincinnati and Ohio in general have a mixed record over the past decade, with some performing as well or better than public schools while many others have lagged and been shut down for performance issues or ethics violations.

• What’s the most Instagramed spot in Ohio? It’s the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, according to a review of social media data by travel website busbud.com. The site looked at which attractions in every state generated the most hashtags on the popular, Facebook-owned image-posting social media app. The zoo joins the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the White House in D.C. and the Space Needle in Seattle as one of the most popular spots for ‘gramming in the country. I would have guessed Washington Park, but yeah. Pretty cool for the zoo.

• Apologies in advance for fans of Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones, because I have some disappointing news for you. The staunchly anti-immigrant sheriff, who has gained a national profile due to his aggressive stance on conservative issues and appearances on talk shows discussing those views, won’t be running for U.S. Rep. John Boehner’s congressional seat. As we reported last week, Jones had indicated he was interested in campaigning for the spot, which Boehner vacated Friday after years of fighting with congressional conservatives as speaker of the house. But Jones has since announced that, while Congress could “use someone like him,” he’s better off staying in Butler County.

• A Chicago-based investor in ResponsibleOhio’s plan to legalize marijuana in the state has backed out, according to the group. Meanwhile, Youngstown-based Brian Kessler, whose father invented the Hula-Hoop, is in to take his place. Kessler is now one of the 22 investors who have gone public about their role funding ResponsibleOhio’s drive to pass an amendment to the Ohio constitution that would legalize marijuana and create 10 constitutionally mandated grow sites across the state. The identity of another 30 investors has not been made public by the group.

• So everyone got all riled up about the Pope’s visit with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis last week. Now the Vatican is clarifying that meeting... kind of. Davis, you’ll remember, refused to issue marriage licenses even in the wake of this summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. Davis was eventually found in contempt of court and went to jail for her refusal on religious grounds to issue the licenses. Fast forward a bit. Davis recently revealed that when the pope was here in the U.S. a couple weeks back, she was granted a 15-minute visit with the religious leader. This was something of a shock to many progressives, who were still applauding Pope Francis' statements before Congress on climate change and income inequality. Many, of course, took the visit as a signal that the pope agreed with Davis on her stand. Now, however, the Vatican is saying that the visit was requested by Davis and doesn’t mean that the pope supported her point of view or her actions. Annnnnd… that’s about all the church said. So. Hm.

• Finally, you’ve certainly already heard about the horrific school shooting in Oregon yesterday, but it seems strange not to mention it in a news round up. So here’s a story with what we know so far. As your humble morning news blogger, can I suggest we simply pause to feel for those involved and not instantly begin fighting about this? No? OK.

That’s it for me. Twitter, email, etc. You know what’s up.

by Nick Swartsell 10.01.2015 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

City passes paternity leave plan; Denise Driehaus to run for county commish; state passes "ban the box" legislation

Hey hey! Good morning Cincy. How’s it going? Here’s what’s up in the news today.

Yesterday the city officially announced the results of a long-awaited study about disparities in the companies it hires to take on taxpayer-funded projects as well as several measures it plans to take to address those inequities. According to the Croson Study, only about 2.7 percent of the city’s contracts went to black-owned businesses and only about 6.2 percent went to businesses owned by women. This despite the fact that black and women owned businesses in the city have the capacity to do 20 percent of that work, the study says. You can read more about the study and the city’s proposed solutions, which include race and gender-based contracting requirements, in our online story yesterday. City contracts represent more than $1 billion in spending, and city officials say getting that pie split up more equitably could go a long way toward addressing the deep economic inequalities in the city.

• Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed legislation that gives all city employees six weeks of parental leave after they have or adopt a baby, including 28 days at 70 percent of their pay. Council members Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson proposed the new paternity leave policy, which the city administration estimates will cost about $225,000 a year. Council voted 7-2 to pass the proposal. Seelbach, Simpson and other backers say the slight cost to the city is worth it, saying it’s the right thing to do and that it will help the city recruit the best and brightest employees. Council members Kevin Flynn and Amy Murray voted against the measure, in part because they believe leave offered to employees should be decided through negotiations with the city employees union.

• One of Cincinnati’s iconic but currently empty churches will be born again as an event center, developers say. Towne Properties, which has its headquarters in a portion of the building, will redevelop the former Holy Cross Monastery, which overlooks the city from its lofty perch in Mount Adams, turning it into an upscale space for weddings and other events.  The church has been empty since 1977, and Towne has owned it since 1980. The developer has been puzzled over what to do with the property, considering a hotel or office space for the building. But none of that worked out on paper and so the historic 12,000-square-foot church, built in 1873, has remained empty except for some pretty amazing art exhibits that have popped up from time to time there. I remember seeing Shinji Turner-Yamamoto’s beautiful Global Tree Project at the monastery back in the day. It’s an incredible place.

• Democrat State Rep. Denise Driehaus has officially announced she’s running for Hamilton County commissioner against sitting Republican commish Greg Hartmann next year. Driehaus, a Clifton resident with a long history of service in local and state politics, is prohibited by term limits from running for another stint as state rep. Hartmann first got the commissioners job in 2008 when he ran unopposed for the post, replacing outgoing commish Pat DeWine. Before that, he mounted an unsuccessful bid for Ohio Secretary of State.

• The Ohio General Assembly yesterday passed so-called “ban the box” legislation that strikes questions about prospective employees’ criminal records from public job applications. The state struck a similar question from its job applications in June, but now an application for any public job in Ohio won’t have questions about an applicant’s criminal history. Proponents say that will help ex-offenders get a new start and decrease the chances they’ll end up in prison again. You can read about the ban the box effort in our in-depth feature story on the subject published in June.

• Finally, in national news, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is raising nearly as much money as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the two duel it out in the Democratic primary for the 2016 presidential nomination. Sanders raised $26 million in the last fundraising quarter to presumed frontrunner Clinton’s $28 million. That’s kind of crazy because Sanders is an independent, not a Democrat, and he’s been running around for years telling people he’s a socialist. Not exactly the most obvious path to the White House. Clinton, meanwhile, is named Clinton and has the vast fundraising network of her former president husband Bill and plenty of backers from her time as a senator. But then, when the top GOP contender for the presidential nomination is Donald Trump, all the rules we all thought were well understood and set in stone go flying out the window.

That’s it for me! Email or tweet at me and let me know if Washington Park is open to us commoners (aka the public) today. You know what I'm talking about if you passed by yesterday.

by Nick Swartsell 09.30.2015 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 02:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

City Unveils Efforts to Address Contracting Disparities

Croson Study reveals that minority and women owned businesses receive few contracts, have capacity to do much more

City of Cincinnati officials today unveiled the final draft of a long-awaited study of gender and racial disparities in the city’s contracting practices, as well as ordinances that might address some of those inequalities, including race and gender based requirements for contractors.

The so-called Croson Study shows that between 2009 and 2013, black-owned businesses were awarded only 2.7 percent of the city’s contracts, totaling about $5 million, despite blacks making up more than 45 percent of the city’s population. Businesses owned by women fared only slightly better during the study’s time frame, getting only 6.2 percent of the city’s contracts. Eighteen percent of busineses in Cincinnati are owned by blacks, and nearly 30 percent are owned by women.

Mayor John Cranley cast the report as a positive step toward more equitable contracting for the city.

“We’re finally here after a long amount of hard work,” Cranley said during a ceremony today at City Hall featuring a wide array of about two dozen city officials, faith leaders, members of the business community, activists and others. “We have a lot of great things happening in the city, but we’re not perfect, and, clearly, the city’s procurement process has not reflected the diversity of our city.” 

Councilman Wendell Young also praised the study, but sounded a much more somber note.

“Since we’ve confirmed what we already know, how hard are we willing to work to address the problems?” he asked. “It’s true that the city of Cincinnati is making great progress. It’s also true that a significant part of this community is not feeling that progress. Cincinnati has many distinctions that we’re not proud of."

Young citing the city’s sky-high infant mortality, childhood poverty and black unemployment rates.

“Today we’re at the point where we have the road map and the confirmation. From today on we find out if we have the political will, the ability, the skill and whether the work we do can make a difference. We won’t be the first, but we’re going to find a way to make this work. And if we can’t do that, heaven help us all.”

The report also revealed that 70 percent of the city's $1.2 billion in prime contracts went to a small group of businesses, a fact that many on city council found disturbing.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman said that fact should make not just minority and female-owned businesses angry, but anyone who has competed for a city contract.

"That's one hell of a country club," he said.

Cranley touted steps the city has already taken toward diversifying its contracting, including recently establishing the city’s new Department of Economic Inclusion and making changes to its Small Business Enterprise (SBE) program. But he also said the Croson Study and its suggestions are huge parts of the solution.

The study makes several suggestions for improvements in the city’s contracting process on four different monetary levels, from under $5,000 to more than $250,000, on both the prime contract and subcontract levels. Some recommended solutions are based on race and gender categories, while others are neutral.

On the subcontracting level, Cincinnati City Council will consider ordinances which create a Minority Business Enterprise program and a Women Business Enterprise program, allowing such businesses to compete with each other for certain set-aside contracts.

On the much larger prime contracting level, businesses will be given points on some bids if they are at least 51 percent owned by minorities or women.

Some council members, including Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, want the city to go farther in ensuring better equity in awarding contracts at the $1 billion prime contracting level. Both Simpson and Councilman Chris Seelbach offered pointed questions about what more could be done at the prime contracting level to ensure a greater piece of that large pie goes to minority- and women-owned businesses.

The city usually awards prime contracts to companies, which then hire subcontractors. City Manager Harry Black pointed out that the city will make requirements for businesses winning prime bids as to the level of minority subcontractors they should hire. Businesses winning contracts with the city of more than $50,000 will be required to subcontract 17 percent black-owned businesses for construction work and 14 percent black-owned businesses for other services, and 14 and 16 percent businesses owned by women for those categories respectively.

One recommendation made by the Croson Study that the city has not yet considered is ending so-called master agreements, or contracts with companies that can be used by multiple city departments on separate projects and which can be subject to multi-year renewals without re-bidding.

“The city should eliminate the use of master agreements and follow the competitive bidding standards for all contracts,” the study states in its conclusion.

One point that every city official agrees upon, however, is that minority- and female-owned businesses are up to the task of doing more projects on taxpayers' behalf.

The study shows that black-owned businesses in the city have the capacity to take on up to 20 percent of the city’s contracts. Businesses owned by women see a similar capacity gap: The report shows female-owned businesses have the ability to tackle another 20 percent of the city’s contracts.

“To all my colleagues here, please do not use the word ‘capacity,’ " Smitherman said.

Though the report is clear, the details involved in increasing minority contracts awarded by the city are complex. Part of the complication comes from the legal realities around what the city can and can’t do to increase minority contracting.

The Croson Study gets its name from a U.S. Supreme Court case, City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson, in which the Virginia city was sued by a contractor over its contract diversity initiatives. The Supreme Court ruled Richmond’s setbacks of contracts for minority businesses unconstitutional and set a standard of strict scrutiny, the highest legal standard, for municipal contracting diversity programs.

That means that cities risk lawsuits if they don’t demonstrate a very clear need to enact gender- or race-specific contracting guidelines and cannot show that those guidelines are narrowly tailored to address disparities without discriminating against other businesses.

Cincinnati has already been through such a lawsuit in 2004, when Cleveland Construction Company unsuccessfully sued the city over its contracting diversity policies. The company claimed that the city’s Small Business Enterprise (SBE) program, which was used in part to score the bids from Cleveland and other companies, created unconstitutional racial and gender classifications and violated its rights to equal protection under the 14th Amendment. An initial decision from the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas agreed with that claim, and the city amended the race- and gender-related parts of its SBE program. The case went all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, which eventually ruled in favor of the city.

The Croson Study offers some protection from future lawsuits, say city officials and representatives from Mason Tillman Associates, which conducted the 338-page report. The report quantifies the extent of Cincinnati’s contracting diversity problems and puts forward recommendations, many poised to be passed by council, that are tailored to address them.

“It gives us a legal basis to do what we need to do to be a city that will work for everybody and not just for a few,” Cranley said.

by Natalie Krebs 09.30.2015 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Campbell County Schools superintendent retires after domestic violence charges; child poverty still a problem for Cincy; Kim Davis meets the Pope?

Good morning, Cincinnati! Here are your morning headlines. 

• Campbell County Schools Superintendent Glen Miller abruptly announced his retirement after he was charged with domestic violence. Miller has been on paid administrative leave since he was arrested last Wednesday night at his Erlanger home after his daughter called 911 to report that he has struck his wife in the head and neck. Miller told police his wife's injuries were a result of an accident, but his story didn't quite match his wife and daughter's versions. He was booked into Kenton County Detention Center and charged with domestic violence that same evening just after midnight and released the following afternoon. Miller has been superintendent of Campbell County Schools for four years. His retirement will go into effect November 1. In the meantime, Associate Superintendent Shelli Wilson will be placed in charge of the district. 

• Cincinnati State is considering a partnership with private testing and consulting firm Pearson to attempt to boost its enrollment and retention rates. The college seems to have hit a rough patch. Current enrollment is just below 10,000, 10 percent lower than a year ago, it faces a state-mandated tuition freeze and president O'dell Owens recently departed after tensions with the board of trustees. Cincinnati State is reportedly discussing a 10-year contract with Pearson that would give the company control of its $550,000 marketing and recruiting budget in exchange for 20 percent of students' tuition recruited above the college's quota of 4,000. If it goes through, this contract would be the first for the New York-based company, which earns much of its revenue through K-12 standardized test preparation. Given the college's not-so-great reputation for relying heavily on test scores, the college's faculty senate has urged the administration to wait on the contract until the results of spring recruitment are in. 

• Child poverty is down in Cincinnati, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, but the rate is way above state and national averages. According to the survey, child poverty is down to 44.1 percent from 51.3 percent in 2012, but it's double the national average of 21.7 percent and near double the state average of 22.9 percent. City Health Commissioner Noble Maseru has suggested targeting the poorest zip codes first to begin to further bringing that number down, but no concrete plan has been put in place. 

• Infamous Rowan County clerk Kim Davis apparently secretly met with Pope Francis. According to Davis's lawyer, officials sneaked Davis and her husband, Joe, into the Vatican Embassy in Washington D.C. last Thursday afternoon where the Pope gave her rosary beads and told her to "stay strong." During his first visit to the U.S., Pope Francis did not publicly support Davis by name but instead stated that "conscious objection is a right that is a part of every human right." Davis spent time in the Carter County Detention Center for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She and her husband were conveniently already in Washington D.C. to accept an award from conservative group, the Family Research Council. 

• Cincinnati is a travel hotspot, or at least, "on the verge of a hip explosion," according to Forbes Travel Guide. According to the magazine, Cincinnati has a hilly landscape much like San Francisco's without the San Francisco prices, and the newly gentrified, or "revitalized," Over-the-Rhine is like Brooklyn before the hipsters took it over. Other reasons the third-largest city in Ohio makes "the perfect weekend getaway" include Skyline cheese coneys, a ton of German beers and Kentucky whiskeys to choose from and a "surprisingly impressive array of luxury hotel options." 

That's it for today! Email is nkrebs@citybeat.com, and I'd love to hear from you!            

by Nick Swartsell 09.29.2015 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sen. Mitch McConnell

Morning News and Stuff

Study finds gender, racial disparities in city contracting; Mount Auburn clinic will stay open pending appeal; Ziegler Park plan presented in OTR

Good morning all. Here’s the news today.

A study covering the last five years of city of Cincinnati contracting found that the city hasn’t hired nearly as many minority and women-owned businesses as it should for taxpayer-funded jobs. The 338-page study on racial disparities, called the Croson Study, was conducted by outside researchers with public policy research firm Mason Tillman Associates. Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black said in a memo yesterday that the study reveals a “demonstrated pattern of disparity” in city contracting. He says ordinances are being drafted by the city administration to address those disparities. The study suggests both race and gender neutral fixes as well as those that rely on race and gender preferences. The latter are legally dicey: The city could face lawsuits over race and gender preferences in hiring, even if it has evidence that its current methods for ensuring equity in its contracting practices aren’t working.

• Cincinnati’s last remaining women’s health clinic that provides abortions will stay open as it appeals a decision by the Ohio Department of Health denying it a license. The Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn lost its license under a new state law slipped into this year’s budget that gives the ODH just 60 days after an application is received to renew a clinic’s license. In the past, it has taken the ODH more than a year to do so for the Cincinnati clinic. Planned Parenthood, which runs the facility, is suing the state over the law, which it says presents an undue burden on women seeking abortions. The Mount Auburn clinic would have to close Thursday if not for the appeal. If it shuts down, Cincinnati will become the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to an abortion provider. Another clinic in Dayton faces a similar situation, and if it also closed down, only seven clinics would remain in the state, and none would remain in Southwestern Ohio. A rally supporting Planned Parenthood is planned for 11 a.m. today at the Mount Auburn location.

• Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank has agreed to pay more than $18 million to settle claims it engaged in discriminatory lending practices against minorities seeking auto loans. A federal investigation into Fifth Third’s lending practices through car dealerships found that the bank’s guidelines to dealers left a wide latitude of pricing discretion for loans. That discretion led directly to more expensive loans for qualified black and Hispanic buyers than were given to qualified white buyers, according to the feds. Minority car buyers paid an average of $200 more than white buyers due to those discrepancies, according to the investigation. The question is whether those dealers were more or less uniformly charging minorities slightly more than white buyers, or if some dealerships charged minorities a lot more and others played by the straight and narrow. Fifth Third points out that it didn’t make these loans itself, but merely purchased them from the dealers. The bank maintains it treats its customers equally. The bank will pay another $3.5 million in an unrelated settlement over deceptive credit card sales practices some telemarketers with the bank engaged in, according to federal investigators.

• Last night, representatives with 3CDC, the city and planning firm Human Nature held a presentation and listening session unveiling their plans for a revamped Ziegler Park. Their $30 million proposal includes revamped basketball courts, a new pool in the northern section of the park and a quiet, tree-lined green space above a new parking garage across the street. Ziegler sits along Sycamore Street across from the former School for Creative and Performing Arts on the border of Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton. An Indianapolis developer, Core Redevelopment, is currently renovating the SCPA building into luxury apartments. This change, along with others in the rapidly developing neighborhoods, has spurred increased concerns about gentrification in the area. Some who are wary of the park say the proposed renovation could play into a dynamic where long-term, often minority residents in the neighborhood are made to feel unwelcome or even priced out. 3CDC officials say they’ve taken steps to make sure neighborhood wishes for the park are honored. Last night’s meeting was the final of four input sessions the developer has undertaken.

• It’s not often you get two different Zieglers in the news, but today is one of those days. The Cincinnati Visitor’s Bureau has hired a new national sales manager who will focus on marketing to the LGBT community. David Ziegler will head up the group’s pitch to LGBT groups, which CVB has already made strides on. The visitor’s bureau has been working with area hotels to get them certified as LGBT-friendly and has worked to bring LGBT conventions and meetings to the city.

• Finally, after House Speaker John Boehner’s abrupt exit last week (which you can read more about in this week’s news feature out tomorrow), you might be concerned for his squinty-eyed Republican friend in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell represents Kentucky and also holds the most powerful role in the prestigious legislative body, ushering through waves of conservative legislation.

But that’s where it’s tough for McConnell: Republicans in the Senate have a very slim majority that isn’t adequate to pass things beyond a Democratic filibuster or presidential veto. McConnell has taken a beating over this in the past from tea party radicals like Sen. Ted Cruz in much the same way Boehner did in the House, leading many staunch conservatives to call for his head next. But it’s unlikely the 74-year-old McConnell will be toppled the way Boehner was anytime soon, this Associated Press story argues, due to the nature of the Senate and McConnell’s strong support from his more moderate GOP colleagues.

by Natalie Krebs 09.28.2015 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
WWE Boehner

Morning News and Stuff

Boehner resigns and slams fellow Republicans; Health Department denies Planned Parenthood license; Kasich targets Iowa

Good morning, Cincinnati! There was a lot going on around the city this weekend, and I hope everyone got out and enjoyed something, whether it was Midpoint Music Festival, Clifton Fest or the "blood" supermoon eclipse last night. Here are today's headlines. 

• In case you were distracted by having too much fun this weekend, Speaker of the House and West Chester native John Boehner announced his resignation on Friday. Boehner met with Pope Francis on Thursday and apparently that night before going to bed told his wife that he'd had enough. Boehner has served as House speaker for five years and declined to say what he has planned next at the news conference on Friday.  

Boehner then spoke to CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday where he assured the nation that there will be no government shutdown and fired some shots at uncompromising Republicans, like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, calling them "false prophets." Boehner was facing a potential vote that would remove him from his position so the House could pass a bill that would include a provision that would defund Planned Parenthood, an uncompromising demand that conservatives are making in order to pass the budget. The move hasn't sat well at all with Boehner. "Our founders didn't want some parliamentary system where, if you won the majority, you got to do whatever you wanted. They wanted this long, slow process," he told CBS. More coverage on Boehner's resignation to come this week in CityBeat.

• Speaking of shutting down Planned Parenthood, Cincinnati could potentially become the largest metropolitan area without an abortion clinic. State health officials denied licenses to the Planned Parenthood in Mount Auburn and the Women's Med clinic in Dayton. Both clinics were unable to find a private hospital to create a patient-transfer agreement with as required by a recently passed Ohio state law and requested an exemption from the Ohio Department of Health. The move could shut down the last two abortion providers in southwestern Ohio and reduce the number of surgical abortion providers in Ohio to seven. There were 14 in 2013. Both facilities have 30 days to request a hearing to appeal the denial, and Planned Parenthood has already said it plans to. 

• Former Cincinnati Police Capt. Gary Lee will run for Hamilton County sheriff. Lee, who was with the Cincinnati Police Department for 33 years, will run against Democratic incumbent Jim Neil. During his time with the CPD, Neil worked in the vice unit, special services section, and was District 1 captain.

• Gov. John Kasich is targeting the Feb.1 Iowa caucuses in the wake of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's departure from the presidential race. Kasich has most recently focused on finishing strong in New Hampshire, which has a history of favoring more moderate Republicans, but now has shifted his focus to Iowa where he hopes a strong finish can help him in the Michigan and Ohio primaries. Kasich is reportedly following a strategy used in 2012 by then-Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who did win New Hampshire and the Republican nomination, but ultimately lost the election. 

• NASA says it will reveal a major finding about Mars this morning. The space agency is keeping quiet about what exactly it found, but I'm hoping it's Martians. The Guardian thinks it could have to something to do with finding evidence of water on the planet, and they have more evidence to back up their prediction. Either way, it'll be exciting. 

• Didn't stay up late to watch last night's supermoon eclipse? It was pretty awesome, but congratulations on getting more sleep than many other Cincinnatians. If you missed out or just want to relive the experience this morning, you can check out some pretty cool photos here. 

That's all for now. Email me at nkrebs@citybeat.com with any story tips.   

by Natalie Krebs 09.24.2015 10 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
news1_protester_7-9 copy

Morning News and Stuff

Cincy community college president steps down; Wright State University to host presidential debate; Ohio senate introduces bill to defund Planned Parenthood

Good morning, Cincy! Here are your morning headlines. 

Cincinnati State Technical and Community College President Dr. O'dell Owens has stepped down to become the medical director of the Cincinnati Health Department. Cincinnati's health commission approved Owens' appointment Tuesday night, and he stepped down Wednesday evening after he reportedly felt like tensions between him and the college's board of trustees made it to difficult for him to continue. Provost Monica Posey will serve as interim president of the college and the school will launch a nationwide search for a permenant replacement. The position of medical director has been open since July 1 when Dr. Lawrence Holditch retired. 

• Wright State University in Dayton is set to host the first presidential debate next fall. The school has already created a website for the much-anticipated event that will take place almost exactly a year from now on September 26, 2016. Many details, such as the format of the debate or number of candidates that will participate, are still uncertain at this time. But if you're wondering how much time left until this action packed event down to the second, the debate's official website includes a countdown. Just 368 days, 10 hours, 34 minutes and 8 seconds to go (ed. note: that's now 368 days, 10 hours, 29 minutes and 16 seconds left to go, errr... 15 seconds... 14... ah)... 

• Need a new job? Ride-sharing service Uber will double its workforce next year by adding 10,000 news drivers to Ohio, including 3,000 in Columbus, which currently has 2,500 registered drivers. Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger has called the addition a "monumental task," and State Legislators are considering a bill that would make transportation regulations for Uber. In the meantime, Uber will start hosting recruitment events over the next few months. This announcement bring me one step closer to selling my car. Now, if only Cincinnati could attract Car2Go to come here, I'd be set. 

• Republican Senate President Keith Faber has introduced a bill to divert government funds from Planned Parenthood. A similar bill was introduced into the House in August. The move comes after the release of controversial footage recorded by anti-abortion activists that shows a Planned Parenthood official describing how the group benefits from selling fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood claims it has broken no laws and that the video is heavily edited. But it had lead to a push by Republicans across the country to defund the health clinics.

• More local Muslim leaders have spoken out against GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson's comments the former physician made saying he wouldn't support a Muslim president. Carson, who is a Seven-Day Adventist, told Meet the Press on Sunday that he would not advocate for a Muslim as president. Roula Allouch, an attorney who chairs the Council on American-Islamic Relations told the Enquirer she questions Carson's ability to run for president after making "very bigoted remarks," which shows a lack of basic knowledge of the Constitution and Islamic relations. Carson addressed his comments during his visit to Sharonville on Tuesday claiming they were taken out of context.                   

Email me at nkrebs@citybeat.com. I'm out for today!
by Nick Swartsell 09.23.2015 11 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

No fed money for CPD body cams, but some for extra cops; should Burnet Woods change?; Kasich schmoozes on late night TV

Hey hey! Here’s what’s going on around the city today.

The Cincinnati Police Department won’t get federal money to supply officers with body cameras, but that won’t stop CPD from equipping its officers with the technology. The department has planned on purchasing the cameras for months, and the issue became even more urgent after footage from a body camera worn by University of Cincinnati Police officer Ray Tensing revealed that he more than likely acted improperly in the shooting death of black motorist Samuel DuBose at a routine traffic stop in July. UC police are required to wear the cameras. CPD officers aren’t yet, but that will change. The city says its goal is to begin equipping officers with the cameras by next May. Meanwhile, CPD will get help from the feds in other ways. Yesterday, the city announced the department will get a $1.9 million federal grant to add 15 more officers for three years.

• Do you like Burnet Woods? Or does it scare you? If you’re like the author of this editorial, it’s probably the latter, though you've only been there once so maybe give it another try. One of the oft-mentioned projects that could be funded by a proposed property tax levy to fund improvements to the city’s parks is a revamp of the urban forest just north of UC’s campus. That’s not surprising; in the past, Mayor John Cranley, who is pushing the tax proposal, has called the park “creepy” because… well, basically, because it has too many trees. He’s described his vision for the park as something akin to Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine, which underwent a multi-million renovation in 2011. I just want to be a contrarian voice here: Don’t change the woods. They’re lovely. I’m in there at least a few times a week, and I always see other folks there running, fishing, riding their bikes — all the things the mayor and others who want a revamp say they wish people did there. Having a densely wooded area in the midst of such a bustling set of neighborhoods is wonderful. What’s more, it doesn’t seem to impact crime in any way. If you’re curious, here are reported crimes in Burnet in the last year. Notice anything? Yeah, there was like, one.

 • Efforts to develop the riverfront in Northern Kentucky will get a big boost from state grants. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Gov. Steve Beshear have awarded the city of Covington nearly $4 million in Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grants, the city announced yesterday. That money will be used toward a $10 million walking and biking path along the Ohio River along with other upgrades to the area. A total of $5.4 million in CMAQ grants will go to Northern Kentucky, according to the a news release by the city.

• North College Hill Mayor Amy Bancroft has resigned, citing acrimony between herself and the City Council in the municipality just north of Cincinnati as one of many reasons for her departure. Bancroft said the atmosphere in city government “borders on harassment and bullying” and that the workplace is a “toxic environment.” At least one city council member has fired back at those accusations, saying that it’s the city administration led by Bancroft that has caused the toxic environment and that council merely sought transparency from the administration. Bancroft was appointed to the position after the previous mayor Daniel Brooks left the position. Brooks had served as mayor for three decades. Bancroft was up for election this fall, but will not register as a candidate. Besides the tumultuous atmosphere in city government, Bancroft said she was resigning to spend more time with her family.

• OK, so I know you’ve been waiting. It’s time for your daily update on Gov. John Kasich. Last night he appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers and joked about his dance moves, his low polling numbers and the fact that he’s a Steelers fan and is still somehow governor of Ohio. Not really much new here on the policy front, or in terms of campaign strategies. But Meyers did give Kasich props for running what he called a “reasonable” campaign in the midst of the Trumps and Cruzes getting all crazy-like. It’s yet another moment in which Kasich is working hard to sell himself as the plain-speaking moderate who is friends with the working class average Joe and Jane. Again, many of his tax policies and attempts to bust up public unions might suggest otherwise, but in a field where folks like former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker can get drummed out of the race for not being conservative enough, you have to take what you can get when it comes to “reasonability.” Walker and Perry bailing on the primary hasn’t seemed to help Kasich much yet, but only having to duel, like, 13 other people instead of 15 probably can’t hurt.

• Finally, the Pope is hanging out in America. It’s a big deal. He said some stuff about climate change and income inequality. Conservatives are angry. Etc. You’ve heard this one already so I’ll just stop there.

I’m out! Twitter. Email.  You know how it goes.

by Natalie Krebs 09.22.2015 12 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Ben Carson comes to Cincinnati; Hamilton County Sheriff's Department gets body cams; VW gets caught cheating

Hey Cincinnati! Has everyone recovered from all the beer and brats consumed during Oktoberfest? No, not yet? I haven't either. But it was worth it, right? While we take that slow road to recovery, here are today's headlines. 

• GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson is making his first public appearance this morning in Cincinnati after his controversial remarks that a Muslim should not be president and that Islam goes against the U.S. Constitution. Carson, who will be rallying in Sharonville this morning, disappointed Muslims everywhere when he told NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday that he "would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation." The Cincinnati office of the Council on American Islamic Relations recently stated that Carson should probably read the Constitution a little closer. Carson, a devout Seven-Day Adventist and retired neurosurgeon, is currently a close second behind Donald Trump in polls for the GOP nomination. He will speak at the Sharonville Convention Center to rally support in the Ohio presidential primary, which takes place on March 15, 2016. 

• Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's son, Pat, will be running for the one of the two empty seats on the Ohio Supreme Court next year. The younger DeWine is a Republican and currently on the 1st Ohio District Court of Appeals. He is also a former Hamilton County judge. There is no announced Democratic contender yet. Two current justices are retiring next year because they have hit the mandatory age limit of 70. 

• The U.S. Department of Justice will give the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department a grant for just under $140,000 to purchase body cameras. The grant requires a 50/50 match with department funds, a "robust" training and was part of a $23 million program to get body cameras in 73 other agencies across the country.  

• The Ohio Historic Site Preservation Advisory Board is considering a recommendation to put Cincinnati's Heberle School on the National Register of Historical Places. The school, located in the West End, was build in 1929 as an elementary school to serve and aid the low-income population in the area. It was one of the schools developed during the Progressive Movement in the 1920s to fix some of the social issues caused by the industrial revolution. The board will review the property on Friday to decide whether to pass it along to the State Historic Preservation Office. 

• Last weekend was a great time to celebrate all things German, but probably not the best time to buy a certain German-made car. Volkswagen is in big trouble for cheating after U.S regulators found that some of its 2015 diesel cars were equipped with software that gave false emissions data. The company revealed today that the problem is not just in its U.S. cars, but also in 11 million of VW cars worldwide. In the two days since the scandal erupted, VW's stock has dropped 20 percent and the company has told U.S. dealers to halt the sale of some 2015 diesel models. The problem looks like it will be a hefty cost to the German automaker. VW has set aside $7.3 billion to cover the cost of fixing the cars and could face fines of up to $18 billion from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

• Pope Francis will be making his first visit to the U.S. today after wrapping up his time on the Cuban beaches. The Pope will be here until next Sunday and then will visit Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia. He will reportedly give a speech to Congress addressing climate change, a move that is throwing off some Republicans lawmakers, like Rep. Paul Gosar, a Catholic from Arizona, who support one and not the other. Gosar plans to boycott the speech. 

That's all for today. As always, my email is nkrebs@citybeat.com.

by Nick Swartsell 09.21.2015 13 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Noon News and Stuff

Rally remembering police shooting victims draws 100; did weed legalization effort create a biz tax loophole?; Kasich cuts a rug

Good morning all! Hope you're recovering from your Oktoberfest weekend. CityBeat's news team did the Hudy 7k (not the 14k because we're weak), which is basically an Oktoberfest pre-game that involves running some miles and then drinking free beers and eating free cheese coneys and goetta sliders at 9:30 in the morning. It's a good way to get all limbered up for the world's second-largest Oktoberfest, and also a great way to completely incapacitate yourself for an entire Sunday.

Anyway, here’s what’s up today.

• About 100 people, including the families of several unarmed people killed by police in Ohio in the last year, rallied Saturday on the campus of University of Cincinnati to remember Samuel DuBose and protest his death.
DuBose, who was unarmed, was shot July 19 during a routine traffic stop about a mile from campus in Mount Auburn by former UC police officer Ray Tensing. Tensing has since been charged with murder for that shooting. The rally ended with a march to the spot where DuBose was shot. A break-off march down Calhoun Street near UC’s campus resulted in four arrests. Video of that march seems to show a Cincinnati Police officer using a Taser on one marcher. Police have not released the charges against the four arrested during the march.

• By now, you’re probably familiar with ResponsibleOhio, the marijuana-legalization group that has landed an amendment to the state’s constitution on the November ballot. But did you know that the amendment as written might provide a state business tax loophole for businesses involved in selling marijuana? Some business tax experts say the inclusion of the word “local” in a clause within the amendment proposal would allow businesses related to the marijuana effort to forego paying state taxes on flow-through income. The proposal’s 10 grow sites, which would be owned by investors, would have to pay a flat tax on their earnings as set forth by the amendment. So would any marijuana retail stores that spring up from the legalization effort.

The ballot language also stipulates that such businesses would also have to pay any local taxes associated with doing business. But there’s the rub: former Ohio tax commissioner Tom Zaino says “local” in that context can be read legally to exclude state taxes. ResponsibleOhio says skirting those taxes isn’t the intention, and that it included the language to make sure businesses pay all applicable tax obligations, not just municipal ones. The initiative would allow anyone over 21 to purchase marijuana, but it has caused controversy due to the fact that it would only allow 10 grow sites around the state owned by the group’s investors.

• This has been all over my social media feed, mostly posted by angry Cincy natives. What do you think about this opinion piece from a Cincinnati Enquirer reporter who recently moved here from Florida? I have my own feelings, which I guess I can sum up by saying it’s kind of a bizarre and tone-deaf thing to publish. Who comes to a city and after five months calls oneself and one’s cohort “giants in a place that needs us?” Also, who calls entertainment places “nightclubs” these days? I dunno.

There are consistently more rad things going on in this city than I can make it to in any given week. I mean, if I went to all the cool stuff Chase Public and the Comet alone do in a given seven-day stretch I’d be exhausted, and that’s just in Northside. That’s all beside the point, though. The article’s apparent focus (it’s kind of all over the place) is that the city needs to find ways to attract more young professionals, especially minority young professionals. To which I would counter that is not the city’s biggest problem. We have enough young people, especially young people of color, coming up in the city who need more support. Transplants are welcome, but we can’t remake the city according to their wishes when we have a ton of people born and raised here who aren’t getting the opportunities their potential deserves. So yeah, let’s focus on that and then maybe we can build a new nightclub for the YPs who don’t want to pay Austin prices for their next vocational adventure.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich can dance if he wants to, and he did just that Saturday night in Michigan after a GOP conference in which he made a distinctly working class pitch to Republican primary voters. Kasich danced to a Walk the Moon song for about 10 seconds, and, honestly, the results were… not disastrous. He looked slightly cooler than your dad at a wedding reception but less cool than like, someone who can actually dance. That’s a good place for a presidential candidate to be, I guess. Kasich wasn’t exactly setting the floor on fire, but it also looked like he didn’t really care that much about it, which is the true key to dancing.

If Kasich's tax policy was as inoffensive as his moves, well, Ohio would be a better place, that’s for sure. Kasich finished third in a straw poll in Michigan behind U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. Not a bad showing, but Kasich has serious ground to make up before the state’s March 8 primary. The Ohio guv continues to poll low nationally, getting around 2 percent of the vote compared to GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s 24 percent.

That’s it for me. Email or tweet at me with your best pitch for a new nightclub in Cincy. My vote? A Miami Vice-themed dance club at The Banks called Sax on the Beach where DJ Kasich spins your young professional 80s soft rock favorites.