While Congress has been wrangling back and forth for months about raising the federal minimum wage, the City of Cincinnati is doing what it can to encourage businesses to pay their employees enough to get by.
The Cincinnati Living Wage Employer Initiative will officially recognize employers paying their employees at least $10.10 an hour, the same hike congressional Democrats have been pushing in the House and Senate. The program looks to reward businesses and nonprofits that take the step, providing a website, cincinnatilivingwage.com, where consumers can check to see which businesses pay employees a fair wage.
Though the program is voluntary, the hope is that positive recognition and consumer pressure will encourage businesses to pay employees a wage that allows them to be self-sustaining.
“Although the city of Cincinnati cannot legislate a higher minimum wage–that’s left up to the state–we do feel we have a crucial role to play in creating a culture of living wage employers,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld at an Oct. 2 news conference announcing the initiative, which he’s helped push.
“Cincinnati cannot wait on Congress to take action,” he said. “But our local businesses and organizations can raise their minimum wage voluntarily and immediately, and individuals can make conscientious consumer decisions about spending their money with those employers.”
So far, four organizations, including the city, are listed as partners in the initiative. One is Cincinnati-based Grandin Properties, whose CEO Peg Wyant appeared with Sittenfeld at the Oct. 2 announcement.
Another is Pi Pizza, which is opening its first store in Cincinnati downtown at Sixth and Main Streets on Oct. 13. The company, based in St. Louis, has paid non-tipped workers at its seven locations in Missouri, Washington DC and elsewhere $10.10 an hour for five months. The company looks to employ about 100 people in Cincinnati.
Pi Pizza CEO Chris Sommers estimates about 75 percent of those employees will be hourly and not working for tips, meaning they’ll benefit from the wage boost. Sommers said the increased payroll costs are more than balanced by reduced employee turnover rates and increased productivity.
“We did it without raising prices, and we did it after extensive quantitative and qualitative analysis to make sure we could pay for it and that we could still grow and expand to cities like Cincinnati,” Sommers said of the wage boost.
He encouraged other businesses to make a similar commitment.
“If Pi Pizza can do it, you can do it,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s good for business–more people walking around, with not only more money to put gas in their cars, more money to get their cars fixed, but also more people to buy pizza. And that’s important, right?”
Boosting the minimum wage has caused a deep debate in the United States. Proponents, including President Barack Obama, who called for the boost to $10.10 during this year’s state of the union address, say that low-wage workers don’t make enough to survive easily or raise families, boosting dependence on government programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. Opponents, however, including Republicans in Congress like House Speaker John Boehner, say that it will cost businesses more and stifle job growth. Republicans also say that most low-wage jobs are held by high school students, part-time workers who aren’t trying to sustain themselves independently or raise families.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data, however, show that two-thirds of minimum wage workers are over the age of 19. Sommers said that few, if any, of the 107 employees at a recent orientation for Pi Pizza’s Cincinnati location were young students.
The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25, though 23 states, including Ohio, have a higher minimum. The highest wage in the country is in Washington State, where employers must pay adult non-tipped workers at least $9.87. Ohio’s minimum wage is currently $7.95, which will increase to $8.10 in January, thanks to a 2005 constitutional amendment that pegs the state’s minimum to inflation. Even at this new state minimum wage, however, a worker working 40 hours a week will still gross less than $17,000 a year. At $10.10, the same worker would earn $21,000– enough to put a family of three just above the federal poverty level.
“While even the higher hourly wage will leave some people vulnerable, the extra earned income represents the difference between people being able to sustain a basic existence or not,” Sittenfeld said.
Heya! CityBeat reporters fanned out across the city this morning picking up what’s happening. We’re omnipresent, omniscient and fueled by dangerous amounts of coffee. Nah, just kidding. There were two of us, and we each swooped in on a story or two. Here’s what we found.
Cincinnati Police officers in the Central Business District as well as some neighborhood-based officers will begin carrying the overdose reversal drug naloxone today. Some medical personnel with the city’s fire department already carry the antidote, but select CPD officers will carry it on a six-month trial basis since officers are usually the first on the scene of drug overdoses. If the trial is successful, the practice of carrying the antidote may be expanded throughout CPD. The drug prevents respiratory failure from overdoses of heroin and prescription opiates.
• Cincinnati’s domestic partner registry kicked off today. The registry lets same-sex couples register with the city so that employers who offer same-sex benefits can verify employees’ partner status. Councilman Chris Seelbach, who sponsored the original measure in council, held a kick-off at City Hall this morning. Several couples filled out applications and a notary was on site to notarize them. The registry will make it easier for businesses that provide same-sex partners benefits, since the companies won’t need to spend their own resources verifying couples’ partner status.
• On the other side of downtown, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld held an event announcing a voluntary initiative encouraging Cincinnati businesses to pay employees higher wages. The initiative will recognize local businesses that pay employees at least $10.10 an hour. That rate, initially proposed by President Obama, has been batted about in Congress for the last six months. The event took place at soon-to-open Pi Pizza, a St. Louis-based company that has been paying workers at its seven locations in St. Louis, Washington, DC and elsewhere $10.10 for four months. The pizzeria is located at Sixth and Main and will open Oct. 13. Along with Pi, long-time Cincinnati business Grandin Properties is also among the first organizations to be recognized by the city for paying its workers a living wage.
• Lincoln Heights Fire and Police Departments were both shuttered this morning due to a lapse in insurance coverage. Dispatchers for Hamilton County said both stopped responding to calls at midnight. Lincoln Heights leaders are meeting this morning to discuss the situation, and neighboring municipalities, including Lockland, have taken over response to emergency calls in the meantime. The Lincoln Heights Police Department has been rocked by recent allegations of corruption, though there is no indication the sudden closure of the department is related to the accusations of widespread officer misconduct.
• If you’re planning on heading to the West Side this weekend, be advised: the lower deck of the crumbling Western Hills Viaduct will be closed most of the day this Saturday for emergency repairs. The exit ramp from southbound I-75 to Harrison Ave. will also be closed until 10 a.m. that morning. The aging viaduct has been the focus of a lot of attention over the past number of months as engineers develop plans to replace it.
• State Rep. Dale Mallory is under investigation for campaign finance violations stemming from his failure to accurately report Bengals tickets he received from lobbyists. The Democrat, who hails from the West End and whose family has a half-century history in state politics, could face legal repercussions for not reporting tickets worth nearly $400 given to him by payday lender Axcess Financial and law firm Taft, Stettinius and Hollister. The lobbyists have already paid fines for failing to report the gifts. Mallory’s lawyer calls the issue a “paperwork error or technical violation” and says he is working with the Franklin County Prosecutor’s office to resolve the matter. Mallory faces misdemeanor charges for filing false disclosure forms, which could result in a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
• Kentucky’s intense Senate race may come down to one key issue: coal. This long-form piece explores how both Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes are falling over themselves to be seen as a big friend to big coal, which for years has held the fate of Kentucky in its hands. Yes, the piece is from Yahoo News. Stay with me here, it's pretty good. It’s shaping up to be the most expensive Senate race in history, and it has big implications for whether Democrats keep their slim majority there.
• Finally, Ohio is America's 44th happiest state, and Kentucky is 47th, according to a study by finance website WalletHub. Funny, I felt much less happy in the other states I've lived in, but I guess the data says that's just me and I'm a weirdo because I like it here.
Hey hey morning news readers! I’m back and ready to talk about what’s going on. So let’s go.
As we get closer to November, it’s worth taking a look at where local political action committee donations, or money to candidates from organizations like unions and businesses, are flowing. Few surprises in the data from the Ohio secretary of state: Republicans come up big in PAC money, with Gov. John Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine and others getting big ups from places like P&G, Cincinnati Bell and AK Steel. Democrats like AG candidate David Pepper and treasurer hopeful State Rep. Connie Pillich have also gotten the PAC hookup, mostly from union groups. Local PACs have contributed more than $1 million to candidates. That money doesn’t represent the total amount business owners or group members gave — they can still donate individually as well.
• Three elderly Hamilton County couples are involved in a complex tangle that could cost the state of Ohio the billions of dollars it receives Medicaid funding. Ohio has refused to pay Medicaid benefits to the couples for nursing home care due to their purchases of financial products called annuities they made in order to become income-eligible for the program. Special laws govern which annuities retired couples can buy in order to “spend down,” or reduce their assets to a level at which they’re eligible for federal aid. Lawyers for the couples say they complied with that law, and a Cincinnati U.S. District Court judge has agreed. That means Ohio is out of compliance with federal Medicaid regulations, and could lose its funding from the federal government. That would potentially cost more than 2 million Ohioans their health coverage. The judge has given the state until Oct. 3 to become compliant with the law.
• It’s almost hard to imagine this, given the long-term dearth of good employment options, but some area industries are actually running a worker shortage. Truck drivers, HVAC workers, plumbers and other so-called “medium skill” careers are losing workers to retirement fast, and fewer young workers are stepping into the vacancies. There are downsides to these industries, including long hours away from home for truck drivers, but for a roving drifter such as myself, that’s hardly a problem. Hm. I do like driving…
• Imagine you’re a 38-year-old mother of three living in a suburb of Columbus and looking for a little fun. What do you do? If you live in the state that birthed aviation, (quiet, North Carolina) you go out and get the state another milestone, becoming the first woman to fly solo around the world, that’s what. Geraldine Mock, who passed away at the age of 88 yesterday, took off from Columbus in March 1964 and raced another woman with a two-day head start for the distinction. Jerrie won, returning 29 days after departure. Her plane was old and not in the best shape, but that apparently didn’t daunt Jerrie, who first took an interest in flight at age 7. She was also undaunted by the rigid ideas about what was appropriate for a lady at the time.
“I did not conform to what girls did,” she once said in an interview. “What the girls did was boring.”
• A couple days late on this one, but it bears mentioning. The Supreme Court has issued a stay on a lower court’s ruling that prohibited Ohio’s early voting rollback. That means that new restrictions on the number of early voting days passed by Republicans are still in place for now. Lower courts ruled that the laws, which eliminated so-called “golden week” during which Ohioans could register and vote in one fell swoop, as well as some Sunday voting hours, were unconstitutional because they placed an undue burden on minority voters. The Supreme Court’s conservative justices disagreed, and with early voting already slated to have started, the ruling comes as a victory for state Republicans.
• While we're on politics, here’s U.S. Rep. John Boehner talking about how he’s still going to be speaker of the House when the next Congress reconvenes in January, and also showering Jeb Bush and Ohio-based GOP presidential possibilities with praise. His confidence in keeping his job as head of the House of Representatives is bold, considering he barely held on to the position last time and the fact that there are likely to be even more ornery tea party-types in the House this time around to give him grief. We’ll see Boehner. We’ll see.
• Finally, something even more terrifying than the prospect of another Bush in the White House and more tea partiers in Congress: A man who recently arrived in Dallas from Liberia has tested positive for Ebola. Disease experts say there is little risk of the virus becoming as widespread here due to advanced isolation and sanitation practices, but still. Ever read that book Hot Zone? Yeah, maybe don't read it right now.
Published author, poet, teacher and long-time CityBeat columnist Kathy Y. Wilson has been named Writer-in-Residence for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Wilson is the first person to take on this new position, which she will serve through November.
As Writer-in-Residence, Wilson will conduct a writer’s workshop, speak at multiple community events and participate in library promotions throughout her residency.
Wilson should be no stranger to any habitual reader of CityBeat, whose “Your Negro Tour Guide” column was a feature in each weekly edition before she abruptly ended the column in 2005. She still remains a featured contributor, providing matter-of-fact and straight from the shoulder insight on the most pressing and important issues, from the election of Barack Obama to the current transgressions of the NFL. She’s never been one to shy away from cutting and abrasive commentary, providing insight that might otherwise remain concealed or ignored.
Wilson has extensive experience in the field of journalism and writing. She is currently a senior editor at Cincinnati Magazine and an adjunct instructor of Women’s Studies and Journalism at the University of Cincinnati, and was a contributor for “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio. Her work has been recognized on multiple occasions, and she was a finalist for a National Magazine Award for her in-depth profile of conservative talk show host Bill Cunningham, being nominated alongside writers from big name publications like Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, National Geographic and New York Magazine — an achievement in and of itself.
Wilson had always dreamed of one day being featured on the shelves of a library and with multiple books to her name, that dream has been wholly accomplished. As the new Writer-in-Residence, she can help people consummate that very same dream.
Hello Cincy. I’m back with the news this morning for what will sadly be the last time this week. Texas beckons for a few days, and I must heed its hot, sweaty, libertarian call. I’ll be back this time next week, however, to talk about the news and make the cheesy, topical jokes even your one lame uncle wouldn’t touch, because someone has to do it.
Here’s a cool thing: The entire neighborhood of Lower Price Hill is getting free internet access courtesy of Cincinnati-area company Powernet. In addition, the company is donating a mobile computer lab to Lower Price Hill’s Oyler School and Community Learning Center. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld helped broker the partnership. Only 20 to 40 percent of residents in the low-income neighborhood have Internet access, according to an FCC report.
• Democratic candidates for statewide office are rallying in Washington Park this morning as part of their Tour to Restore Ohio campaign. Speakers include gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, attorney general hopeful David Pepper and state auditor candidate John Carney. FitzGerald has struggled against Republican Gov. John Kasich’s big fundraising and name recognition advantages. CityBeat covered the race between Pepper and Republican AG Mike DeWine earlier this summer.
• Another rally will be happening right across the street tonight. Write-in Hamilton County commissioner candidate Jim Tarbell is holding his campaign kickoff at Memorial Hall starting at 6 p.m. According to Tarbell’s website, the event will feature food and live music. It’s called Taste of Tarbell, which makes me wonder when the Republican incumbent in the race will launch his big rally, Smell the Monzel. Tarbell and the official Democratic candidate, Sean Patrick Feeney, an IT professional from North College Hill, are both taking on current Commissioner Chris Monzel. A majority on the commission’s three-seat board hangs in the balance.
• Some local transit advocates are pushing to get daily high-speed rail service between Cincinnati and Chicago. Seems like a cool idea, though there are some big hurdles to overcome. I for one would love to be able to jump on a train any given day and be in Chi a few hours later, since half of my friends just decided to up and move there recently, so count me in.
• Speaking of transportation, but on an entirely different scale, Cincinnati’s bike share Red Bike beat its first week goals in terms of ridership, getting nearly 1,800 trips. The nonprofit was hoping for 1,000. It was a busy weekend downtown, and roughly a quarter of those trips came on Saturday when 480 people used the service.
• A new study claims that Ohio could make $123 million in tax revenue if it legalized marijuana. Interesting. That’s not counting all the sales tax revenue generated from a special tax that could be passed on the sale of snacks, which I’m officially proposing right now as a way to fund Music Hall renovations.
• Finally, young American military veterans are experiencing much higher levels of unemployment than the general population and older vets, according to a Brookings Institute study. An opinion piece on the study talks about a big possible contributor to this troubling trend: lower levels of education among younger veterans.
Morning news, y'all!
A grand jury is convening right now, as I type, to decide whether to indict Beavercreek Police Officer Sean Williams in the death of John Crawford III. Williams shot Crawford, 22, while responding to a 911 call reporting a gunman at a Beavercreek Walmart. Crawford, however, turned out to be unarmed, carrying only a pellet gun sold at the store. Security footage taken by Walmart shows the shooting, though that footage has not been made public. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine allowed Crawford’s family and their attorney to see the tape, however, and they say it shows Crawford was not behaving in a threatening manner and was “shot on sight.” They’re calling for the grand jury to indict Officer Williams on murder charges. Beavercreek Police officials maintain that Williams acted properly to protect other patrons of the store. Marches and protests are planned in Beavercreek and other areas today in relation to the incident. The grand jury deliberations mirror similar proceedings in Ferguson, Missouri, where a grand jury was recently selected to decide whether to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of teenager Mike Brown.
• Tomorrow, police, social workers and volunteers will clean up what was once one of Cincinnati’s largest homeless camps, a seven-year-old collection of tents and improvised structures in an isolated corner of Queensgate. Police worked with social service agencies long-term to gain occupants’ trust and eventually convince them to move to safer places and seek help. The approach represents a marked departure from techniques police have used in years past to clear camps, when officers would sweep in, give residents just hours to vacate and sometimes issue trespassing citations.
• Apparently, I’m a member of the city’s one-half of one percent club. Clearly I’m not talking about my non-existent elite levels of wealth — I mean I’m a Cincinnati bike commuter. About one out of every 200 Cincinnatians bikes to work, according to Census data. Currently, the city ranks 45th in the nation for bicycle commuting. That’s a pretty low number in the grand scheme of things, but it represents a big increase over time — bike commuting is up 146 percent from a decade and a half ago.
• Speaking of rankings, Cincinnati made a Forbes list for the country’s 19 best opportunity cities. The list considers business opportunities, cost of living, unemployment rate and population growth, especially among young people, and uses that data to determine where a person has the best chance of making big waves and finding big success. Cincinnati ended up 18th on the list, coming in just above Winston-Salem, North Carolina and just below Shreveport, Louisiana. Ohio was well-represented — Columbus came in first, Toledo fourth and Akron 13th.
• P&G is distancing itself from the NFL as the league receives continued criticism over a player’s domestic violence incident. The Cincinnati-based company will pull out of a campaign in which players from each of the league’s 32 teams were to promote Crest toothpaste on social media and wear pink mouth guards during games to raise awareness for breast cancer. The company will still donate $100,000 to the American Cancer Society to raise breast cancer awareness, but will no longer be partnering with the NFL for the campaign. The move comes as the league faces continued criticism connected to revelations that Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice punched and knocked out his girlfriend in an elevator. Rice was originally suspended for two games for the domestic violence incident, but after security tapes showing the brutal attack were released, public outcry forced the league and the team to release Rice from his contract. P&G caught some of this controversy after an ad for Baltimore Ravens-themed makeup from the company’s CoverGirl brand was altered to show the ad’s model with a black eye. The altered ad went viral, focusing attention on P&G’s sponsorship relationship with the league.
• In national news, Home Depot, which was recently the victim of the biggest information theft incident ever for a retailer, had been warned for years about the security of its data, a new report in The New York Times says. The company used outdated software and insufficient data security methods to house customer data, former employees for the company say, and had been warned of the risks since at least 2008. Hackers stole data for more than 40 million credit cards from Home Depot earlier this month, information that could be used to make more than $3 billion in fraudulent purchases. What’s worse? Experts are saying this kind of data theft could be “the new normal” as more and more companies experience data theft.
* Finally, ever seen hundreds of Canadians dressed like Batman? Now you have. I heard at least one guy in there is dressed up like The Joker. See if you can find him, Where's Waldo style.
Hello all. I'm gearing up to push a beer barrel around Fountain Square at this year's Oktoberfest kick off as part of Team City Beat, so I'll be brief in this end-of-week news rundown.
Mayor John Cranley last night delivered his first State of the City address. In it, he called 2014 a banner year for Cincinnati, counting crime reduction, the creation of new jobs and the continued changes happening in Over-the-Rhine and other historic neighborhoods among the city’s bright spots. Cranley touted future plans, including an increase in the number of police officers on the beat, a jobs program called the Hand Up Initiative, and several proposals to strengthen the city’s neighborhoods, including a beer garden in Mt. Airy Forest and a new Kroger’s in Avondale. He also touched on some of the challenges the city faces, such as the high number of youth killed and injured in gun violence and the lack of inclusion in the city’s hiring and contracting practices. But he largely skimmed over some major issues in Cincinnati, including the increasing difficulty many have in finding affordable housing and the city’s abysmal infant mortality rate, among others. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at the speech, and the city’s problems and promises, right here in the news department next week.
• Mahogany’s owner Liz Rogers has backed off on her suggestion she might sue the city if it doesn’t forgive her $300,000 loan. City Manager Harry Black earlier this week gave a quick, cold “no” to the idea the city might write off the loan to avoid a lawsuit from Rogers. In a change of tone, Rogers is now asking the city to help her make a plan to pay back the money.
• I don’t need to type this, even, but I need some way to lead into this next piece, so here I am stating the obvious: demand for housing in Over-the-Rhine is at a fever pitch right now. That’s across the income spectrum, but it seems the upper end of the continuum is getting the attention right now. In response to demand for swank spaces, 3CDC is ramping up renovations on a number of new condos and townhouses. The development group has sold 51 in the neighborhood so far this year, and at the current rate, says its current supply of 21 available properties will last until spring. So it’s making plans to crank out 24 new condos and 12 new townhouses in the area around the Vine Street corridor and Washington Park. The projects, representing more than $14 million in investment, are due to start construction in the coming weeks. Though price points haven’t been set on the properties yet, it seems all will be market rate.
• Wiedemann Brewery, which made beer in Greater Cincinnati for more than a century, is on its way back to the area. Jon and Nancy Newberry brought the brand back a couple years ago, and have recently announced plans to move production to Newport, where the company originated.
• Nina Turner, Democratic candidate for Ohio Secretary of State, got big ups from former President Bill Clinton Thursday. Clinton is touting Turner as an important alternative to Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, who has been at the forefront of the party’s efforts in Ohio to roll back early voting hours.
“Elections matter and that’s why it matters to all of us who administers our elections,” Clinton said in a message sent by e-mail and letter to Ohio Democratic Party members and donors. “With Nina as Secretary of State, we can count on her to expand and protect the franchise and restore integrity and fairness to the electoral process in Ohio.”
• The House of Representatives Wednesday voted to audit the Federal Reserve to find out more about the nation’s central bank’s financial dealings. Republicans have been beating the drum on auditing the Fed pretty much since the last time they did it in 2010. But that bill, which was passed by all but one Republican and all but 91 of the House’s Democrats, came with two other bills that give big banks big perks, including significant deregulation on derivatives trading, the byzantine financial shell game that helped cause the financial crash of 2008. So Congress is interested in ferreting out dysfunction within the nation’s financial system, just so long as that dysfunction isn’t with big corporate money. Got it. It's unclear if the Senate will take up the bills.
• Finally, in international news, Scotland has voted against independence and will stick to being part of the United Kingdom. Fifty-five percent of Scottish voters said they wanted to stay a part of the UK. Scotland has been promised more autonomy as a way to keep it part of the UK, a change that could have big implications for the rest of the union, as this Reuters article explores.
Morning all! Let's jump right into the news.
Members of Cincinnati City Council have some preliminary good things to say about the Haile Foundation’s recent proposal for funding streetcar operating costs. Meanwhile, Mayor John Cranley has said he’s working on a plan of his own, and you can hear all about it… in a month or so. Vice Mayor David Mann and council members Kevin Flynn, P.G. Sittenfeld and Amy Murray all said the Haile plan was helpful as a starting point. Questions remain, however, about how much the tax plan will cost property owners in the proposed special taxing district, which will cover Downtown, Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton. Murray, who voted against the streetcar project, also questioned whether the necessary 60 percent of property owners in those districts would back the tax and said there need to be back up options in place.
Meanwhile, Cranley said he’s confident he can come up with a plan council will support that provides the almost $4 million in yearly operating costs the streetcar needs without spending city money. He declined to give further details but said the plan should be ready in a month or so.
• Mayor Cranley won’t be talking much about that plan tonight when he gives his State of the City address, which will happen at 6 p.m. at Music Hall. Instead, he’ll outline other proposals and his vision for the year ahead. One seemingly mundane change he’ll be highlighting — the elimination of the more-or-less unenforced single garbage can rule. I live in a big house with 10 other roommates, and it’s not really my job to take the garbage out, but I can see how this is a big deal for people who live on a big hill (there are a lot of those in Cincinnati) and don’t want to lug one cartoonishly big trash can up and down steps all the time. Anyway, I’ve digressed. The State of the City is open to the public, though the mayor’s office encourages folks to RSVP here.
• City Council yesterday passed two new ordinances targeting sex trafficking, which I reported on yesterday. You can get more details on the new measures here.
• The sales tax increase to renovate Union Terminal has gotten a key backer. The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce is endorsing the plan, which will go up for a vote on the November ballot. The plan is the product of a contentious struggle between Hamilton County Commissioners, the city and the Cultural Facilities Task Force, which originally drew up a $280 million plan funding both Music Hall and Union Terminal renovations. That plan, which sought to increase county sales taxes from 6.75 to 7 percent over 20 years, was jettisoned by commissioners in favor of the same hike for a shorter duration covering only Union Terminal. New efforts are underway to find money for Music Hall renovations.
• Quick hit: The owner of the car that was hit by big ole chunks of a Brent Spence Bridge off ramp Sunday will have to sue the state to be reimbursed, the Ohio Department of Transportation says. Bummer.
• Procter & Gamble is getting some social media heat surrounding its role as the NFL’s official beauty sponsor. The league has been experiencing huge amount of controversy in the past few weeks over Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice, who was suspended for two games following revelations he was involved in domestic violence against his fiancee. That suspension was made indefinite when tapes surfaced showing Rice brutally punching and knocking her out in an elevator. The league has taken heat for not acting quickly enough, with allegations flying that the league new about the severity of Rice’s crime before the tapes were made public. Meanwhile, in what amounts to either really bad timing or a severe case of tone-deafness, P&G’s Covergirl brand has been running the “get your game face on” campaign promoting their line of NFL-team-themed makeup. One of these has been photoshoped so that a model wearing Ravens purple makeup appears to have a black eye. As the image has gone viral, many on social media have turned to the company asking it to condemn the NFL and pull its sponsorship. Though P&G has issued a statement against domestic violence, the company has yet to pull the sponsorship, and critics say it isn’t doing enough to distance itself from the league. Covergirl’s Facebook page and other social media sites have received hundreds of negative comments about the situation.
• So the NFL is pretty soft on players who commit domestic violence, and our local mega-corporation keeps giving them money despite that. But hey, the Bengals are number one in Sports Illustrated’s NFL Power Rankings for the first time ever! So, that’s good, right? Eh.
• Quick hit number two: Yesterday I told you about an investigation into Ohio charter schools run by Chicago’s Concept Schools. Here’s more on that, including pushback from the schools’ officials and supporters.
• Here’s a story about how New Orleans, which has been the nation’s murder capital off and on for years, is using big data to track gang activity and help reduce violence in the city. It’s fascinating stuff that has some pretty interesting (and perhaps troubling) ramifications if you think about government's use of big data in general. On a side note, there’s a shout-out to an unnamed University of Cincinnati professor who apparently has helped the New Orleans Police Department work with data in tracking murders.
• Finally, founding members of Occupy Wall Street are suing each other over the movement’s most popular and recognized Twitter handle, @OccupyWallStNYC. Insert whatever joke you want right here.
Cincinnati City Council today unanimously passed two ordinances to address Cincinnati’s growing sex trafficking problem.
The ordinances were sponsored by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson. One increases civil fines for using motor vehicles in solicitation or prostitution from $500 to $1,000 for a first offense and up to $2,500 for each subsequent offense. The other ordinance funnels fines for those offenses into a prostitution fund that will cover anti-prostitution efforts, including investigation and prosecution of sex trafficking crimes and programs that reduce prostitution.
That pool of money is actually the revival of a fund that was established by Councilman David Crowley in the early 2000s, Simpson said. “We’re really looking forward to reinstituting that; there’s a lot of work that needs to happen and those fines will go a small ways toward helping in those efforts.”
Simpson has been active on sex trafficking issues. Early this summer, she supported a controversial project that blocked off large sections of McMicken Avenue in Over-the-Rhine and Fairview. While many residents in the area applauded the blockade, saying it reduced activity from pimps and sex workers in the immediate area, other residents said it caused transportation problems, created a stigma around the area and had little effect on the overall occurrence of prostitution there. Residents of other neighborhoods, including Price Hill and Camp Washington, reported an increase in prostitution after the barricades went up and said sex workers were simply moving from McMicken to their communities.
Cincinnati Police Department, which put up the barricades, said there was no proof they caused an uptick of prostitution in other areas. They said the barriers seemed to reduce the occurrence of sex work in the area, at least temporarily. The barricades came down in July.
Some residents along McMicken have called for the barriers to become a full-time feature of the neighborhood. But many in the area, along with social service workers and city officials, agree that more needs to be done in terms of legal action against sex traffickers and extending treatment options for those caught up in sex work. Harsher penalties for pimps and johns, publicizing names of sex trafficking offenders and other measures have been floated as possible responses. One that has gained traction recently is a special “prostitution docket” in Hamilton County focused on reducing sex trafficking by reverting sex workers who also face addiction issues to treatment programs. Many across the political spectrum, including Simpson, Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann and others, support the idea, but with treatment programs like the Center for Chemical Addictions Treatment House in the West End stretched to the limit, more programs will likely be needed.
In the meantime, Simpson says, the newest ordinances are a way to chip away at the problem.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the ability to do what we’d like criminally because of the overcrowding of jails and other things,” she said. “This is a great way to ensure that we’re continually sending the message that this kind of activity is not permitted in our city and beginning the work of ending demand for these services.”
Hey y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of the news this morning before I have to fly out the door to cover a few things.
• City Council yesterday voted to approve a number of property tax-related items we’ve already reported on. But here are the cliff notes. Among the bigger ones was a controversial move to create two tax increment financing districts around properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer. The group has said it will be making big improvements to the area and asked the city to create the TIF districts to fund infrastructure improvements in the districts. Some critics have called this a tax abatement, but in reality, Neyer will stay pay taxes — they’ll just end up in a fund earmarked for public works projects around their buildings instead of flowing into the general fund, where they could be used for police, transit, etc. Council also passed an amendment at the request of Councilwoman Yvette Simpson requiring council approval of all expenditures from the fund. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the TIF districts.
• City Council also unanimously passed a 15-year tax abatement for a project in Clifton Heights by Gilbane Development Co. that will bring 180 units of student housing to the neighborhood. The abatement, which could be worth up to $12 million, is for the building’s proposed environmentally-friendly Silver LEED certification. Council voted unanimously for the tax break. This project was also controversial, as a number of residents in Clifton Heights say such developments are changing the character of the neighborhood.
• Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots group responsible for pushing the streetcar forward last winter, is holding a rally today to launch an effort pushing council to make plans for the streetcar’s extension into uptown. City administration so far has no plans for such a study until the first phase of the project is complete and can be evaluated. Believe in Cincinnati would like to see the next phase planned soon so that the project can apply for grants and find other funding.
The rally will be at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Race and Elder streets near Findlay Market.
"Why shouldn't we get those scarce federal dollars for transit instead of another city? If we don't have a plan, we won't be considered," said the group’s leader Ryan Messer to the Cincinnati Business Courier.
• Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, Mayor John Cranley will hold a news conference at Music Hall, where he’s likely to announce that the landmark has won an Ohio historic tax credit worth millions. Representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office and the Ohio Development Services Office will also speak at the press conference, along with state Sen. Bill Seitz. The grant is worth up to $25 million. Music Hall has been competing with Cleveland’s Huntington Building and May Co. department store and the former Goodyear Tire Co. headquarters in Akron.
The historic hall, which is home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a number of other cultural institutions, needs $123 million in renovations. Funding efforts so far are still $40 million short. The state tax credit could go a long way toward filling that gap.
UPDATE: Music Hall will get the full $25 million tax credit.
• The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is investigating a grant program for public schools recently put forward by Gov. John Kasich. The Community Connections mentorship program conditions receipt of the grant on public schools’ collaboration with religious institutions, something the ACLU says may be violate separation of church and state under the constitution. The group is investigating the program further.
“The First Amendment of the Constitution provides very strong protection against the government imposing religion upon children in public schools,” said Heather Weaver of the ACLU Program on Religious Freedom and Belief in a news release. “This new program appears to disregard those protections and injects religion into our classrooms.”
• Continually low wages and changes to federal food assistance programs have been a one-two punch for low-income families in Ohio, a new study finds. The combination of stagnant pay and cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enacted last year mean that Ohioans lost access to the equivalent of 195 million meals since November of last year, according to research by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which provides food assistance across the state. The study showed that 50 percent of households receiving food assistance have at least one member who is employed; it also showed that many of those recipients are underemployed and received no boost in wages from the year prior. Tied to the $265 million cut to the SNAP program Congress enacted last year, that’s left many families worse off than they have been before. The cuts have other repercussions as well, according to the group.
“Our network and the people we serve can’t afford to absorb any more spending tradeoffs, reductions, or harmful policy changes,” said OAF Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt. “The loss of $265 million in entirely federally-funded SNAP benefits has already had an astronomical economic impact. Every $5 in federal expenditures of SNAP benefits generates $9 in local spending, so this loss of SNAP benefits has not only impacted the food budgets of low-income families — it has also led to an estimated $477 million in lost revenue for grocers and retailers and lost economic growth.”
• If you need a way to boost productivity around the office, well, this is one way to get that done. Or it might just start a ton of fights and paranoid ramblings. Actually, maybe just steer clear of this “enhanced” coffee shipped to Germany recently.
All right. Since today is a bit of a slow news day and because I’ve spent the past few days working on this week’s cover story and news feature along with several blogs and the trusty morning news, let’s play catch-up today and go through the week’s stories I didn’t get to earlier. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
• What costs more than $3 billion and smells awful? No, it’s not the amount of sauerkraut Cincinnati consumes annually. It’s the city’s sewer system, which is facing a court-ordered upgrade. After a lawsuit by environmental group the Sierra Club and area homeowners tired of sewage in their basements, the city was ordered to revamp its aging sewer system over the next 20 years. That’s going to cost more than the streetcar and the two stadiums. The system is owned by Hamilton County but administered by the city. Upgrades plus normal annual operating costs are expected to cost ratepayers $395 million this year alone. Rates have gone from $250 in 2000 to a projected level of more than $800 in 2015. All that for a bunch of pipes.
• The fastest growing startup in Ohio is right here in Cincinnati. Ahalogy, a firm that helps companies market themselves using Pinterest, has gone from two employees in 2013 to more than 50 today. San Francisco-based Mattermark, which rates startups, gave Ahalogy the top spot in the state for the second year in a row due to its rapid growth. Local startup hubs like The Brandery and Cintrifuse helped the company rise so quickly. Ahalogy founders say the company is a good fit for Cincinnati because of the city’s strong consumer marketing scene.
• On Sunday, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a controversial t-shirt during warm ups before the team’s home game shellacking by the Bengals. The shirt said simply, “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” on the front and “The Real Battle for Ohio” on the back.
Cleveland Police Union President Jeff Follmer slammed Hawkins later that day, calling the shirt “pathetic.”
Follmer demanded Hawkins apologize.
"He's an athlete. He's someone with no facts of the case whatsoever," Follmer said. "He's disrespecting the police on a job that we had to do and make a split-second decision."
A very similar situation played out with St. Louis Rams players last month who ran out onto the field while imitating protesters’ “hands up, don’t shoot” pose in solidarity for activists. The St. Louis Police Union demanded an apology, while the team stuck behind its players.
Hawkins seems to have gotten the last word in the dispute. The Browns are standing behind him, and he gave this very thought-provoking interview Monday in which he stressed he respects the police, but couldn't stay silent against what he saw as injustice. Hawkins, who was visibly choked up, said he was motivated mostly by the thought of something similar happening to his two year old son.
“The number one reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality,” he said.
• It’s official: former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper is the Ohio Democratic Party’s new chairman. The state party’s executive committee elected Pepper last night after his main competitor, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race. Pepper has indicated he’ll be asking another former statewide candidate, Nina Turner, to join the state’s leadership. Turner ran for secretary of state. The two will have a big job ahead — rebuilding after resounding losses statewide for the party.
• Here’s another catch-up story for you: the Ohio General Assembly has passed some important changes to the state’s gun laws. A new bill passed by both the state house and senate last week would recognize other states’ concealed carry permits without additional permitting, allow silencers on some hunting rifles, give a six-month grace period for military service members’ license renewals and disallow those with non-immigrant visas and dishonorable discharges from the military from getting handgun licenses. The bill does not include an earlier provision that would have set up a “stand your ground” type law in Ohio. The changes are currently awaiting Gov. John Kasich’s signature.
• 113th Congress, we hardly knew ye. Wait, yes we did, and we hated you. One of the least productive and lowest rated congressional sessions in the country’s history came to end yesterday when Barack Obama signed the body’s controversial $1 trillion “CRominubs” spending plan. At least they got something done. Over the last two years, Congress has passed just 200 laws, the least amount of legislating done in recent memory. For comparison, the last time that number was anywhere near that low was the infamous “do nothing” Congress of 1948-1949, which passed more than 900 pieces of legislation. Way to go guys!
Good morning all. It’s like, 8 a.m. and I’ve already experienced utter, terrifying confusion today. Normally that doesn’t happen until at least noon. Earlier, I woke up to a loud, continuous peal of thunder, which stupefied me in my half-awake state because it’s, you know, December and that usually doesn’t happen. I thought my house was falling down or exploding or something. Then I fell back asleep.
Anyway, news time. Is the city doing some shady dealing on tax breaks? City Council’s Neighborhood Committee yesterday approved a number of property tax deals city officials say will help spur development and job growth. The committee is made up of all members of Council, so passage here means the measures are pretty much a done deal. Some critics, however, question whether the tax deals are in the city’s best interest.
Drawing special scrutiny was a pair of proposed TIF districts in Queensgate and the West End. The narrowly drawn districts would encompass properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer, which is mulling some as-yet-unnamed but said to be large-scale improvements to the property. The TIF measures would set aside property taxes paid on those improvements for public infrastructure projects within the districts, instead of that money flowing into the city’s general fund. The measures were last minute additions to the agenda, and some, including downtown resident Kathy Holwadel, are suspicious. Holwadel penned an opinion piece for the Cincinnati Enquirer pointing out that the city doesn’t have any idea what it will use the TIF money for, which is unusual.
Others have pointed out that various members of the Neyer family were Mayor John Cranley's second-largest donors during last year's mayoral election, kicking him more than $26,000. Critics ask if the administration is giving the developer special deals.
The TIF districts don't represent out-and-out tax exemptions and Council will still have to vote on future uses of the taxes put in the TIF fund.
Councilwoman Yvette Simpson at the meeting yesterday raised concerns that the TIF money would only go toward projects that benefit the developer and suggested a larger TIF district that would allow the city to spend the collected money on a wider area. City officials say state laws have limited the amount of money larger TIF districts can accumulate. Simpson abstained on the vote. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the districts.
• The committee also approved a number of other tax deals, including a 15-year, $12 million tax exemption for Gilbane Development Co. on its proposed development project in Clifton Heights. This project has also been controversial, with residents saying there is already too much student-oriented housing like the Gilbane project in the neighborhood. Stay tuned for our in-depth story on that in the print edition tomorrow.
• The family of John Crawford III will file a lawsuit against the officers involved in his shooting as well as the Walmart corporation. Crawford was shot by police officer Sean Williams in a Beavercreek Walmart while carrying a pellet gun Aug. 5. The family's attorneys, as well as Crawford's father, will announce more details about the lawsuit at a news conference at 11 a.m. today in Dayton.
• The special edition Cincinnati streetcar passes Metro is offering have raised more than $40,000 so far, the department reports. The commemorative metal cards get riders 15, 30 or 60 days of unlimited rides on the streetcar for $25, $50 and $100, respectively. If you’re still thinking about getting one, better hurry — 1,000 of the 1,500 cards produced have already sold.
• Would you kayak in the Ohio River? If so, you’ll be excited about this. The Covington City Commission will decide today whether to enter into a partnership with Queen City Water Sports Club to design and build a facility on the former location of Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant where people can rent canoes and kayaks. The boat that housed Waterfront sank in August, and now the city is looking for new uses for the property where it was docked.
• Former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper looks likely to become the Ohio Democratic Party’s next chairman after his closest opponent, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race yesterday. Pepper ran for attorney general in the last election but was beaten by incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. If he wins, he’ll replace outgoing chair Chris Redfern, who resigned after the Democrats faced big losses in November.
• Nineties nostalgia is so hot right now. Doc Martens are on every foot. People are listening to Soundgarden unironically again. Flannel shirts, etc. If you’re really wanting to party like it’s 1992 again, though, you may soon get your chance. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is looking more and more like he’s going to jump into the race to become the Republican nominee for the presidency. He’s releasing a book. He’s raising some cash. His most likely opponent? Democratic nominee frontrunner Hillary Clinton, of course. If those last names don’t ring a deep, deja-vu inducing bell, don’t worry. Those Bush vs. Clinton tees are going to look great at an Urban Outfitters near you. America: where anyone can become president, but especially anyone from a wealthy political dynasty. Woo!
• A stalled deal to build a residential office tower downtown at Fourth and Race streets may be back on.
The 16-17 story development, at least as it is planned this time around, would have
208 units of housing, a 925-space parking garage that the city will
lend 3CDC $4 million to build and 25,000 square feet of retail space.
Mayor John Cranley’s chief of staff Jay Kincaid told the Cincinnati
Business Courier that the deal cuts back on some of the past plan’s
overly-generous concessions to developer Flaherty and Collins.
Originally, the tower was to be 30 stories tall and include 300 units of
housing. That deal hinged on a $12 million forgivable loan from the
city which has been cut in the new deal. City Council’s Neighborhoods
Committee will likely vote on the agreement today, after which it could
go for a full council vote on Wednesday.
• Cincinnati’s Metro system is gearing up for the year ahead. The transit program announced its new CEO Dwight Ferrell last week and held its big annual public meeting last Friday. Ferrell, who ran Atlanta’s streetcar system before coming here, will lead Metro as it looks to attract more riders, including Millennials, while better serving low-income residents who depend on its services. It also needs to get ready to run the streetcar and build new regional partnerships outside the city. Ok. You have 365 days. Go!
• Treatment for opiate addiction is nearly on par with alcoholism in the
state, according to data from Ohio treatment centers. 33 percent of
those treated in such facilities were there for alcoholism this year,
while 32 percent where there for addiction to some form of opiate.
That’s twice as many as were seeking treatment for opiate abuse six
years ago. Experts say that doesn’t necessarily mean as many people are
addicted to opiates in the state as alcohol, but it does show the
alarming increase in abuse of the drug.
• Protests over what activists call racial inequities in the justice system have continued across the country, and Cincinnati has been no exception. A rally planned by the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network took place Friday afternoon at the Hamilton County Justice Center and a march from Fountain Square to Washington Park drew more than 100 people Saturday. That march was organized by individual activists in solidarity with ongoing protests in Ferguson, Mo., and enormous marches in New York City and Washington, D.C.. The latter was attended by the parents of John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and others whose children have died at the hands of police. Police shot Crawford, from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart this summer while holding a pellet gun. Cleveland Police shot Rice last month on a playground. He was also holding a toy weapon. As activists continue to protest, they’ve also widened their focus. On Saturday, for example, a group of organizers will hold a teach-in at the downtown public library at 11 a.m.
• On a final, and really just unbelievable note, The Guardian has published a video showing Beavercreek Police's aggressive interrogation of Crawford's girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately following Crawford's shooting. You can read the story and see the video here.
Police shot Crawford, a 22-year-old from Fairfield, in a Beavercreek Walmart after he was sighted carrying a pellet gun he picked up, unpackaged, from a shelf in the store.
Detective Rodney Curd questioned Crawford’s girlfriend Tasha Thomas immediately after the incident until she was weeping, then accused her of being on drugs.
“Are you under the influence of anything?” Curd asks as Thomas breaks down. “Your eyes are kind of messed up looking.”
Curd continually suggests that Crawford carried a gun into the store and that Thomas knew about the weapon, despite the fact he was unarmed. He tells Thomas she "may soon be heading to jail."
“You and John went into Walmart, and from my understanding, at some point, he produced a gun. You were with him just moments before that. Tell me where he got the gun from. And the truth is, you knew at some point he did carry a gun, didn’t you?”
“No. I didn’t know. Give me a lie detector test," she says.
Thomas repeatedly asks for a polygraph test in the tape.
Curd continues to badger Thomas throughout the questioning, sometimes slamming his hand on the desk. Curd also suggests that another woman Crawford had been involved with was in the store and that he was plotting to shoot her.
“Did he ever mention ‘I’m going to shoot that bitch’ or anything like that?”
After an hour and a half of questioning, Curd told Thomas that “due to his actions,” Crawford was dead.
Morning all. It’s Friday, I’m almost finished with a couple big stories for next week and I’m warm and cozy next to my portable fireplace (read: space heater). Things are looking up.
Let’s talk about news. Mayor John Cranley recently announced he is replacing Planning Commission Chair Caleb Faux with former Pleasant Ridge Community Council President Dan Driehaus. Last month, Faux and Cranley got into a tiff after City Manager Harry Black removed a provision from the planning commission’s agenda that would have preserved the possibility of commuter rail in the city’s plans for Wasson Way on the East Side. Faux accused Cranley, who is no fan of rail projects, of trying to block future light rail along Wasson Way. Cranley said he simply wanted to give more time for consideration of the measure.
Cranley said the move wasn't a reflection on Faux and that Driehaus is simply a better fit for the board. Council voted unanimously to approve Driehaus’ appointment.
Faux fired back yesterday after Cranley announced his replacement. While Faux said Driehaus is capable and will do a good job, he painted the mayor as a foe of city planning attempts to create pedestrian-friendly, walkable neighborhoods and a friend of big developers. Faux and Cranley have been at odds for years on the subject of form-based versus use-based codes, going back to Oakley’s Center of Cincinnati development last decade. That development put a Target, Meijers and other big box stores in the neighborhood. Faux opposed the project.
"What the mayor seems to want is a planning commission that will accept his direction and won't be independent,” Faux told the Business Courier yesterday. “I think he has a philosophy that we need to be friendly to developers and that using land-use regulations as a way to shape the city is not a good idea."
Cranley spokesman Kevin Osborne brushed off that criticism. He pointed to Cranley’s involvement in the creation of tax-increment financing districts for Over-the-Rhine and downtown while he was on City Council as evidence the mayor is invested in creating urban spaces.
Pointing to redevelopment in OTR as a sign you’re not cozy with big developers is an interesting way to go. But I digress.
• Also in City Hall news, Cranley announced yesterday he will appoint former congressman and Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken to the city’s port authority board. Luken, who was instrumental in creating the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, has strong ties in the Cincinnati business community. He’s also close with Cranley, and the move may be a way to improve strained relations between the port and City Hall.
• Councilman Chris Seelbach yesterday announced a proposal to add people who are homeless to a list of those protected by the city’s hate crime laws. He also announced a second proposal adding $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter in OTR. You can read more about both here.
• Is Cincinnati the next Silicon Valley? The Huffington Post seems to think it’s possible. The blog cited Cincinnati as one of eight unexpected cities where investors are flocking. OTR-based business incubator The Brandery got a specific shout out, as did the city’s major Fortune 500 companies and its “All American Midwest” feel. Trigger warning: The term “flyover city” is used in reference to Cincy in this article.
• Last night, the Ohio State Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would amend the state’s constitution and change the redistricting process for elections to the Ohio General Assembly. It took until 4 a.m. to reach the agreement, because the Senate parties hard. The amendment would create a seven-member board composed of the governor, state auditor, secretary of state and two legislators from each party. That is two more members than the current board, which is made up of two statewide office holders and three legislators. The 10-year district maps drawn by the board would need two votes from the minority party or they would come up for review after four years. The bill next goes to the Ohio House, where it is expected to pass.
• Finally: Congress has agreed upon a budget, it seems, and the government won’t come to a grinding, weeks-long shutdown like it did last year. If you just leave it there and don’t think about it more than that, that’s good news. But looking into some of the budgetary sausage being made is a bit terrifying. Rolled up in the massive “CRomnibus” spending proposal (meaning continuing resolution plus omnibus spending bill) is a measure that would increase rich donors’ ability to give money to political parties. Currently, donors are limited to $97,200 as individuals. The new limit would be a seven-fold boost: $776,000. A married couple would be able to donate a jaw-dropping $3.1 million under the rule changes tucked into the shutdown-averting measure.
Another worrisome measure would dismantle certain parts of the Dodd-Frank Act, which holds big banks accountable for reckless, risky financial dealings. In the simplest terms, the rules change would allow banks to keep certain risky assets in accounts insured by the federal government, leaving taxpayers on the hook for huge potential losses. As if we didn’t learn our lesson in 2008.
The measures were last-minute concessions needed to win the votes of a number of conservative congressmen. It’s depressing to think that our options are either a complete lapse into governmental dysfunction or these gimmes to the nation’s most powerful financial interests, but there you have it.
Have a fun Friday!
“Homeless people are targeted because they’re vulnerable," Seelbach said during a news conference today in Washington Park, during which he also announced a proposal to add money for winter shelters. “This hopefully will send a message to everyone that even though homeless people may seem vulnerable and on the streets, their lives and their safety are just as important as every single person in Cincinnati we live and work with every day.”
Both proposals will need to be approved by Cincinnati City Council, but Seelbach says he's confident a majority of council will support them.
Six-hundred-thousand Americans experienced homelessness last year. One-fourth were children. Many are veterans. The National Coalition for the Homeless has been tracking homeless hate crimes since 2000. Over a four-year period starting in 2009, there were 1,437 attacks nationally and 357 deaths, according to a report from the coalition.
Currently, gender, sexual orientation, race, national origin and disability are protected under hate crime state and federal hate crime laws. Only two cities, including Cleveland, consider crimes against people because they are homeless to be hate crimes. Cincinnati would be the third if Seelbach’s proposal passes. Several states have committed to begin considering such violence hate crimes, including Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Washington. Legislation has been introduced into the Ohio General Assembly multiple times proposing a similar move but has been voted down.
“It will hopefully send a message to our community that people experiencing homeless do matter and that the city takes this seriously,” said Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition Director Josh Spring. “Primarily young people, high school and college age, commit these crimes. And if they’re caught, their response to why they did it is, ‘Why does it matter? It’s just a homeless person. We’re just cleaning up the streets.’ We want the city to say it does matter.’”
Cincinnati has seen a number of incidents of violence against the homeless, and the Coalition here has worked for years to get such actions classified as hate crimes. Four years ago, Robert Mehan was beaten and nearly killed as he was walking on Walnut Street downtown. A young man picked Mehan up and slammed him into the ground. He then beat him with beer bottles. Mehan was in a coma and almost died.
In July, John Hensley, a 49-year-old staying at the Drop-Inn Center, was leaving for work cleaning Great American Ball Park when he was attacked from behind by Alexander Gaines, 19, Brandon Ziegler, 21 and a 17-year-old minor. The three punched, kicked and kneed Hensley for 15 minutes. They’re currently facing charges in Hamilton County courts.
“They didn’t say anything, they were laughing," Hensley told a reporter after the incident. "I feel I was targeted because I am a homeless guy leaving the Drop Inn Center at 4 in the morning and no one was around, they thought they could get away with it and they didn’t.”
While the classification of such violence as a hate crime may make those experiencing homelessness safer in the long term, Seelbach’s other proposal, which would add $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter, will bring more immediate relief. That’s a big change from the situation in the past, advocates say.
“We’re extremely happy about the change over the last several years,” Spring says. “It was not that long ago that the winter shelter did not open until it was 9 degrees wind chill or lower.”
Last night, The Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine housed 292 people, according to Arlene Nolan, the center’s director. The winter shelter opened Nov. 19 this year, much earlier than usual.
“We’ve been able to accommodate well over 30 percent more than our normal capacity,” Nolan said.
Increased funding for the winter shelter “is something that is critical in assuring that we meet our ultimate goal, which is to make sure no one freezes to death on the streets in Cincinnati during the winter,” said Kevin Finn, director of Strategies to End Homelessness.
More than 750 people used the county’s 11 shelters last night, according to Finn. That’s just part of the city’s homeless population — others are staying with other people they may or may not know or sleeping in camps around the city.
Family shelters in the city are receiving about a dozen calls a day, according to Spring, and can only accommodate about 20 percent of the families who need their services.
“There is no silver bullet to ending homelessness or preventing people from attacking people who are experiencing homelessness,” Seelbach said. “This is part of the solution. The other part is strategies to end homelessness and getting people who are experiencing homelessness back into a house. That takes everything from the Drop Inn Center to transitional housing to permanent supportive housing and everything in between.”
Morning y’all. Let’s get this news thing going.
Cincinnati City Council yesterday approved zoning changes for a major, and controversial, development in the CUF neighborhood just south of UC. The project, done by Rhode Island-based Gilbane Development Co., will bring 180 apartments mostly for student housing, townhomes, a 380-space underground parking garage and up to 9,000 square feet of retail space to the spot where the historic Lenhardt’s restaurant was located on McMillan Avenue. The plans are a revision of an earlier proposal that called for called for eight stories on the buildings instead of six and an entrance for cars on Lyon Street which was later removed. Some community members say those revisions still don’t help the project fit in with the residential neighborhood.
A group of about 10 residents came to the meeting. They’d like to see something more oriented toward homeowners and long-term renters, they say, instead of students. They’re also highly concerned about parking and traffic in the busy McMillan-Calhoun corridor. Citing these concerns, both council members Yvette Simpson and Christopher Smitherman voted against the zoning changes, though they praised Gilbane for being flexible and taking community opinion into account in revising its plans. The townhomes, for instance, were added by Gilbane as a way to market the development to groups other than students. Stay tuned for an in-depth look at development in CUF next week.
• While we’re talking development: Change in Over-the-Rhine looks to be entering a new stage as more developers start talking about single-family housing instead of apartments or condos. The most recent development in this vein — five townhomes are coming to Republic Street in Over-the-Rhine. Three will be newly built, two will be renovations and one is already sold. The 2,400-square-foot units built by John Huber Homes will cost between $400,000 to $600,000 a piece and will feature posh amenities such as rooftop decks and gated parking.
• City Council yesterday also passed a compromise on a seemingly innocuous parking ticket food drive initiative that had become the subject of some controversy. Originally, the plan, proposed by Councilmembers Chris Seelbach and Amy Murray, would have offered a one-time amnesty for the $90 cost of a single delinquent parking ticket in exchange for 10 canned food items. But that met with resistance from Councilman Kevin Flynn, who balked at the idea that those who don’t pay parking tickets would be able to get off so lightly. Mayor John Cranley also wasn’t into it, calling the idea “reckless.” A compromise was reached in Council’s Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday. The city will still collect the original $45 parking ticket fee but will waive late charges for anyone who brings in the canned goods. The offer is good from Dec. 15-19 and only applies to tickets from 2014.
"This is a one-time chance to clear an old debt and do good for your community at the same time,” Seelbach said. “In the New Year, the city will begin aggressive collection of delinquent parking tickets under a new contract with Xerox, but this holiday season you can come clean, make a donation and make a difference.”
• University of Cincinnati medical students yesterday staged a “die-in” to protest racial inequality in the nation’s justice system. More than 70 participated. You can read our story on that here.
• The state of Kentucky will no longer throw in tax dollars on religious group Answers in Genesis’ Noah’s Ark theme park project in Grant County. Kentucky Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart sent the group a letter yesterday rescinding the state’s offer of up to $18 million in tax rebates because he says the project has gone from a tourist attraction to a ministry. Answers is known for making employees sign statements of faith pledging adherence to the group’s Christian beliefs. Answers also runs the well-known Creation Museum in Kentucky.
• Overcrowding at the Hamilton County Jail could determine how long former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter stays in jail. Hunter was sentenced to six months for a felony conviction recently and is supposed to report to jail immediately after Christmas. However, the jail is at capacity and first-time offenders who are non-violent are usually the first to be released under such overcrowded conditions.
“I want to make the public aware and everyone aware that this jail is full," Hamilton County Jail Administrator Maj. Charmaine McGuffey told Channel 5 yesterday. "We’ve been full for a number of years. And we’ve been making these hard difficult decisions all along. Tracie Hunter is going to be no different in the decision-making process.”
Fifty-six Hamilton County Democrats asked Judge Norbert Nadel, who sentenced Hunter, to defer her jail time until an appeal she has filed can be heard. Nadel refused that request. Hunter’s felony would usually only result in probation, but Nadel cited her stature as a public figure and judge in his decision to apply the harsher punishment.
More than 70 University of Cincinnati medical students today staged a “die in,” lying on the floor of the busy UC Medical Sciences Building to protest what they say are serious racial disparities in the nation’s justice system.
That protest mirrored similar events across the country reacting to police killings of unarmed black citizens and subsequent lack of indictments in some of those cases. Organizers of the event say that students at more than 70 medical schools participated in the noon demonstrations.
In Cincinnati, the medical and pharmacy students spent 20 minutes sprawled out beneath the building's soaring, modern atrium in white lab coats with signs reading “Am I Next?” and “Black Lives Matter." The group was mostly silent, save a reading of a passage from the Hippocratic Oath about understanding the needs of communities doctors serve.
Among them was Zuri Hemphill, a medical student who helped organize the protest.
“This is to stand in solidarity across the nation and to use our platform as medical students, because that’s something we’ve earned and a voice that we have, to call attention to the fact that this is not just a lower socio-economic problem but a problem across the black community and the entire American community,” she said.
The demonstration is the latest in a series that have taken place in Cincinnati and across the country over the issue of police use of force against people of color. That’s a subject especially sensitive to Cincinnati, which experienced days of civil unrest in 2001 after white police officer Stephen Roach shot unarmed 18-year-old Timothy Thomas in Over-the-Rhine.
The latest round of the conversation on race and the justice system was sparked by the Aug. 9 shooting death of 19-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. That shooting sparked waves of protests in the city and around the country and focused attention on similar incidents, including the death of John Crawford of Fairfield, who was killed by police while holding a toy gun in a Beavercreek Walmart.
A grand jury’s decision last month not to indict Wilson led to a fresh wave of protests, including one in Cincinnati that drew more than 300 people and briefly shut down I-75.
Beyond solidarity, Hemphill said today’s event was aimed at raising awareness among future healthcare professionals and the general population about the connections between racial disparities and healthcare.
“The reality is, there are 10 black students in my class. We’re not going to be treating all the black patients in Cincinnati. We as physicians need to understand the plights of our communities. We have to be advocates for all our patients of all races.”