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by German Lopez 02.25.2014
Posted In: News, LGBT, City Council, Mayor at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pride_seelbach_jf

City Pursues Domestic Partner Registry for Same-Sex Couples

Seelbach touts measure to boost Cincinnati’s LGBT inclusion score

The mayor and a supermajority of City Council backs efforts to establish a domestic partner registry for same-sex couples in Cincinnati, Councilman Chris Seelbach’s office announced Tuesday.

If adopted by the city, the registry will allow same-sex couples to gain legal recognition through the city. That would let same-sex couples apply for domestic partner benefits at smaller businesses, which typically don’t have the resources to verify legally unrecognized relationships, according to Seelbach’s office.

Specifically, the City Council motion asks the city administration to reach out to other cities that have adopted domestic partner registries, including Columbus and eight other Ohio cities, and establish specific guidelines.

Seelbachs office preemptively outlined a few requirements to sign up: Same-sex couples will need to pay a $45 fee and prove strong financial interdependency by showing joint property ownership, power of attorney, a will and other unspecified requirements.

“As a result of a $45 fee to join the registry, we believe this will be entirely budget neutral, meaning it won't cost the city or the taxpayers a single dollar,” Seelbach said in a statement.

If the plan is adopted this year, Cincinnati should gain a perfect score in the next “Municipal Equality Index” from the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group that, among other tasks, evaluates LGBT inclusion efforts from city to city. Cincinnati scored a 90 out of 100 in the 2013 rankings, with domestic partner registries valued at 12 points.

Seelbach expects the administration to report back with a full proposal that City Council can vote on in the coming months.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.25.2014
Posted In: News, Marijuana, LGBT, Governor, Parking at 09:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
kasich_2

Morning News and Stuff

Kasich gives annual speech, Ohioans move left on social issues, OTR gets parking plan

Gov. John Kasich gave his State of the State speech last night, promising to combat Ohio’s heroin epidemic, cut taxes and create jobs across the state. The speech didn’t promise any new, huge proposals; instead, it focused on expanding the approach Kasich has taken to governing Ohio in the past four years. Democrats criticized the speech for failing to note Ohio’s recent economic struggles, with the state now among the worst in the nation for job growth. Meanwhile, a recent analysis from left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio found Kasich’s proposed tax cut would benefit the wealthy.

Ohioans are moving left on marijuana and same-sex marriage, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday. The poll found 87 percent of Ohioans now support legalizing marijuana for medical uses, and 51 percent support allowing adults to legally possess a small amount of the drug. Meanwhile, half of Ohio voters now support same-sex marriage, compared to 44 percent who do not. Whether the widespread support translates to ballot issues remains to be seen. CityBeat covered Ohio’s medical marijuana movement here and same-sex marriage efforts here.

The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) plans to alleviate parking problems in Over-the-Rhine by adding a parking meter to every parking space in the neighborhood and asking City Council to allow residential parking permits in neighborhoods that mix commercial and residential. (Today, the city code allows residential parking permits only in neighborhoods that are 100 percent residential.) The plan would add 162 metered spaces to the 478 currently metered spaces, and 637 spaces would be designated for residents.

City Council could move to officially dissolve the parking privatization plan as soon as Wednesday. What will replace the plan is still unclear, but CityBeat compared Mayor John Cranley’s proposal to the parking privatization plan here.

Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell says officers responded appropriately to an incident in which police shot and killed a suspect. Blackwell said police had to respond with deadly force when the suspect came out of his house with a rifle.

Cincinnati-based Kroger could buy supermarket rival Safeway.

An alarming video shows old arctic ice vanishing as a result of global warming, even though old ice is more resistant to melting.

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by German Lopez 02.24.2014
Posted In: News, LGBT, Drugs, Marijuana at 10:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
news1_weedunicorn

Poll: Ohio Moving Left on Social Issues

Ohioans overwhelmingly support medical marijuana, plurality backs same-sex marriage

Ohioans are moving left on marijuana and same-sex marriage, according to a poll released Monday by Quinnipiac University.

The poll found an overwhelming majority — 87 percent — of Ohioans support legalizing marijuana for medical uses. About 51 percent support allowing adults to legally possess a small amount of the drug. And 83 percent agree marijuana is equally or less dangerous than alcohol.

At the same time, 50 percent of Ohio voters now support same-sex marriage, compared to 44 percent who do not.

A plurality of voters — 34 percent versus 26 percent — also disapproved of Gov. John Kasich’s handling of abortion. (In the latest state budget, Kasich and his fellow Republicans in the Ohio legislature imposed new restrictions on abortions and abortion providers.)

Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,370 registered Ohio voters from Feb. 12 to Feb. 17 for the poll, producing a 2.7 percent margin of error.

The findings indicate the state is moving left on the biggest social issues of the day.

In 2004, Ohioans approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Last year, a Saperstein Associates poll conducted for The Columbus Dispatch found 63 percent of Ohioans favor legalizing medical marijuana, but 59 percent said they oppose full-on legalization. (Given the different methodologies, it’s unclear how Saperstein Associates’ results compare to Quinnipiac University’s poll.)

Whether the liberal shift applies to ballot initiatives remains to be seen. This year, two groups aim to get medical marijuana and same-sex marriage on the Ohio ballot.

Contrary to what polling numbers might imply, it currently seems more likely same-sex marriage will end up on the ballot this year. FreedomOhio, which is leading the effort, says it already has the petition signatures required to get the issue on the ballot in November, even though other LGBT groups, including Equality Ohio, say the effort should wait until 2016.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Rights Group admits it doesn’t yet have the signatures required to get medical marijuana on the ballot. The organization has until July to gather 385,247 petition signatures, which in large part must come from at least half of Ohio’s 88 counties. In the very unlikely scenario the Ohio Rights Group gets all the petitions in circulation back with 36 legitimate signatures filled out on each, the organization would have about 246,000 signatures.

Still, with support seemingly growing, it seems unlikely medical marijuana and same-sex marriage will remain illegal in Ohio for much longer.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.24.2014
Posted In: News, Voting, Governor, Economy at 09:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_votingmachinesecurity

Morning News and Stuff

Board of Elections to move, Kasich repeals one early voting week, income inequality on rise

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted on Friday ruled that the Hamilton County Board of Elections can move to a former hospital site at Mount Airy after the 2016 election, but whether early voting moves along with the Board of Elections needs to be resolved separately. The decision does little to resolve the dispute between local Democrats and Republicans about which location — downtown or Mount Airy — is better for early voters. Democrats argue downtown, as the central hub of local public transportation, best meets the need of most early voters. Republicans argue the Mount Airy facility is closer to the center of the whole county and provides free parking, which Republicans say should make up for the few bus routes that go to the neighborhood.

Gov. John Kasich on Friday signed two controversial election bills that reduce the time allotted for early voting by one week and restrict counties’ ability to send out unsolicited absentee voting applications. The reduction of early voting in particular raised claims of “voter suppression” from Democrats because the bill eliminates the Golden Week in which early voters can register to vote and actually vote on the same day. Republicans say the bills are necessary to establish uniform early voting hours and rules across the state. In general, both sides acknowledge Democrats benefit from more early voting access and Republicans benefit from less early voting access.

Income inequality rose in Ohio between 1979 and 2011, but Ohio fared better than most states, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute and the Economic Analysis and Research Network. Ohio’s top 1 percent make roughly 18.1 times the annual income as the bottom 99 percent. In comparison, the average nationwide rate is 24.4 and the rate in the two worst performing states — New York and Connecticut — is 40.

Contrary to faulty reports from Councilman Charlie Winburn and The Cincinnati Enquirer, the city extensively warned residents about its decision to decertify the flood levee around Lunken Airport. In fact, Winburn in 2010 actually voted in favor of an ordinance that supported the decertification. The decision means residents in the area need to purchase flood insurance.

Mayor John Cranley and other city officials plan to boost minority- and women-owned business contracts through aspirational inclusion goals set between the city and contractors. Since the city can’t force businesses to meet the goals, Cranley acknowledges the city could fail. But contractors who worked on the Horsehoe Casino said a similar policy was effective in boosting minority rates for that project.

Two people died in Walnut Hills today after a stabbing and police-involved shooting, according to Cincinnati Police.

Cincinnati plans to increase efforts to get more solar panels on city rooftops. A more specific announcement should come in the next few weeks. Just a couple weeks ago, the Solar Foundation ranked Ohio No. 8 in the nation for solar jobs.

Ohio gas prices continued rising this week.

Watch a robot 3-D print with metal here.

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by German Lopez 02.20.2014
Posted In: News, Economy at 11:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
income inequality

Income Inequality Rises in Ohio

Ohio fares better than other states, national average

Income inequality vastly grew in Ohio and other states between 1979 and 2011, but Ohio actually fared better than most other states, according to a Feb. 19 report from the Economic Policy Institute and the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN).

Ohio’s top 1 percent saw their inflation-adjusted income grow by roughly 70 percent between 1979 and 2011, according to Policy Matters Ohio’s analysis of the report. During the same time period, the bottom 99 percent actually saw their income drop by nearly 8 percent.

Still, Ohio’s income gap isn’t as bad as states like New York and Connecticut, where the top 1 percent make roughly 40 times as much as the bottom 99 percent.

In Ohio, the top 1 percent’s average income in 2011 was 18.1 times greater than the 99 percent’s average income, below the U.S. average of 24.4.

The findings show a trend reversal in incomes in Ohio and the rest of the nation. Between the late 1920s and mid-1970s, the income gap generally narrowed. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the wealthiest began outpacing the rest of the country.

“The levels of inequality we are seeing across the country provide more proof that the economy is not working for the vast majority of Americans and has not for decades,” Keystone Research Center economist Mark Price said in a statement. “It is unconscionable that most of America’s families have shared in so little of the country’s prosperity over the last several decades.”

Economists on both sides of the political spectrum blame various issues for rising income inequality, including the rise of globalization, poorly structured trade treaties, the loss of manufacturing jobs, the inflation-adjusted fall of the minimum wage, the United States’ weak social safety net and the stagnant economy.

In Cincinnati, the effects of income inequality are felt on a neighborhood level. While some local neighborhoods fall below a median family income of $20,000 per year, various neighborhoods’ median family incomes top $100,000 per year.

The massive income gap correlates with the city’s 20-year disparity in neighborhood life expectancies. In impoverished neighborhoods like Lower Price Hill, residents can expect to live to their mid-60s. In wealthy neighborhoods like Mount Adams, the average life expectancy is in the mid-80s.

Given the results, some advocates say its time to adopt a new nationwide approach to the economy.

“It’s clear that policies were set to favor the one percent and those policies can, and should, be changed,” EARN Director Doug Hall said in a statement. “In order to have widespread income growth, bold policies need to be enacted to increase the minimum wage, create low levels of unemployment, and strengthen the rights of workers to organize.”

 
 
by German Lopez 02.20.2014
Posted In: News, Parking, Economy, Voting at 10:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news parking

Morning News and Stuff

Parking debate continues, mayors work to bring manufacturing, voting bills pass legislature

City Council watered down Mayor John Cranley’s parking plan to just two proposals: upgrading parking meters and increased enforcement. Council and public opposition ultimately proved too much for increasing neighborhood rates and expanded evening hours at major hubs. The changes mean less revenue for the city but reduced parking costs for residents. Still, with the parking plan changing almost daily, it’s unclear whether the current iteration will be the final proposal that the Neighborhood Committee and City Council ultimately pass.

Compare: Cranley’s original parking plan versus the parking privatization plan.

Meanwhile, Xerox, the private operator that took over Cincinnati’s parking meters in the parking privatization plan, proposed its own version of a parking plan in which the company manages parking meters while City Council retains control over setting hours, rates and enforcement. Xerox says its plan will generate more revenue. But Cranley rejected Xerox’s plan weeks ago.

Commentary: “County Should Accept Responsible Bidder Law.”

Cranley yesterday announced he’s partnering with Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley to get a share of $1.3 billion in federal funds that would help attract manufacturing. The two cities will compete as one community for the federal Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership. The competition’s 12 winners will each receive part of the $1.3 billion pot. Even if Cincinnati and Dayton don’t win, Cranley said the competition will at least get them thinking about working together as a community for manufacturing jobs.

The Republican-controlled Ohio legislature yesterday approved controversial election bills that reduce the state’s early voting period by one week and restrict counties’ abilities to mail out unsolicited absentee ballot applications. Democrats say the measures are meant to suppress voters, but Republicans argue the changes are supposed to set uniform standards across the state. At least one top Ohio Republican previously admitted the measures were supposed to suppress voters, particularly “the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.” Gov. John Kasich is now the only person that stands between the bill becoming law.

The city plans to undertake a pothole-fixing blitz in March.

The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority will begin its 14-neighborhood rehabilitation plan in Evanston, where the agency will target about 100 properties.

With a “virtual online menu” and access to vocational education in the seventh grade, Gov. Kasich says he wants to get Ohio students planning their careers much earlier.

The Ohio House approved a plan that will give schools four more calamity days — more popularly known as “snow days” — for the current school year. The bill now heads to the Ohio Senate and Kasich.

U.S. Sen Sherrod Brown wants to close a loophole in Medicare that costs seniors thousands of dollars in unexpected medical bills.

Quinnipiac University’s most recent poll found Ohioans would choose Hillary Clinton over Kasich and other Republicans for president.

Whooping cough appears to be evolving in response to its vaccine.

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by German Lopez 02.19.2014
Posted In: News, Energy, Health, Pensions at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Local infant deaths remain high, pension fixes proposed, Seitz renews anti-efficiency efforts

Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s infant mortality rates dropped to record lows in 2013, but the city and county’s rates of infant deaths remain far above the national average. Over the past five years, the city’s infant mortality rate hit 12.4 deaths per 1,000 live births and the county’s rate reached 9.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. In comparison, the national average in 2011 was 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births. Cradle Cincinnati, a collaborative initiative formed in 2013, pointed to three possible factors to explain the troubling rates: short time between pregnancies, maternal smoking during pregnancy and poor sleeping habits, including deaths that could be easily prevented by ensuring a baby sleeps alone, on his or her back and in a crib.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman yesterday proposed fixes for Cincinnati’s ailing pension system, and the proposal includes a hit to city retirees’ benefits. Unique to Smitherman’s plan is a new $100 million commitment to help shore up the city’s unfunded liability of $870 million, but Smitherman could not say where council would get that much money. Otherwise, the proposal would freeze cost of living increases in the system for three years and reduce future cost of living increases from a 3 percent compounded rate to a 2 percent fixed rate, among other changes. Smitherman hopes to get up-or-down votes on his plan within the next two weeks, even if it requires splitting the plan into multiple parts.

State Sen. Bill Seitz plans to renew his efforts in the Ohio legislature to dismantle the state’s renewable energy and efficiency mandates. Seitz says “devastating testimony” in support of his bill should invigorate a push for his plan. But the testimony will apparently be based off a flawed industry-financed report released yesterday. A separate study, based on an economic model from the Ohio State University, found Ohio’s energy standards will save Ohioans $3.65 billion on their electricity bills between 2014 and 2025.

Cincinnati plans to begin marketing an 18-acre plot of land in Lower Price Hill to bring 400 jobs to the struggling neighborhood. After the city finishes environmental remediation this month, it hopes to put the property on the market. CityBeat previously covered some of Lower Price Hill’s struggles with poverty in further detail here.

The gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald tightened from seven points in November to five points this month, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. But the survey did not include Libertarian candidate Charlie Earl as a choice — an omission that could work to Kasich’s favor in the polling results.

Gay families are being excluded from Obamacare benefits in Ohio and other states in which same-sex marriage is not recognized. That means Ohio’s gay families can’t get financial benefits going to traditional families to help them get covered. President Barack Obama’s administration says it’s aware of the issue, but it doesn’t plan a fix until next year.

Some Ohio lawmakers want an investigation into Kasich’s administration after documents showed his administration planning to work with oil and gas companies to promote fracking in state parks and forests. Fracking is a drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to unlock oil and gas reserves. CityBeat covered fracking and the controversy surrounding it in further detail here.

Bad news: A Chinese firm won’t bring an $80 million project to the Cincinnati area after all.

An Ohio driver rescued a kitten found frozen on the road.

A parasite commonly found in cats can now be found in arctic beluga whales. Scientists say melting ice barriers — a symptom of climate change — explains the pathogen’s increased migration.

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by German Lopez 02.18.2014
Posted In: News, Health, Poverty at 12:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
german cute

Local Infant Mortality Rates Still Far Above National Average

Cradle Cincinnati hopes to reduce infant deaths through new initiative

Cincinnati and Hamilton County saw infant mortality rates drop to the lowest on record in 2013, but the city and county’s rates for infant deaths remained far above the national average, according to a report released Tuesday by advocacy group Cradle Cincinnati.

In 2013, the city saw 53 babies die before their first birthday, or 9.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. Throughout the county, the deaths of 95 babies put the rate at 8.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.

But in the past five years, the city’s infant mortality rate hit 12.4 deaths per 1,000 live births and the county’s rate reached 9.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Even worse, black families in Hamilton County were twice as likely as white families to have a baby die before his or her first birthday.

In comparison, the national average for infant mortalities was 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011.

To help reduce the region’s high infant mortality rates, Cradle Cincinnati points to a few potential targets:

• Short pregnancy spacing, meaning 18 months or fewer between births, can lead to premature birth. It was associated with 33 percent of the county’s infant mortalities last year.

• Maternal smoking during pregnancy can lead to premature birth and birth defects. It was associated with 15 percent of the county’s infant mortalities last year.

• The local rate of sleep-related infant deaths in Hamilton County is triple the national average. Many of these deaths could be prevented by ensuring a baby sleeps alone, on his or her back and in a crib, Cradle Cincinnati found.

Cincinnati’s high rate of infant mortalities are one of the many factors that help explain the city’s disparities in life expectancies, according to Cincinnati Health Department officials.

A CityBeat analysis of U.S. Census Bureau and Cincinnati Health Department data also tied neighborhood life expectancies to income levels. The strong correlation could suggest a connection between poverty and earlier death.

Through the Cradle Cincinnati initiative established last year, local officials hope to put an end to the disturbing trends.

“We are cautiously optimistic that these numbers are going down, but we still have a very long way to go,” said Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, founder and co-chair of Cradle Cincinnati, in a statement. “We cannot rest until every child born in Hamilton County lives to see his or her first birthday.”

Cradle Cincinnati’s full report:

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

Morning News and Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning News and Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Science says white noise can help some people sleep.

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by Nick Swartsell 07.31.2014 18 hours ago
at 11:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Harry Black

Cranley's Pick for City Manager Lays Out Vision for Cincinnati

Harry Black touts his experience as a long-time public servant

Harry Black, Mayor John Cranley’s pick for the next city manager, spoke today about his ideas for keeping Cincinnati’s momentum moving forward.

At a news conference outside City Hall this morning, Black pledged that should he be selected to be city manager, his office would be transparent and accountable as it seeks to boost economic development, improve financial planning and preserve safety in the city. The city manager is arguably the second most powerful position in city government behind the mayor, hiring department heads and making day-to-day choices on the way the city runs.

Black currently serves as the finance director for the city of Baltimore, a role he says has prepared him to be Cincinnati’s city manager.

“They’re both rustbelt cities,” Black said of Baltimore and Cincinnati. “They’re both challenged in similar ways. What may vary is scale. But the issues here are issues that I’ve seen.”

Black has been involved in political dustups in some of his past jobs, but has more than 25 years of public service experience and reams of positive recommendations. In his remarks today, he pledged to guide the city to a more long-term outlook on finances while forging an analytic rather than political approach to big issues.

He also said he would “think outside the box” in working to lift up Cincinnati’s low-income neighborhoods.

“We’ll have a segment of the community that may need help it terms of being employable,” he said. “As a local government, we have to be certain that we make that a priority as well. We may have to create economic opportunity and connect that segment of the community to those opportunities.”  

Black, 51, grew up in Park Heights, a rough neighborhood in Baltimore, and describes himself as “an inner city kid who has been fortunate enough to have some breaks.” 

Mayor Cranley highlighted Black’s story when introducing his pick today. “Having grown up in the urban core, he pulled himself up, got himself educated and has had a very successful career in public service,” Cranley said.

Cincinnati City Council will choose between Black and current interim City Manager Scott Stiles, who has served since Milton Dohoney stepped down last year after Cranley’s election. Black says his experience with long-term financial planning is what makes him the right choice.

“We can’t sustain and prosper by just balancing budgets,” he said. “We have to find ways to go beyond just balancing budgets, which is what we did in Baltimore in respects to the 10-year plan that we put in place. Black said “a longer-term approach” is important “not just in terms of filling budget shortfalls but also finding ways to reinvest back into the city.”

Black says he’ll put an emphasis on data-driven decisions and accountability. In addition to shoring up long-term financial planning here, he said he would create new ways for innovation to happen in the city.

 Though Cincinnati would be his first time as a city manager, Black has served more than a quarter century in city government roles, mostly in finance, and has also worked in the private sector. While many praise his work, he’s also acquired a reputation for toughness.

Before his job in Baltimore, Black served as chief financial officer in Richmond, Virginia, where he was involved in a long fight between the mayor and city council that earned him the nickname “Mr. Pitbull.” He says that’s a misleading name and that he’s grown from the turbulent times in Richmond.

“I’m not a pitbull,” he said at the conference, “and only time will allow you to see that.”

Black said he would stay out of the politics of city government in favor of focusing on practical and technical aspects of the job, especially when it comes to controversial issues like the streetcar. Black said his job would be to provide  technical and analytical input for council’s decisions.

“In terms of the streetcar project … the legislators have legislated this initiative and this project. It’s incumbent on me and my team to make sure that it’s executed, but to make sure that it’s executed in a cost-effective and responsible way,” he said. 
“As a city manager, I would rely on the idea that the legislative process is going to yield what the people want.”

Janet Reid, a Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce and 3CDC Board Member, was part of the screening process that selected Black. She praised his abilities.

“I could recognize very early on that he has an unusual mixture of talents that would be just right mix for our city,” she said. “That includes the ability to look deeply into details as well as see the big picture.” Reid highlighted Black’s long public service career, praising what she called his proven track record.

Whether council chooses Black for city manager or not, the gig may be short-lived. Councilman Christopher Smitherman has proposed amending Cincinnati’s charter to create a so-called executive mayor. That would eliminate the city manager position and give the mayor’s office power over many elements of the current city manager’s role. Cranley has voiced support for the idea, though Smitherman has said he doesn’t think he has the votes on council to pass the measure and may need to collect voter signatures to get it on the ballot.

Smitherman, along with Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and Vice Mayor David Mann, attended today’s news conference introducing prospective City Manager Black.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.30.2014 43 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

Senate OKs McDonald as VA head, Cranley touts city manager pick and FitzGerald trails Gov. Kasich in recent poll

The Senate (America’s most powerful deliberative body, not the hotdog place on Vine Street) voted yesterday to approve former P&G CEO Bob McDonald as head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The vote was 97-0, and while such approvals are usually kind of a mundane procedural affair, they’ve been pretty difficult with many Obama nominees due to a pretty rowdy, partisan Senate. Some expected McDonald to have some trouble during the process, but the near-unanimous vote signals a vote of confidence in the former Army Ranger and Cincinnati native. McDonald has pledged to make reforms to the troubled VA within 90 days of starting his new gig.

• Mayor John Cranley has indicated his pick for the city’s next City Manager — Harry Black, finance director for the city of Baltimore. Cincinnati City Council will choose between Black and current interim City Manager Scott Stiles, who has served since Milton Dohoney stepped down last year after Cranley’s election. Black, 51, grew up in a rough neighborhood in Baltimore and describes himself as “an inner city kid who has been fortunate enough to have some breaks.”

Black says he’ll put an emphasis on data-driven decisions and accountability. He sees a “tremendous” potential in Cincinnati and would like to shore up long-term financial planning here as well as create new ways for innovation to happen in the city.

Though Cincinnati would be his first time as a city manager, Black has served more than a quarter century in city government roles, mostly in finance, and has also worked in the private sector. While many praise his work, he’s also acquired a reputation for toughness. Before his job in Baltimore, Black served as chief financial officer in Richmond, Virginia, where he was involved in a long fight between the mayor and city council that earned him the nickname “Mr. Pitbull.” He says that’s a misleading name and that he’s grown from the turbulent times in Richmond.

• The city has unveiled the design for the streetcar’s power station. It appears the station, which will run power to the streetcar lines, will be a big rectangle on Court Street made out of bricks. It will also be adorned with artwork and some steel pieces, making it only slightly more visually interesting than the proposed GE building at The Banks.

What’s more interesting, to me, at least, is the logic behind the building’s location. It can’t go on Central Parkway, officials say, because of structural issues with the subway tunnels. And it can’t go in the subway tunnels because, according to the Business Courier, the long-term transit plan for Greater Cincinnati calls for the tunnels to be used for rail transit some day. I’m not holding my breath for the subway to start operating (that’s how many of my ancestors passed away), but it would be awesome to see rail travel going through those tunnels someday.

The city also revealed it will replace the 14 parking spaces the building would eliminate, answering concerns about parking loss due to the new structure.

• If you have plans this weekend that involve traversing I-71, beware. The southbound side of the highway will be closed at the Dana Avenue exit from Friday, Aug. 1 at 10 p.m. until Monday, Aug. 4 at 5 a.m. If you try to go that way, you’ll be routed along the Norwood Lateral to I-75. Just a heads up.

• A recent piece on urban planning and development blog UrbanCincy.com asks some good questions about a large proposed 3CDC development at 15th and Race streets in Over-the-Rhine. The development, which is currently on hold, would look a lot like Mercer Commons just to the south, span most of a block, contain 300 parking spaces, 22,000 square feet of retail, and just 57 residential units. The piece questions whether the development as planned is really in the spirit of what residents want and what’s best for one of the city’s most promising pedestrian neighborhoods. It’s worth a read.

• Finally, a new Quinnipiac poll shows incumbent Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, up 12 points over his challenger, Democrat Ed FitzGerald. That’s a huge gap, with FitzGerald trailing badly in terms of the number of Ohio voters who recognize his name. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they had no opinion of FitzGerald. That’s bad news, but it’s better than the 15-point deficit FitzGerald had in May, the last time the poll was done. Still, he has serious ground to cover in the three months before the November election. The challenger has been campaigning for more than a year and a half on promises to make higher education more affordable and reform the state’s charter school system, among a number of other talking points. FitzGerald’s campaign is heavily outgunned financially, with just under $2 million to Kasich’s $9 million. The challenger’s campaign recently launched its first TV ad, though Kasich has been running them for months.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.29.2014 68 hours ago
at 09:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_6-18_unionterminal

Morning News and Stuff

City must pay back neighborhood money, Cranley pledges city money for landmarks and a $40,000 climate change cruise

Good morning all! Here's what's happening today.

A Hamilton County judge yesterday ordered the city to pay back the $4 million it borrowed from neighborhood funds in 2012. We reported on that money and other budget-related cuts to neighborhood funds in June. Common Pleas Judge Robert Gorman wasn’t amused, called the arrangement, which borrowed a total of $5 million from 12 neighborhoods, “creative financing.” He ordered the city to avoid such arrangements in the future. The city has paid off $1 million of the loan and had originally intended to pay the rest back in 2015. But that repayment was pushed until 2017 in Mayor Cranley’s recent budget. Now, the remaining money will be paid back on a court-ordered timeline that has not yet been set. The city hasn’t budgeted for that quicker repayment, though it says giving the money back won’t affect city services. The city originally borrowed the money to cover a debt to Cincinnati Public Schools.

Mayor Cranley announced yesterday that the city is willing to commit $200,000 a year for 25 years toward upkeep of Union Terminal, a show of support that seems aimed at convincing Hamilton County Commissioners to put the so-called icon tax on the November ballot. The Cultural Facilities Task Force, a group of business leaders tasked with finding ways to renovate the crumbling train station as well as the city’s historic Music Hall, suggested the .25 percent tax hike earlier this summer as the best way to raise some of the estimated $330 million or more needed to fix up the buildings. The city already pays the $200,000 a year to help with Union Terminal’s maintenance requirements, but it isn’t required to do so. Cranley’s proposal would simply lock that amount in long-term.

Dog owners in Cincinnati could soon be held more responsible for vicious pets. When it gets together again next week after its summer recess, City Council will consider an ordinance proposed by Councilman Chris Seelbach that would impose up to six months in jail for owners of dogs who seriously injury people. The proposed law doesn’t stipulate certain breeds and kicks in the first time a dog injures someone. Currently, no such penalties exist. A violent attack on a 6-year-old girl by two pit bulls in June resulted in only a $150 fine for the dogs’ owner.

“For decades the city of Cincinnati has given a free pass to owners of dangerous and vicious dogs who attack children, adults and other pets in our community," Seelbach told The Enquirer. "The vast majority of these attacks are due to negligent and irresponsible owners. It's time to eliminate the free pass."

• More trouble for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and this time it’s local. According to a federal report released Monday, accusations have surfaced that the Cincinnati VA hospital engaged in manipulation of patient wait-time data. Officials at the 277-bed hospital in Corryville altered records to hide the amount of time patients had to wait for care, according to an anonymous whistleblower cited in the report. Charges of record manipulation covering up long wait times for patients have brought intense scrutiny to the entire VA, sparking further investigation of 112 VA clinics nationally. Wait time data is tied to employee performance reviews and bonuses. 

• After years of preparation, school districts in Ohio are gearing up for final implementation of national Common Core educational standards. As they do so, Republican lawmakers in the statehouse are working to repeal those guidelines. State Rep. Andy Thompson of Marietta has introduced a bill to replace Common Core with state-specific benchmarks based in part on those used in Massachusetts. Thompson calls Common Core “the wrong road.” The standards were developed by education experts and politicians over a number of years and focus more on critical thinking skills in math and reading. The new benchmarks have caused criticism from both conservatives and liberals, however. Those to the right say the standards represent a federal takeover of education, while some on the left see massive benefits to large education companies like Pearson and see a corporate takeover of the school system.

• Hey, y’all seen that Snow Piercer movie? So this next thing is just like that, but also kind of the opposite. Basically, both are icy and really dystopian. If you’re the kind of person who is really into apocalyptic stuff, you’ve got $20,000-$40,000 lying around and you’re also into irony, have I got a deal for you. You can now take a climate change-themed cruise ship through parts of the arctic that, until recently, were impassible by boat due to, you know, being covered in ice like they're supposed to be. However, thanks to global warming, it's now possible to take a luxury liner from Alaska, swing north of the Arctic Circle, pop out near Greenland and be in New York City a month later. And for only the average yearly salary of a school teacher, you can do it.

The high end of the price range will get you a penthouse suite on the ship, all the better for watching sea waters rise and arctic seals and polar bears cling desperately to ice floes bask in the newly balmy temperatures. The 68,000-ton,13-deck, 1,000-passenger ship, which has three times the per-passenger carbon footprint of a 747, is called the Crystal Serenity, of course, because nothing is more serene than watching the planet come apart at the seams before your very eyes. Pure magic.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.28.2014 3 days ago
at 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
an_lumenocity_365cincinnati

Morning News and Stuff

Butler County sheriff on immigration plan, LumenoCity goes interactive and The Banks... boring?

It's Monday and stuff is already getting crazy. Here's the good, the bad and the befuddling in the news today.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones shared his thoughts Friday on… something… ostensibly related to Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley’s recently announced immigration initiative. The initiative looks to attract documented immigrants who will contribute to economic growth in the region. Jones, who is well known for his vocal and strident opposition to immigration, went somewhere else entirely with it. Of note: Jones doesn’t seem to know the mayor’s name, calling him “Mayor Cranby” on 700 WLW. Anyway, Jones applauds Mayor Cranberry’s Cranley's plan, or the imaginary version of it he's conjured, for some fairly nontraditional reasons. I’ll just let him tell ya what’s on his mind:

“I want [Cincinnati] to be a haven for illegal aliens also,” he said. “Really I do. If Cincinnati, with all the violence, the killings they have every night in downtown Cincinnati … anybody that’s illegal in the country, let alone in Butler County, I encourage them to go there. If you’re listening today, if you’re illegal, you’ve committed crime, the mayor, Cranley or Cranby or whatever his name is, wants you to come to Cincinnati. I encourage it.”

Jones, you see, is freaked out about all the undocumented folks streaming into Butler County and would rather they come to a place like Cincinnati where someone gets shot downtown every night (note: this is not even remotely reality, but let’s keep moving). Jones was making the rounds Friday, also appearing on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze (where, puzzlingly, he posed in front of a picture of Cincinnati's skyline, probably because Hamilton's isn't nearly as epic or dangerous-looking). He went on the show to raise alarms about the incredibly dangerous influx of undocumented immigrants caused by Obama’s lax immigration policies and the upswing in horrific crimes that has happened since. Oh, and they’re going to spread disease because they haven’t been immunized. Jones is worried about that, too.

Except a few things. State data shows crimes in Butler County have been steady or falling since 2007, including the drug-related crimes and violent offenses Jones cites. And while the sheriff vaguely highlighted a couple tragic and genuinely reprehensible individual examples,  the flood of immigrant-related crime seems hard to find statistically. Also, epidemiologists say that refugees and immigrants coming from Mexico and Central America often have similar or even greater vaccination rates than U.S. citizens and pose little threat of spreading diseases. Finally, pinning a surge in illegal immigration on the Obama boogeyman is tough, since his administration has been pretty active in deporting undocumented immigrants. But, y'know, immigrants are scary and all.

• LumenoCity organizers have something new in store this year: an interactive website, app and social media presence that will stream the event live as well as aggregate social media posts about the event, which takes place in Washington Park and combines a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performance with a dramatic light show projected onto Music Hall. The interactive portion will be introduced during the July 31 dress rehearsal, which has been opened up to an audience due to overwhelming demand for tickets to the event, which takes place Aug. 1 through Aug. 3.

• While you’re at LumenoCity this weekend — or, if you didn’t get tickets, hanging out around the park craning your neck to see what’s going on — you can pick up a new card designed to promote the arts in Over-the-Rhine. The Explore OTR card will be distributed by the small arts organizations in the city like Know Theatre and the Art Academy. After you’ve used the card at five of these smaller venues, you can redeem it for deals at larger arts organizations like the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Pretty cool.

• After some stinging criticism of General Electric’s proposed new building at The Banks, some hand-wringing has commenced as to whether the gargantuan, decade-in-the-making development along the Ohio River is too boring (spoiler: probably).

A quote from Jim Fitzgerald, who sits on the city’s Urban Design Review Board:

"We have been disappointed with the quality of architecture on The Banks to date other than the stadiums. The stadiums are of reasonably good architecture, but the other buildings are very vanilla, very uninteresting, very disappointing."

The review board looks at all plans for buildings before construction begins, though their role is strictly advisory and their advice to the city is non-binding. Others, including city and county leaders, have pointed out that all the buildings currently constructed or planned for the site meet the standards the city has set out and say that the project is a work in progress.

• I’m always trying to get my out of town friends hooked on Cincinnati chili, with varying degrees of success. Skyline, it seems, is doing the same, making plans to open a fifth location in Louisville. Why Louisville? My guess: It’s just close enough that on a clear day, with the wind blowing just right, the fragrance of that sweet but spicy meat sauce wafts across the rolling landscape between the cities and entices Kentuckians the same way it does Cincy natives. Or there are just a lot of people originally from Cincinnati who now live there. Probably the latter. Currently, the chain operates stores in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and five locations in Florida, of all places. Go forth, Skyline, and spread the gospel of mountainous cheese and tiny hotdogs.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.25.2014 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Cincy making moves on immigration, Rand Paul speaks at Urban League and Ohio Dept. of Ed spokesman has advice for charter school opponents

News time!

As we reported yesterday, Mayor John Cranley rolled out his new immigration task force at Music Hall. The volunteer group, made up of 78 community leaders split into five committees, will look for ways to make Cincinnati a welcoming city for immigrants with an eye toward economic development and growth. The initiative is in its early stages, with committees scheduled to report their findings and suggestions in December. No word so far on hot-button issues like undocumented immigrants, but you can read more about the task force and the work it will be doing in the above blog post.

The mayor also mentioned another immigration-related effort underway, though one unrelated to the task force. Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio and the Catholic Archdiocese are working to find ways to house some child refugees who have come to the U.S. through Mexico from Central America, fleeing turmoil related to drug violence in their home countries. The groups have applied for federal grant money through the Department of Health and Human Services to give about 50 refugee children a temporary place to stay in the Cincinnati area.

The massive border crossings have been called a humanitarian crisis and have drawn response from President Obama, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and many liberal and conservative groups. Perry, a staunch conservative, has taken the step of calling in National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border. Closer to home, Dayton’s Mayor Nan Whaley recently caused controversy with conservatives when she expressed willingness to house some of the child immigrants in Dayton. That led to a backlash from Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, who represents Dayton in Congress. Turner called her comments “completely out of line.” Dayton has been engaged in efforts since 2009 to attract more immigrants to the city, though those efforts are focused on documented immigrants who can help the city grow economically.

The federal government works to move unaccompanied child immigrants out of federal facilities and into temporarily housing with “sponsors,” families or non-profit groups. So far this year, the government has placed about 30,000 children into such arrangements.

Last month we reported on a lawsuit against the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. The state has settled that suit, and now, local companies overcharged by the OBWC will be getting at least some of their money back. The state settled a lawsuit yesterday over unfair payment structures that gave big discounts on insurance rates to some companies while charging much higher rates to others. Local companies like BAE and non-profits like the Cincinnati Ballet are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the payment scheme. The OBWC has changed how they calculate payments and will create a $420 million fund to repay companies overcharged by the scheme.

• Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., spoke today at the ongoing National Urban League Conference here in Cincinnati. Paul is a staunch libertarian conservative and tea party favorite who in the past has expressed some skepticism about parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, saying private businesses should be free to discriminate if they see fit. Paul has since walked back a bit on that, but statements like that make him an unlikely choice to speak at the civil rights organization’s big national gathering. He didn’t draw the biggest crowd of the conference, for sure, but he did touch on at least a couple issues relevant to the black community, including his ideas for changing mandatory drug sentencing laws. Current drug laws in the United States have contributed to the highly disproportionate incarceration rates faced by young black males, Paul says, and he’d like to change that. One proposal he'll be pursuing in the Senate-- ending the much higher penalties for selling crack over powdered cocaine. Paul also made his argument for libertarian policies that he says will increase the availability of jobs for everyone, including minorities. Paul has been reaching out to minority groups with mixed success as he builds up to his 2016 presidential bid. Meanwhile, Democrats are rolling their eyes at Paul’s attempts.

• Cincinnati set a Guinness World Record last night for most salsa dancers when more than 2,000 people danced at Fountain Square. The previous record was 1,600 dancers. The effort was put together by a number of community organizations to celebrate Cincinnati’s Hispanic community.

• Finally, if you’re like me after finishing a long article on the subject last week, you’re in too deep on the hot topic of charter schools and need some tips for how to uh, unwind. Luckily, Ohio Department of Education Communications Director John Charlton has some advice for anyone in this position. In a personal tweet sent out July 18, Chartlon advised opponents of charter schools to “take a break from muckraking and enjoy the weekend. Maybe you can get laid. Lol.” Charlton was responding to a tweet asserting that he thought “charter schools are OK no matter what shenanigans take place.” Laugh out loud!

Charlton deleted the tweet yesterday, and explained it this way:

"It was an offhanded comment made as a back and forth with critics who engaged me on my personal account," he said.

Bee-tee-dubs, keep an eye out for our piece on charter schools next week. It’s a deep dive into what’s up with Ohio’s charters. Until then, relax, enjoy your weekend, and maybe you can get… some pizza or something.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.24.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: Immigration at 11:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Cranley Announces Immigration Initiative

Initiative will work to attract immigrants with economic development in mind

Mayor John Cranley today announced the creation of a 78-person task force that will work toward making Cincinnati "the most immigrant-friendly city in the country."

The effort will work to bring more investment from highly-educated and well-to-do immigrants to the area. Few specifics were offered about how the initiative would address the hot topic of undocumented immigration.

“This is a country of immigrants, and this is a place where immigration is rewarded and thanked,” Cranley said during a news conference at Music Hall. “We’re all going to be richer and better by being a friendly city for immigrants.”

The task force, which is all-volunteer and uses no city money at this point, will research ways to attract and retain immigrants in the city. The group will be split into five committees focused on economic development, community resources, education/talent retention, international attractions and rights and safety. The task force will be led by co-chairs Raj Chundur and Tom Fernandez.

Cranley cited economic studies suggesting that immigration is good for economic growth. Economic experts and politicians are split on the wider point of whether welcoming more immigrants overall aids the economy, though some researchers believe even undocumented immigrants are a net positive. Either way, there is much evidence to suggest well-thought-out programs to attract documented immigrants can help cities. Dayton began working to attract immigrants in 2009, and has received national attention for its program. Since the start of the program, more than 3,000 immigrants, mostly from Turkey, have moved to Dayton, helping to revitalize the city's blighted North Dayton neighborhood.

He specifically discussed the EB5 visa program, which rewards immigrants who invest between $500,000 to $1 million in their communities with a special long-term visa and the opportunity for citizenship. He said that program has helped spur development in the city, especially along the Short Vine area in Corryville.

“I can tell you this means a lot to me personally, because I and my family are immigrants to this country,” said University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono, who will lead the task force’s education committee. Ono said his time at UC has shown him just how important attracting and retaining immigrants is for the city.

Cranley hedged some on revealing how undocumented immigrants would fit into the plan, saying that was work the task force will need to do as it prepares its recommendations.

“The whole point of the task force is to look at these issues in depth and come back with specific recommendations,” he said.

The mayor did share one effort to help children refugees in the country’s ongoing border crisis, though it is unrelated to the task force. Catholic Charities Southwest Ohio CEO Ted Bergh is a co-chair on the task force’s community resources committee. That nonprofit group and the Catholic Archdiocese in Cincinnati are working to help house in dormitories and hopefully find temporary foster homes (called "sponsors") for about 50 kids who have crossed the border into the United States due to turmoil in Mexico and Central America.The groups have applied for federal grants through the Department of Health and Human Services to fund the effort.


 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.24.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

VP in Cincy, city tops for recreation, and $100,000 to work on your dream project

Tons going on today in Cincinnati. Check it out.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke this morning at the National Urban League Conference, which is here in town this year. Biden’s speech touched on the challenges the black community has historically faced and the progress the country has made toward economic and social equality. But there are a lot of challenges ahead, the VP said.

“Both civil and economic rights are under siege in the aftermath of the great recession. We can’t be satisfied with where we are now in either civil rights or economic opportunities for African Americans,” he said. Biden called out new voting laws designed to “prevent fraud where no fraud exists” in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Ohio has attempted to enact new voting laws as well, limiting early voting times during which many black voters go to the ballot.

“We need to call this what it is,” Biden said. “This is an attempt to suppress minority voting masquerading as an attempt to end fraud.”

Biden also outlined the deep economic disparities facing African Americans, including lack of access to high-quality education and good paying jobs. But there's hope, he said, highlighting new jobs in technology and the medical industry. "If I made this presentation to you seven years ago, I wouldn't be so optimistic. But I'm telling you, this is a new era, not just because of this administration. We're better positioned than anyone in the world." But the United States needs to invest in education and infrastructure to capitalize on that opportunity, Biden said.

True to form, he sprinkled some scatter-brained levity into his talk, opening with wall to wall jokes. Biden’s daughter Ashley is on the board of the Urban League, he noted.  “I should have had at least one Republican kid who makes money,” he joked. “That way, when they put me in a home, I get a room with a view.”

• Hundreds of folks from all over the city crowded into the Sharonville Convention Center last night to talk about the plan to hike sales taxes to pay for renovations at Union Terminal and Music Hall. Many supporters of the plan showed up, but there were some skeptics in the audience as well. One suggestion that popped up a couple times, and that Commissioners say they may consider, is splitting renovations of the two buildings. Some have suggested raising taxes by a smaller amount so that people across the county can help pay for the badly-needed renovations to Union Terminal, while saving less-urgent Music Hall for the city to fund. Other attendees at the meeting didn’t like the proposed tax plan at all, saying they felt it put too much burden on the county. Many of the plan’s supporters came sporting the yellow signs that are part of the Save Our Icons campaign, a local effort to raise awareness about the buildings and advocate for a renovation plan sponsored by the Cincinnati Museum Center and Music Hall Revitalization Company. The next and final public meeting on the plan before Commissioners decide whether it will go on the ballot will be at the Commissioners’ regular meeting at 11 a.m. on Monday, July 30.

• Former P&G CEO Bob McDonald is another step closer to becoming the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs after the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs voted unanimously yesterday to endorse his nomination. The VA has been plagued by mismanagement, with serious questions arising about patient wait times and record keeping at the agency. Sen. Sherrod Brown is on the committee, and voiced strong confidence in McDonald.

“The VA is faced with many hurdles that it must overcome,” Brown said. “These hurdles are not insurmountable, and I am confident Bob McDonald will meet these challenges head-on.”

McDonald is a veteran himself, graduating from West Point and serving in the Army Rangers before his time at P&G.

“…I desperately want this job because I think I can make a difference,” McDonald told the committee yesterday.

• Cincinnati is the top city in the country for recreation, a new ranking says. A study done by finance website WalletHub.com puts our fair city on top of the nation’s 100 largest cities when it comes to having a good time. The study measured availability and affordability of various recreation—from parks to bowling to beer and wine—and then ranked cities accordingly. In all, 24 factors were considered. Most notably, the city is 2nd in the country when it comes to low prices for pizza and burgers. That’s the kind of metric I like to see. I may need to verify this during lunch hour today.

• A local non-profit called People’s Liberty has announced it will give out two $100,000 grants to Cincinnatians looking to make a difference in their community. Smaller grants will also be available for one-off projects and efforts. The group, which will be based in the Globe Building across from Findlay Market in northern Over-the-Rhine, is looking for “civic rock stars” who will use the money to try new, adventurous ways of getting people civically engaged. The grants will come with access to work space, support from staff, and connections with Cincinnati’s business and non-profit communities.

The coolest thing about this idea, I think, is the promise to make it inclusive and diverse.

"This is not going to be a playhouse for the hip," CEO Eric Avner told the Enquirer. "We will talk to everybody. We will listen to everybody. We will do it with intention."

• Finally, from the "weird crimes" file—the press secretary for a Pennsylvania Republican congressman was arrested late last week for trying to bring a loaded 9mm pistol into the Cannon congressional office building. Ryan Shucard, the press secretary for Rep. Tom Marino, tried to walk right through a security checkpoint at the building, which is just a block from the Capitol. Security found the weapon and magazine, and how Shucard is charged with carrying a weapon without a license, which is a felony.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.23.2014 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
to do_bright ride_photo urban basin bicycle club facebook page

Morning News and Stuff

Bike lane nears completion, food stamp usage down and powdered alcohol

 It’s a pretty good morning for news, so let’s get to it.

Cincinnati City Council's epic struggle this spring over the Central Parkway bike lane is barely a memory and the city is well on its way to a protected bike route from uptown to downtown. Crews are painting the new lanes right now, like, probably as I type, sectioning off a whole portion of the road meant only for cyclists. No more frantically looking over your shoulder every three seconds, bikers. No more getting caught behind a cyclist when you’re late to work, drivers. Everyone wins. After the lanes are painted and signage about new parking patterns is installed, crews will put up the plastic poles between the road and the bike lane, and we’ll all be ready to ride.

• A non-profit development group for the city’s uptown neighborhoods is looking for land to purchase in order to make a new federal research center a reality. The Uptown Consortium is trying to find the 14 acres in Avondale and Corryville near Reading Road and Martin Luther King Blvd. for the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety to build its multimillion dollar headquarters. NIOSH already runs two facilities in the region—one in the East End and another in Pleasant Ridge. This facility would consolidate the two and bring hundreds of jobs to the uptown area. Both the current facilities are 60 years old. The area is already home to a number of health facilities, including UC Health and Children’s Hospital. Representatives for the consortium said the land hunt is an ongoing project with no set timeline just yet. NIOSH researches issues around workplace safety.

• The Hamilton County Coroner yesterday released the autopsy report for Brogan Dulle, the 21-year-old UC student who went missing  in the early hours of May 18 and was later found hanged in the building next to his apartment. The report confirms what authorities believed—that Dulle’s death was suicide. No signs of trauma or struggle were found on Dulle’s body other than the hanging-related injuries that caused his death.

There are still puzzling elements about Dulle’s death, mostly around why he would want to commit suicide.

“It's an investigation that's raised a lot of questions and we still have a lot of questions we may never know the answers to," said Assistant Police Chief Dave Bailey.

• Food stamp usage is down in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, following a national trend, says a report from the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The report found that usage dropped more than 4 percent in Ohio from Feb. 2013 to Feb. 2014. Some of this news is good–a portion of those spending reductions came from a decrease in demand due to the economy’s slight but steady improvement. But some of the reductions come from last year’s cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the government’s main nutrition aid effort. SNAP spending by the federal government increased following the great recession as more individuals and families navigated tough economic situations and found themselves needing aid. That increase became a talking point for Republicans looking to slash government spending. At its peak in 2010 spending from the SNAP program accounted for .5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, nearly double what it had been earlier in the decade. Conservatives in Congress used the fact spending had gone up to attempt deep cuts to the program, passing several new stipulations. As the economy gets better, and as these cuts have taken effect, spending on SNAP has dropped to .25 percent of the nation’s economy, according to research by the Congressional Budget Office.

• Do you like alcohol, but hate that it’s in that hard-to-transport liquid form? Science has you covered. Turns out there’s a product called Palcohol that is, you guessed it, powdered, freeze-dried alcohol. Kind of like astronaut ice cream, only it’ll get ya drunk. This definitely reminds me of a certain Parks and Recreation bit. While Ron Swanson says there’s no wrong way to consume alcohol, the Ohio General Assembly wouldn’t say that. Lawmakers are working on a bill to ban the product. Palcohol received approval from the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, though the department quickly reversed its decision. It’s also been banned or will soon be banned in a number of other states including Alaska and New York. Turns out, things that aren’t that great for you anyway are even worse for you in powdered form. In May, an 18-year-old Ohio man died from consuming a heaping helping of powdered caffeine. The FDA now warns consumers to, you know, not do that kind of thing. Palcohol's inventor released a video addressing some concerns about the product, which you can check out right here.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.22.2014 9 days ago
Posted In: News, Drugs at 10:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Northside Community Council OKs Needle Exchange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 07.22.2014 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
 
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