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by Nick Swartsell 12.31.2014 109 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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News in Review 2014

Today's news and our top daily/weekly stories of 2014

Hey all! In a minute, I’m going to hit you with the list: the biggest, the most interesting and the most disturbing stories we covered this year on a daily or weekly basis. We’ve already given you our favorite news cover stories; those long-form pieces which we spent weeks or even months putting together. Now it’s time for the everyday stuff. But first, let me just throw a couple things your way that are making news on the last day of 2014.

Memorials are planned for Leelah Alcorn, the Kings Mills 17-year-old who committed suicide on I-71 Sunday after suffering with lengthy depression and isolation due to her transgender status. These memorials include a candlelight vigil in front of Kings High School Saturday from 5:30 to 7 p.m.  

In other news, the city came to an agreement with unions over its pension obligations last night. The deal, which took 10 months of negotiations, including a nine-hour marathon talk session between the city, employees and retirees, is complicated, but here’s the upshot: The agreement will allow the city to stabilize the pension fund, to which it owes $862 million, by whittling down retiree health benefits over time while putting $200 million from the health care trust fund into the pension fund. The city will also make a $38 million payment into the system next year.

On to the list. It’s a bit absurd to do these end of the year lists, right? I mean, ongoing stories don’t conveniently bookend themselves on New Years Eve, but tend to linger on and on (see: streetcar fight). But we have to stop somewhere and brag about our coverage, and the day we run out of calendar seems as good as any. So here are some of the big stories we covered in 2014:

1. Police Shootings and Race: A Familiar Story
Cincinnati is no stranger to controversy surrounding police shootings. So the unrest around an August incident in Ferguson, Mo., where a police officer shot an unarmed teenager named Michael Brown felt very close to home. The incident sparked civil unrest in Ferguson and across the country. Just days before, a similar incident occurred in a Beavercreek Walmart, where police shot 22-year-old John Crawford while he was holding a pellet gun sold in the store.

We watched the Crawford case closely from the beginning. His shooting as well as a  number of others around the country that came to light afterward were especially pertinent in Cincinnati, bringing back memories of the 2001 shooting of Timothy Thomas by police in Over-the-Rhine. We covered the parallels between 2001 and now, followed local reaction to the recent police shootings and delved deep into racial tensions in Beavercreek. New incidents of questionable use of force by police officers continue to emerge, suggest this story is far from over. We’ll be following it just as closely in 2015.

2. Icon Tax Debate
Two of Cincinnati’s favorite buildings need big help. But getting the money to renovate historic Music Hall and Union Terminal has been a political struggle. An initial proposal by business leaders would have levied a .25 percent sales tax increase over time to fund renovations on both buildings. But Republican Hamilton County commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann balked at including Music Hall in that arrangement, opting instead to shorten the duration of the tax increase and only fix Union Terminal. That left supporters of OTR’s major landmark angry and triggered a campaign to unseat Hartmann in the November election, though that effort fizzled. Meanwhile, Music Hall may get the fixing up it needs after all: the building was awarded $20 million in tax credits in December that will go a long way toward needed renovations.

3. The Battle Over Cincinnati’s Last Abortion Clinic

After lawmakers passed restrictive new laws requiring clinics that provide abortions to have transfer agreements with area hospitals, and then turned around and barred state-funded hospitals from entering into those agreements, things looked bleak for the region’s two remaining clinics. The situation got even worse over the summer when the Ohio Department of Health revoked the license of one of those clinics, Women’s Med in Sharonville, after refusing to grant the clinic an exception to those new rules. The area’s last remaining abortion provider, the Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center in Mount Auburn, got a similar warning from the state in November. The clinic had been waiting a year to hear back from the state about its request for a variance to the rules on the grounds that its doctors have individual admitting privileges with area hospitals. Planned Parenthood, which runs the clinic, sued the state, claiming Ohio’s laws are unconstitutional and present an undue burden to women seeking abortions. The state blinked, providing the clinic with a variance and keeping Cincinnati from becoming the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortion services.

4. Transit: Fights and Forward Movement
From ongoing streetcar drama to fights over bike lanes to efforts to bring better rail service to Cincinnati, how we get around got a lot of attention this year. In the spring, a battle flared up over Mayor John Cranley’s diversion of funds away from on-street bike lanes to bike paths, and further controversy arose over a new bike lane being built on Central Parkway. One business owner concerned about a few parking spots temporarily ground that project to a halt before the city agreed to spend thousands of extra dollars accommodating the parking concerns. There was some other progress on bike-related projects this year as paths on the city’s east side, including plans that could also someday include light rail, continued to take shape. Bickering about how the city will pay for the streetcar dominated the daily news, with new panics about the project’s yearly operating budget and construction contingency fund cropping up constantly. Meanwhile, in a project of a much larger scale, a group of advocates launched a campaign this year to get daily rail service going between Cincinnati and Chicago. Unlike the streetcar, that effort has been surprisingly bi-partisan. That level of agreement has been rare in transportation fights. But all the back and forth is good on one level — it means Cincinnatians are actively thinking about and engaged in conversations around transit alternatives.

5. Cincinnati’s Big Developments: Concerns and Questions
There’s no denying Cincinnati has had a huge year in terms of development. Over-the-Rhine continues to change at a rapid pace and other neighborhoods are quickly following suit in their own ways. But developers and the city administration that courts them are powerful folks, and it’s always good to ask questions when millions are getting thrown around like Monopoly money. We delved into concerns over Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation’s move into northern OTR, where the city awarded it decision-making power over a whole swath of neighborhood surrounding Findlay Market even as residents and the OTR Community Council expressed serious concerns about the deal. We talked to residents and businesses in Clifton Heights, where the city enacted zoning changes and tax deals for an out-of-town developer who will build a large, student-centered apartment complex despite protests from some long-time residents there. And we took a deep look into what the new I-71 interchange means for Avondale and Walnut Hills, both largely black communities whose members have historic reasons to distrust highway projects. Will development surrounding a new highway on and off ramp in these historically neglected and low-income neighborhoods lift up residents there, or will it bulldoze them? The questions around Cincinnati’s big-budget developments remain, and we’ll continue asking them in 2015.

6. Charter School Drama
2014 was the year things got weird at Ohio charter schools. VLT Academy in Cincinnati shut down after a long, messy fight by the school to secure a sponsor organization over protests from the Ohio Department of Education. A charter high school in Dayton, along with several others run by Chicago-based Horizon schools, came under scrutiny from federal authorities after former teachers made multiple reports of records forging and sexual misconduct. Overall, multiple studies, including a CityBeat review of state education data for Cincinnati charters, found that charters don’t seem to perform any better on the whole than public schools, and in many cases, perform worse. Meanwhile, charters are held to lower standards than public schools. All that begs the question: what are taxpayers getting for the diverted funds that pay for these often for-profit schools?

7. The Persistence of Poverty
We covered a number of issues surrounding poverty in Cincinnati, from former staffer German Lopez’s excellent cover story on the city’s poverty problem to more specific issues like affordable, subsidized housing, increases in homelessness in the city and a proposed hate crime law that would protect the homeless. There was also some good news, as Lower Price Hill, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods received free Wi-Fi so students and residents could connect to the outside world. As one of the city’s biggest, most complex challenges, Cincinnati’s high poverty rate works its way into a number of other issues such as sex trafficking, the heroin crisis and others, meaning we’re just getting started in our coverage. Expect much more in 2015.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Some other big stories we checked out this year include German Lopez’s great piece on efforts to legalize marijuana in Ohio and our coverage of the court battle over Ohio’s gay marriage ban. When you’re all bored and hungover tomorrow, peruse our coverage from the last year. Then hit me up with what you’d like to see in the new year. What’s important to you that Cincinnati media is neglecting?  Find me at nswartsell@citybeat.com and @nswartsell on Twitter.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.30.2014 110 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Questions about I-71 interchange's benefit to Avondale, Walnut Hills; high-ranking GOP Congressman spoke at white power convention; whatever you're doing on New Year's is better than this

Morning all. It’s a slow news day around here, and we’re waiting for tomorrow for our obligatory end-of-year top 10 news stories list. But there are still some interesting things happening around the city and beyond in the waning days of 2014.

Police officers from around the region gathered last night to pay respects to two officers killed by a gunman in New York City earlier this month. Police from Covington, Kenton County and Campbell County attended a rally at a memorial for fallen officers in Covington to remember New York City Police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were shot while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn. A few dozen members of the public also gathered for the event. Ramos and Liu’s shooter, who had earlier murdered his girlfriend in a Baltimore suburb, later killed himself. The incident has become a controversial moment in the nation’s tense struggle over police killings of unarmed people of color. Ramos and Liu’s shooter mentioned ongoing anger over the killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed man who died after an officer placed him in a choke hold. Activists decrying police violence have said the shootings of the officers are a tragedy and have called for peaceful protests.

• Cincinnati has gone all-in on a new highway interchange where I-71 passes through Walnut Hills and Avondale. But questions continue over whether that interchange will bring jobs and prosperity to some of the city’s poorest residents. It’s a tough question to answer because the project is fairly unique. Building a new highway on and off ramp in an already-built urban area is nearly unprecedented, and it’s tough to tell what will happen. That’s especially true since it’s unclear who will end up owning some of the 670 acres around the interchange officials say is blighted and in need of fresh development.  City officials tout a study by the UC Economics Center that predicts the new interchange could create 7,000 jobs. But other studies of highway development projects say it can be exceedingly hard to tell what their impacts will be. The city has more than $25 million in the project, so stakes are high. They’re also high for residents of the neighborhood — as we reported this summer, Avondale has a 40 percent poverty rate and has historically found itself cut off from the rest of the city economically and geographically. What’s more, some residents will need to move to make way for the interchange. As the project continues toward its November 2016 completion date, questions keep swirling.

• State Rep. John Becker, a staunch conservative representing suburban Cincinnati, has been busy during his freshman term, according to a recent profile in the Columbus Dispatch. The former anti-abortion activist has authored tons of right wing legislation — 27 bills, in fact —  and has courted a similarly prodigious amount of controversy. He’s been outspoken about police shootings of people of color, even commenting that he “wasn’t sure who the victim was” in the case of Mike Brown, an unarmed black man shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. He has suggested that similar shootings in Cleveland and Beavercreek involved drugs or “suicide by cop.” He’s also questioned why Planned Parenthood isn’t considered a hate group. That’s all charming stuff. Becker was reelected in November and will enjoy an increasingly conservative House — Republicans will hold 65 seats there next session. Up next on his agenda: abolishing the state’s income tax. Great!

• In national news, the Washington Post reports that House of Representatives Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, spoke at a white supremacist conference in 2002. The third most powerful member of the House appeared at a European-American Unity and Rights Organization convention in New Orleans hosted by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke when he was a state representative. Representatives for Scalise’s office say he was unaware of the group’s connections with the white power movement and was in the midst of a statewide campaign rallying support for lowering taxes and other conservative ideas.

“For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous,” Scalise told the Times-Picayune as the story was breaking last night.

The revelation comes as Republicans look to make a new start with an expanded majority in the House and a newly minted majority in the Senate. Meanwhile, Democrats are pummeling Scalise over the revelations.

• Finally, if you’re not satisfied with Cincinnati’s New Year's Eve offerings (I can’t imagine why. There are about a million things to do) take heart: Whatever you get into is probably better than watching a giant nail drop in this Pennsylvania town. It's not even metal. It's wood. The, uh, nail dropping will commemorate a historic nail factory. Get wild.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.30.2014 110 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Kings Mills Transgender Teen's Suicide Note: "Fix Society"

Note posted on Tumblr details teen's struggle with depression over treatment based on transgender status

A suicide note posted on Tumblr says Leelah Alcorn had trouble finding acceptance. The Kings Mills 17-year-old, whose given name was Joshua, identified as female. After her 16th birthday, she hoped to transition physically into what she felt was her actual gender. But her parents refused to grant her the necessary permission to undergo the medical procedures, according to a note published online the day after her suicide. 

Alcorn died Sunday after being hit by a semi truck on southbound I-71 near the South Lebanon exit. The letter, which appears to have been queued to automatically post on the teen's Tumblr page on Monday, says Alcorn killed herself because she felt isolated and misunderstood due to the fact she identified as a female. The note’s signature includes the name Leelah, and also the name “Josh” crossed out.

The Tumblr page friends say belonged to Alcorn features both suicide-themed posts and a number of more lighthearted updates, including the teen's art and numerous pictures of her dressed in both men’s and women’s clothing.

"If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender,” the note reads. “I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally 'boyish' things to try to fit in.”

The note recounts Alcorn’s struggle to find acceptance and help from family, who she says are devout Christians, and her peers. Her parents tried faith-based counseling, the note says, but that did little to ease her confusion and feelings of isolation. The note says that Alcorn hoped to begin transitioning physically (usually achieved through hormone treatments or surgery) at age 16, but fell into a deeper depression when her parents would not grant her permission to do so. 

A second note auto-posted today offers apologies to specific people identified as Leelah's friends, as well as again lashing out at her parents.

Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach shared the original note on social media Monday and said it’s evidence that the region, and the country, need to extend better treatment to transgender people.

“While Cincinnati led the country this past year as the first city in the mid-west to include transgender inclusive health benefits and we have included gender identity or expression as a protected class for many years... the truth is... it is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in the country,” Seelbach said in a Facebook post. “We have to do better.”

The note's closing paragraphs plead for change.

“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights,” the note ends. “Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year.”

According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, more than 40 percent of transgender people in America attempt suicide at some point in their lives. A more recent study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that the percentage spikes into the 60s for those without the support of family or peers.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol is investigating Alcorn’s death but has not returned a request for comment on the case.

The accident happened at about 2 a.m., according to police.

Originally, news media reported Alcorn's death as an accident and made no mention that she identified as female. Alcorn was a former student at Kings Mills High School who was well-liked by classmates, according to a release from the school. Alcorn was most recently enrolled in Ohio Virtual Academy, an online school.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Joshua's family and friends at this tragic time,” a representative for Kings Local Schools told WCPO. A post on the district's website gives a number which students at the school and friends of Alcorn can call to reach grief counselors and details for Alcorn's funeral. Alcorn's parents have asked for privacy in a statement released through the school.

Alcorn’s mother, Carla Alcorn, posted a message mourning the teen’s death on her Facebook page Monday.

“My sweet 16 year old son, Joshua Ryan Alcorn went home to heaven this morning. He was out for an early morning walk and was hit by a truck. Thank you for the messages and kindness and concern you have sent our way. Please continue to keep us in your prayers.”

The message has caused controversy on social media sites for refusing to recognize Leelah Alcorn's preferred gender. Other responses on social media criticized Kings Mills Local School District's similar handling of Alcorn's gender. Both Kings Mills Local Schools' Twitter and Facebook accounts were down today.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.29.2014 111 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
hunter

Morning News and Stuff

Hunter not going to jail just yet; majority supports body cameras for cops; the infamous "Interview" ticket scalper

Hello, Cincy. I hope your holidays were great and you got whatever you wanted during the gift-giving rituals for whatever you celebrate. I got socks and a dress shirt and I’m actually pretty hyped about them. Wait, does that mean I’m old now? Oh no.

Anyway, news. The saga of Tracie Hunter continues. It looks like the former Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge will get a reprieve from jail for now. The Ohio Supreme Court last week upheld her request for a stay on her six-month sentence until after an appeal of her felony conviction can be heard. Hunter was convicted of having unlawful interest in a public contract in October, one of eight felony counts the county brought against her. The jury hung on the other seven counts.

The charge that stuck is usually punished by a fine and probation. However, Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel sentenced Hunter to the jail term because of her stature as a judge, he said. Hunter’s supporters say she’s a victim of politics and that her aggressive attempts to reform the county’s juvenile justice system made some powerful enemies. Her critics say she broke the law by misusing court-issued credit cards, improperly handling court records and other infringements. 

The case has been complex and contentious. Hunter’s attorney filed three motions for a new trial, all of which were denied by Nadel, and three jury members who initially voted to convict Hunter on the felony count later recanted their votes, though it was already too late by that point. Attorneys with the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, which is representing Hunter in the appeals process, say her appeal could take a year. Hunter supporters rallied Sunday in Bond Hill to show support for the suspended judge and call for changes to county’s juvenile justice system, which they say has huge racial disparities. 

• So you might have heard about that building that fell down in CityBeat’s neighborhood over the weekend. The vintage 1865 structure near the corner of Court and Race that last held a box factory partially collapsed for unknown reasons Saturday, scaring the crap out of nearby residents and, just as tragically, blocking CityBeat editor Danny Cross’s parking spot. There were no injuries, though two other cars that were parked there at the time were heavily damaged. Nearby buildings are structurally sound, engineers with the city have said.

• Another group protesting racial disparities held a vigil Saturday night in Washington Park in remembrance of those who have died at the hands of police across the country. The vigil drew about 30 people, who held candles and paid respects to Mike Brown, John Crawford, Tamir Rice and others who have died in incidents with police. The vigil was the latest in ongoing protests around police killings of unarmed black citizens, including now-infamous incidents in Ferguson, Mo., Beavercreek, Cleveland, New York City and others across the country. Grand juries have failed to indict the officers who shot or otherwise caused the deaths of unarmed citizens in many of these incidents, setting off large-scale incidents of civil unrest in cities across the country.  

• Even as protests and a bitter national argument about race and police forces plays out, Americans are unusually united about one thing: Police should wear cameras. Eighty-six percent of respondents to a national survey indicated they support body cameras for officers, according to the Washington Post. A large majority of respondents also agreed that deaths caused by police should be investigated by independent prosecutors who have no ties with the departments they're investigating.

• If you’ve been following statewide politics this year (say, perhaps, by reading this blog right here), you know that one of the biggest political fault-lines in Ohio is the state’s implementation of the new federal Common Core public education standards. Supporters say it better teaches critical thinking skills and prepares students to be competitive in the global marketplace. But there are plenty of detractors across the political spectrum. Those on the right say the new standards amount to a federal takeover of local school districts and the state’s own standards. Those on the left hate that the new standards rely on standardized testing. Conservative lawmakers this year drafted bills to repeal the standards despite the fact that some prominent conservatives in the state, including Gov. John Kasich, support them. Those lawmakers, including Republican State Rep. Andy Thompson of Marietta, have recently signaled they’ll be at it again in the new year working to repeal the standards, and they appear to have a good deal of support in their quest. Check out this year-end rundown on Common Core by education news site State Impact for a deeper look at the drama over the standards.

• Finally, let’s talk about The Interview. First, the new Seth Rogen thing about assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was coming out as expected, on schedule and painfully similar to every other Seth Rogen movie. Then Sony got hacked and people thought it was the North Koreans and the movie was shelved because of some vague threats about violence at theaters that decided to show it. Now, as the argument about whether North Korea really even did the hacking rages on, Sony has decided to release the movie on a limited basis anyway at places like Clifton’s Esquire Theater.

The movie has done poorly in its initial release in the real world, grossing less than $2 million. However, it’s done much better online, where it’s racked up more than $15 million in rentals and sales for Sony, which spent more than $40 million to make the two-hour insult to humanity’s intelligence. The brisk online business is good for Sony but bad for the local man who spent $650 on tickets to the premier, hoping to cash in on a sold-out crowd hungry to see what all the fuss was about. The online release deflated this intrepid scalper's Christmas cash dreams. He’s asked the theater for a refund, but the Esquire has refused. There are so many things to shake our heads about in this story. I’ll leave you to ponder the state of our society.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.23.2014 117 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
brent spence bridge

Morning News and Stuff

Delay in Brent Spence replacement could cost $7 million a month, Ky. Gov. says; Beavercreek protesters charged; Economy grows at fastest rate in 11 years

Hello all! I’m here to give you one more news roundup before the holidays start in earnest. It’s pretty much the only reason I’m working today. Well, that and our holiday party. But that’s later. News is now.

It’s always rough when the authority figures in your life fight during the holidays. So it’s good news that the city and the county won’t be in court just yet over ongoing disagreements about how to tackle the region’s looming $3 billion sewer upgrade. Hamilton County owns the sewer system, but the City of Cincinnati runs it. And in the midst of a massive court-ordered upgrade after lawsuits from the EPA, environmental groups and homeowners, the two haven’t exactly seen eye to eye on how to get out of the mess. But in a meeting yesterday, the two governments agreed, at least in principle, to stop all the fussin’ and the feudin’ and work together to get things figured out. Early next year, the city and county will go through an independent mediation process to work through some of the issues around the revamp that have in the past landed them in court. That’s the holiday spirit!

• Meanwhile, just across the river, there’s another fight over billions of dollars still raging. Delays to a Brent Spence Bridge repair or replacement will cost taxpayers $7 million a month, Kentucky Governor Bill Beshear said yesterday at a Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce meeting in Covington. Beshear arrived at that number by considering the total cost of the project and government projections for inflation of construction costs. The obsolete though structurally sound bridge will cost $2.6 billion to replace and Beshear wants to talk about public-private partnerships as a way to get to that dollar amount. But those partnerships would probably mean tolls on the bridge — something many in Northern Kentucky are dead-set against. Opponents say tolls will adversely impact commuters who must cross the bridge every day. Anti-toll group Northern Kentucky United would like to see tolls off the table before any plan for the bridge goes forward. Beshear, on the other hand, wants to keep the option to use tolls open. He will meet with Ohio Gov. John Kasich in January to hammer out a plan for funding the bridge.

An appeals court has denied former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s request for a suspension of her six-month sentence, meaning she will more than likely have to report to jail Dec. 29. Hunter was convicted on one of eight felony counts this fall for having unlawful interest in a public contract. Prosecutors charge she improperly interceded on behalf of her brother, a juvenile jail employee charged with hitting an underage inmate. Judge Norbert Nadel sentenced her to the six months in Hamilton County jail last month. Hunter has appealed her conviction, and hoped to delay punishment until after that appeal was heard. Hunter's attorney also objected to a strongly-worded, one might even say snarky, letter from the Hamilton County Prosecutor's office calling for jail time for Hunter. The letter noted that Hunter had once promised to do anything for the children that came through her court, including go to jail. The letter suggested it was time for her to keep her promise.

• Four protesters arrested Saturday at a demonstration in the Beavercreek Walmart where police shot unarmed 22-year-old John Crawford III have been charged with trespassing and obstructing official business. The four, who are from Fairborn, Springfield and Wilberforce, pleaded not guilty and have been released on bond. The demonstration was a “die-in” where protesters laid on the ground in the Walmart. Management at the store decided to close in response to the protests over what they called safety concerns. Police officer Sean Williams shot Crawford Aug. 5 as Crawford walked around the store with a pellet gun sold at the Walmart.

• The U.S. economy saw the fastest growth its had in 11 years after a 5 percent boost in the third quarter of this year, according to the federal government. The U.S. Department of Commerce released the figures yesterday, which surprised many with their robustness and may indicate a deeper, more dynamic economic recovery is occurring. The growth came from an increase in consumer spending. The economy hasn’t grown so fast since this time in 2003, according to the report.

• Finally, a little year-end close-out question I'll be asking again next week: what were the biggest and most important stories this year? What did we miss? What did we get right? What do you think needs more coverage? We'll be hitting the ground running in 2015. Give us some juicy news tips.

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, or tweet at your boy at @nswartsell. Or you can e-mail me: nswartsell@citybeat.com

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.22.2014 118 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news parking

Morning News and Stuff

OTR parking rates, hours going up; activists protesting racial disparities expand their focus; coming next decade (maybe): an 800-mph transit system

Good morning y’all! Let’s get down to business so we can get through this short holiday week and arrive as quickly and painlessly as possible at the moment when we open our presents.

If you park in Over-the-Rhine, be prepared for change. Or, well, not needing change. The city has installed new “smart” parking meters in the neighborhood, as well as downtown, that accept credit cards. But that convenience comes at a price in OTR — rates are going from 50 cents to $1 an hour. The times when you’ll be required to feed the meters in OTR and downtown have also been increased. Starting Jan. 1, the meters will run from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Meter prices downtown will stay at $2 an hour for now, though City Council has given the OK for City Manager Harry Black to raise them as high as $2.15 an hour. The funds from the increase will go toward operating costs for the streetcar.

• Demonstrations continue over police killings of unarmed black men, including John Crawford III, shot this summer in a Beavercreek Walmart. Activists in Beavercreek Saturday briefly caused store management to shut down that Walmart after they staged a “die-in” at the store to protest the fact that the officer who shot Crawford was not indicted. Four of the protesters were arrested.

• Meanwhile, some activists here in Cincinnati have begun expanding their focus, taking the issue from the streets to the classroom. On Saturday, more than 120 people packed into OTR’s Peaslee Neighborhood Center for an hour-and-a-half-long teach-in and discussion on issues around race and police use of force. A number of speakers gave presentations on systemic racism, ways to make change and other topics. The teach-in was put together by an informal group of Cincinnati activists who say they will stage more events like it in the future.

The issue of police use of force has only gotten more contentious in recent days. On Saturday, a gunman shot and killed two New York City police officers while they were sitting in their squad car. The man earlier shot his girlfriend in Baltimore and fled the city. He had also recently posted threatening messages on social media about killing police officers.

Police officials have tied the killings to the large, ongoing demonstrations in New York City and to New York Mayor Bill deBlasio, who has been critical of police since taking office last year. They say the violent act was inspired by ongoing protests. Activists, however, say their movement has nothing to do with the shooter, who may have been suffering from a mental illness.

• Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman will be on a taskforce convened by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to study police-community relations and training procedures. Smitherman is one of 16 officials to join the task force, which will focus on making sure officers are trained to know when a situation requires deadly force and how to police racially diverse communities.

• Ohio’s minimum wage will be inching up in the new year. The state’s minimum wage level is tied to a consumer price index and will go from $7.95 to $8.10 on Jan. 1. The state has used the index to automatically determine its minimum wage since 2006 as an effort to keep the wage level in line with inflation and other consumer cost increases. Ohio’s rate is already above the national average of $7.25, though it is not high enough to raise most working a minimum wage job full time above the poverty line.

• Common Core has lived to fight another day in Ohio. A bill to repeal the federal education standards didn’t even make it to a vote in the Ohio House, which just ended its session. But you know there’s a sequel coming for this epic struggle. Republican State Rep. Andy Thompson from Marietta has vowed to reintroduce legislation killing Common Core next session, and he’s says he’s got backup coming. Several new House members campaigned on keeping Ohio out of the federal standards. Supporters of the new education goals say they help students learn critical thinking skills. Conservative opponents say the standards strip control from the state and local school districts and amount to a federal takeover of education. Other, more left-leaning critics of the standards decry Common Core’s reliance on standardized testing. Grab some popcorn. This drama is going to go on longer than those Lord of the Rings movies.

• Finally, do you want to travel around the country at 800 miles an hour? Don’t have enough cash to buy your own fighter jet? Tesla founder Elon Musk may have the answer for you. It’s called Hyperloop: a high-speed land-based transit system that would, in theory, zip people across a nationwide network of routes. Cincinnati and Columbus are both on a map that is included in a 76-page description of the project, though Cleveland got dissed. The first leg of this sci-fi transportation network would be built in California between San Francisco and L.A. for the low, low bargain price of $7 billion. Scientists hired by Musk to draw up the plans say raising the money will be the only big problem — they claim the science already exists to make 800 mph speeds a reality. Musk, who by the way is the same guy who started a company to shoot people into space for profit, has predicted the first hyperloop could be up and running in a decade. Meanwhile, I can’t help thinking about this.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.18.2014 122 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

Council passes tax deals; big announcement on Music Hall; this coffee has a little something extra

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.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.17.2014 123 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gun

Morning News and Stuff

$3 billion for friendlier flushing; Cleveland Browns wide receiver on Rice/Crawford shirt; state gun laws changing

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!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.16.2014 124 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gilbanecliftondevelopment-600x887

Morning News and Stuff

City tax deals for developers draw scrutiny; streetcar passes selling briskly; Bush vs. Clinton: the rematch?

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!

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.15.2014 125 days ago
Posted In: News at 05:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
walmart-john-crawford-mug

Crawford Family to File Lawsuit Over Police Shooting

Suit names officers, Beavercreek police chief and Walmart

The family of John Crawford III, the 22-year-old Fairfield man a Beavercreek police officer shot Aug. 5 in a Walmart, is filing a lawsuit against Beavercreek Police Chief Dennis Evers, officers Sean Williams and David Darkow and the Walmart corporation, the family’s lawyers announced today via a news release.

Officer Williams shot Crawford, a Fairfield resident who grew up in Cincinnati, in the Walmart after another customer, Ronald Ritchie, called 911 to report a man loading a gun and pointing it at customers in the store. Ritchie later contradicted that statement in interviews with the media, stating Crawford wasn’t actually pointing the gun at anyone. The weapon turned out to be a pellet gun sold by Walmart. Video footage of the event released by Attorney General Mike DeWine weeks later does not conclusively show Crawford threatening anyone with the weapon.

A grand jury on Sept. 24 declined to indict Williams for the shooting.

Many have drawn parallels between Crawford’s death and the Aug. 9 police shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Brown was unarmed when officer Darren Wilson shot and killed him. The incident has sparked months of protests and civil unrest in Ferguson and across the country. Those protests intensified when a St. Louis County grand jury announced Nov. 24 that it would not indict Wilson.

The Crawford family’s lawyers, as well as Crawford’s father John Crawford, Jr., will hold a press conference in Dayton tomorrow at 11 a.m. to discuss the details of the lawsuit.

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 04.16.2015 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gay-marriage-rights

Morning News and Stuff

City declares April 28 John Arthur day; crazy day at the state house; national press continually fixated on Clinton's burrito habits

Good morning, y’all. Before we get to the news this morning, I want to plug a cover story we have coming up in a couple weeks. I've been working on it since February, and I really hope you all will take a look when it goes up April 29. It deals with one of the city's forgotten neighborhoods, a group of people fleeing incredibly difficult circumstances and a place where cultures from around the world mix in an incredible way. The folks in the story deserve your attention for their courage and patience. That's all I'm going to say for now. I hope you'll check it out.

There is a lot to talk about today, so I'll stop promoting and get to the news.

Let’s start with the positive stuff first. Cincinnati City Council yesterday declared April 28 John Arthur day in honor of the late Over-the-Rhine resident and gay rights activist who passed away in 2013 from ALS. Arthur’s husband Jim Obergefell has since fought the state of Ohio to get his name listed on Arthur’s death certificate, a battle that will find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court April 28. The case will almost assuredly be a history-making event. Look out next week for our feature story on the battle that could determine the future of same sex marriage.

• Council also locked horns, once again, on the streetcar yesterday. Councilman Chris Seelbach proposed a motion that would direct the city administration to prepare a report on possible funding for Phase 1B of the transit project. Sound like a small step? It is. But oh, what a fuss it raised. The next hour was dominated by arguments over the project, including recent revelations that revenue won’t be as high as anticipated, Mayor John Cranley again touting a residential parking permit plan as a way to make up some of the difference and calls from at least one council member to can the project entirely. After all the fireworks, the motion passed 5-4. You can read all about it in our coverage here.

• What else is new around town? Well, our own Nick Lachey, of 98 Degrees fame, wants to turn over a new leaf (heh see what I did there?) as a marijuana farmer. Lachey has invested in a ballot initiative by marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio. In return for putting up money for the effort, which needs to collect more than 300,000 signatures by this summer to get its proposal on the November ballot, Lachey will become part owner of a marijuana farm in the city of Hudson, which is in northeastern Ohio. That farm will be one of 10 under ResponsibleOhio’s plan, which would restrict commercial cultivation to a select number of sites. The group also tweaked its proposal after some criticism, and the current plan would also allow home growers to grow a small amount for personal use. Critics, however, including other legalization efforts, still say the plan amounts to a monopoly.

• Representatives from some area school districts, including Princeton City Schools, are lobbying in Columbus today in protest over state budgetary moves that would cut millions from their budgets. Princeton serves Lincoln Heights, Glendale, Woodlawn and much of Springdale and Sharonville in addition to other areas. Some school employees have taken personal days off from work to protest the proposed elimination of a state offset for the so-called Tangible Personal Property Tax. TPP was a big part of funding for many schools like Princeton. It was eliminated by lawmakers in 2007, but the state continued to funnel funds to schools to make up for the loss. Now, with Ohio’s new proposed budget, that offset will gradually be eliminated. Princeton receives nearly a quarter of its budget from the payments. It’s one of a number of schools on the chopping block from the new budget, which is a milder form of Gov. Kasich’s proposed financial blueprint for the state’s next two years. Kasich’s plan would have cut half of the districts in Ohio while increasing funding for the other half, mostly low-income rural and urban districts. State lawmakers have eased some of those cuts, but the prospect of losing money has caused ire among schools like Princeton, Lakota and others.

• There are a lot of other things happening in the state house today. Lawmakers are mulling whether to eliminate funding for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, tests. The state’s GOP legislators would like to eliminate the $33 million used to administer the tests, effectively killing them off. Part of the reason lawmakers want to eliminate them is that they’re tied to so-called federal Common Core standards. State Republicans are generally opposed to the standards, though Gov. John Kasich supports them. The tests’ roll-out this year has also been rocky, marked by complaints about glitches and difficulty. But there could be a big price tag for the political statement being made by eliminating the tests:  the loss of more than $750 million in federal money for education in Ohio, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

• Elsewhere in the state house, the GOP is raising ire among its own with other measures in the state budget. Republican State Auditor David Yost has cried foul at an attempt to remove oversight of disputes about public records requests from his bailiwick. State lawmakers say that the auditor’s office is responsible for financial accountability of state offices, not their public records. They want to remove the auditor’s power to receive complaints about public records requests and issue information and citations about such requests. Yost says removing his office’s power to oversee public records request issues weakens his ability to hold other public offices accountable and is unconstitutional. The Ohio Newspaper Association has also come out against the move. Reporters file a lot of public records requests, after all, and I for one don't want to have to sue someone every time I want some information that YOU should be able to know.

• What’s going on in national news, you ask? Stories about Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s Chipotle trip continue, revealing little other than the utter intellectual bankruptcy of some of the national political press. The initial story about the stop in the Maumee, Ohio, Chipotle earlier this week was a bit of a campaign stunt in and of itself (Hillary’s campaign staff tipped off the New York Times about the stop, leading to this incredibly important breaking news) and now we’ve just spun down into the dregs of mindless chatter about a burrito bowl. Not even a real burrito! Burritos are for eating, not for think-piecing. Why do you folks get paid to do this, again?

Meanwhile, Kasich is getting some interesting press that could boost his chances in the Republican 2016 primary contest for the presidential nomination. National publications are calling him everything from the "GOP's Strongest Candidate" to the "GOP's Moderate Backstop." Ah, national media. Gotta love it.

I'm out. Tweet at me, email me, hit me up on Livejournal. Just kidding. I haven't logged into Livejournal in forever. Weeks, at least.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.15.2015 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 04:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Council Passes Motion Asking for Report on Streetcar Phase 1B

Relatively small step caused a big fight as streetcar drama swirls

Cincinnati City Council today passed a motion asking the city administration to draw up a report on possible funding sources for the planning and construction of phase 1B of the streetcar.

But the relatively small step caused a firestorm of controversy, illustrating how politically divisive the transit project remains. The motion, authored by City Councilman Chris Seelbach, launched a contentious hour of debate among council members about whether it was appropriate to look ahead to the next phase of the controversial transit project when the current phase, a 3.6 mile loop around downtown and Over-the-Rhine, has yet to be nailed down.

The motion passed on a narrow 5-4 vote, with council members Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann, and Wendell Young voting for the measure. Council members Charlie Winburn, Kevin Flynn, Amy Murray and Christopher Smitherman voted against having the city produce the study.

Seelbach said the idea was to gather information to make an informed decision about next steps.

“This motion doesn’t say we’re ready to study Phase 1B of the streetcar,” Seelbach said. “All it says is we want some facts on paper about opportunities we may even want to pass up. I think that’s a very fair conversation we want to have. But let’s at least get the facts on paper.”

Seelbach cited the availability of federal TIGER grants, $500 million of which have been made available for fiscal year 2015 to cities proposing transit projects that spur economic development. Supporters of extending the streetcar say the city should start planning now so it can apply for future federal money that would help pay for a route extension.

But streetcar opponents, including Mayor John Cranley and Councilman Christopher Smitherman, said the focus now should be on the project’s beleaguered current phase. They pointed to a recent revelation that the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority projects revenues for the streetcar will be well under earlier expectations.

“I guess my question is, 'Why aren’t the supporters of the streetcar leading the $500,000 new deficit that we discovered yesterday,' ” said Cranley. “Where is the plan to solve the revenue gap we discovered yesterday? Let’s make Phase 1 a success. Instead people want to write more checks and spend more money on Phase 2.”

Early estimates placed revenue from ridership and advertising sold on the streetcar at $1.35 million in the first year. But adjustments in the way passengers will pay fares (by time spent on the cars, not on a per-ride basis), factoring in subsidized rides for low-income riders and revised advertising revenue estimates mean the streetcar is likely to pull in just $781,000 in its first year, SORTA told council yesterday. That means the transit project may have to tap into a $9 million fund provided by the Haile Foundation to help fund the streetcar’s first decade in operation. Opponents like Cranley and Smitherman say the project's first phase is a financial mess that will leave tax payers holding the bag. 

Cranley used the opportunity to again propose a residential parking pass for residents of Over-the-Rhine. In the past, he's floated proposals to charge as much as $300 a year to residents who want to park in the street in the neighborhood. Citing the number of new high-price condos springing up in OTR, Cranley said the owners of those high-price abodes should have to foot some of the bill for the amenity running past their doors. 

But supporters of the project fired back, saying the project is meant to spur economic development and must be looked at through that lens. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said investment spurred by the streetcar, including new development in Over-the-Rhine, would far outweigh the expenditures the city will make. She chalked up continued opposition to the streetcar, and the motion to produce a report, to politics.

“I think it really comes down to leadership,” said Simpson. “We made a commitment to a project, and there are times when there are challenges. The campaign is over. Our ability to put our best foot forward on this project will really determine the success of the project.”

Originally, the streetcar was intended to run from The Banks to a location uptown. However, after Gov. John Kasich eliminated millions in state funds from the project, it was scaled back. The route now ends near Findlay Market. Supporters, however, including many who pushed the streetcar through a contentious three-week pause in 2013, haven’t given up hope that the second leg can be completed into the area around the University of Cincinnati and the area’s major hospitals.

The debate over the motion once again opened up old arguments.

Councilman Charlie Winburn called once again for the streetcar to be halted entirely, saying it should be “scrapped altogether.” Winburn told City Manager Harry Black that he didn’t have to follow the motion, which doesn’t have the force of law, and asked the city administration to disregard it. The city solicitor confirmed that the motion was non-binding, and it is unclear whether the city manager will direct city administration to produce the report.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.15.2015 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pe_streetcar_jf1

Morning News and Stuff

2013 streetcar pause gets more costly; parent files civil rights complaint against Lebanon schools; Castro for VP?

Morning all! Let’s get started on this news thing right away. I’ll be brief today.

Good news for transit drama junkies: The next episode of the streetcar soap opera just dropped, and it’s a double feature. Turns out the 2013 pause in streetcar construction while Mayor John Cranley railed against the project and Cincinnati City Council mulled pulling the plug could end up costing the city $2 million. The city has already spent about $1 million on costs associated with the pause, and now the team responsible for the streetcar is negotiating with a consultant involved in the construction of the streetcars over how much it owes for other costs related to the work stoppage. The cars themselves will be delayed six months because of the three-week pause, the streetcar team says, since the company making the cars thought the project was dead at the time. That cash will have to come out of the streetcar’s contingency fund, which will have about $1 million left after payments related to the pause are made.

Meanwhile, estimates for how much money the streetcar will rake in every year are down, according to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority. Adjustments in the way passengers will pay fares (by time spent on the cars, not on a per-ride basis), factoring in subsidized rides for low-income riders and revised advertising revenue estimates mean the streetcar is likely to pull in just $781,000 in its first year, much less than the originally-estimated $1.35 million. That means the transit project may have to tap into a $9 million fund provided by the Haile Foundation to help fund the streetcar’s first decade in operation.

• We’ve known for a while that the current site of the Anna Louise Inn, an historic women’s shelter downtown near Lytle Park, is slated to become a luxury hotel. Now we know which luxury hotel. Marriott announced yesterday it is bringing its Autograph Collection hotel concept to the site. Autograph Collection hotels are high-end, boutique accommodations. Others include European palaces and swanky hunting lodges. Plans have been in the works to relocate the century-old women’s shelter after a protracted and contentious legal battle between the city, Anna Louise Inn operators Cincinnati Union Bethel and insurance giant Western & Southern ended in 2013. A new CUB facility is being constructed in Mount Auburn.

• Here’s a quick one: Two Cincinnati lawyers have filed a lawsuit hoping to legalize prostitution in San Francisco. Lou Sirkin and Brian O’Connor of Cincinnati-based firm Santen and Hughes have filed in a California U.S. District Court on behalf of an organization called the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Education and Research Project. Three sex workers and a prospective client of sex workers are named as plaintiffs in the suit, which Sirkin and O’Connor say is a constitutional issue. Sirkin has worked on a number of constitutional and individual rights cases across the country.

• Lebanon City School District is facing a civil rights complaint from the mother of one of its students. Heather Allen has filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that issues of racial discrimination and bullying haven’t been taken seriously by the district. Allen says her biracial children, as well as other black children in the district, have been subject to racist jokes, taunting, repeated use of racial slurs including the n-word and an alleged threat from another student who Allen says had a knife. Nine incidents total are listed in the complaint, which comes a few weeks after an Instagram photo surfaced from a district student bearing racial slurs and a threat toward a black Lebanon student. The district thus far has not responded to media inquiries about the complaints, though it did address the Instagram photo, saying it didn’t have jurisdiction over that issue since it happened off school property.

• Former death row exonerees took to the capitol yesterday to advocate for changes to Ohio’s death penalty. Six men who had been wrongfully convicted of murder and who spent time in prison for their wrongful convictions gathered to urge lawmakers to adopt 57 recommendations for changes to the way the state administers justice made by the Ohio Supreme Court Task Force on Capital Punishment. Among them was Ricky Jackson, who was finally freed last November after spending 39 years in prison for a murder in Cleveland he didn’t commit. Jackson was exonerated thanks to the work of UC’s Ohio Innocence Project, an initiative co-founded by Mayor John Cranley in 2003. The Innocence Project is the subject of this week’s CityBeat news feature — it just won a new trial for three other Cleveland men who may have been wrongfully convicted in another murder. Check it out.

• Finally, your 2016 update: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida entered the presidential fold Monday, declaring he’ll seek the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, there is noise about who former secretary of state and current Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton will tap for vice president. Will it be former San Antonio mayor and current Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro? Some think-piece writers think so. It seems clear that Castro, along with his brother, U.S. Rep Juan Castro, are both being groomed by the Democratic Party for bigger things. The Castro brothers are promising stars in the party, to be sure, but there’s also a pretty calculated element to the speculation: Rubio is strong with Hispanics thanks to his own Hispanic background, and Castro as VP could be a way to counteract that, political pundits say. Ew. Politics is gross.

That’s it for me. Tweet at me. Email me. You know the drill.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.14.2015 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
baseball

Morning News and Stuff

I-75 north ramp from uptown to take five more years; Ohio Board of Ed ends 5 of 8 rule; Hillary goes unnoticed in Ohio Chipotle

Hello all. What’s up? Let’s dive right into the news today.

If you live uptown and frequently need to hop on I-75 north, I have some bad news for you. It’s going to be another, oh, five years before the already years-old ODOT project to revamp I-75 makes it easier to access the highway from uptown. Let’s ruminate on that length of time for a minute. It’s an entire high school career plus a year of college. Or the amount of time it takes the average person to put 65,000 miles on a car. Or for some folks, multiple long-term relationships. The hang-up comes from a proposed connector bridge that will allow for easier access from I-74 to the area around Cincinnati State College. That construction is in the same area as the planned new northbound ramp, meaning the latter will have to be put off until 2020. That leaves uptown residents wanting to head north with the option of two complicated workarounds that probably add at least a few minutes to commute times. Happy driving y’all.

• In more positive news, it sounds like the city’s July 14 parade for the MLB All-Star Game is going to be something else. Usually, these kinds of things are limited to a few pickup trucks full of ball players on the way to field from their hotels, but Cincinnati Reds COO Phil Castellini says this year will be different. Floats, music and other festivities inspired by our annual opening day parade will fill the mile-long parade route, which goes from the Westin Hotel downtown past Fountain Square to Great American Ballpark. The All-Star Game is a big deal for any city to land — estimated economic impact for the city is somewhere in the $60 million range.

• Over-the-Rhine business course MORTAR will graduate its first class of entrepreneurs today. Locals William Thomas, Derrick Braziel and Allen Woods founded the group last year with a focus on increasing socio-economic diversity in the city’s startup culture. When you picture a startup entrepreneur, you might immediately think of a young white middle class male, which would be understandable since that demographic makes up a large percentage of entrepreneurs, especially in hot new markets like tech. MORTAR’s mission is to go beyond that, founders say, and to extend the opportunity to start a business to anyone in the city with a good idea. Tonight at Elementz, on the corner of Race and Central Parkway, the first class will take their ideas public during a series of presentations lasting from 6-9 pm. First year participants include Black Owned Outerwear founder Cam Means and soap maker Evie Cotton.

• I knew y'all were smart. Cincinnati is among the most literate cities in the country according to a study by Central Connecticut State University President Dr. Jack Miller. Miller measured literacy in America’s 77 biggest cities by studying bookstores, libraries, newspaper circulation, education level and Internet usage to come up with his ranking. Cincinnati ranked 12th, just above Raleigh, N.C. and just below Portland, Ore. We are far and away the best Ohio city on the list — runner up Columbus ranked just 21st. Minneapolis took the top spot this year after a four-year run in the top spot for Washington, D.C., which finished second this time around.

• The Ohio Board of Education voted yesterday to end the state’s stipulation that school districts have at least five of eight specialty positions in each of their schools. Those positions included librarians, music teachers and physical education teachers. The rule change has been hotly debated among educators and officials. Opponents say it will mean that students in many low-income schools will no longer be guaranteed arts, music and other important humanities education. Boosters of the rule change say it allows local school districts more autonomy with how they spend their budgets.

• Is Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal dead? Looks like its prospects are grim, especially when it comes to the tax boosts the governor suggested to make up for his proposed $5.7 billion in income tax cuts. The GOPers in the Ohio General Assembly love the cuts, but hate the offsets, which include a sales tax hike. State lawmakers are expected to tweak Kasich’s budget to cut about $1 billion in income taxes while forgoing the sales tax hikes and some other big measures in the budget. Kasich’s plan has taken fire from both the left and the right. Progressives point out that shifting the tax burden from income toward sales taxes puts a higher proportional burden on the state’s low-income workers and that cuts to taxes on businesses and the tax bills of the state’s top earners is a regressive move that favors the wealthy. Conservatives, on the other hand, say the sales tax hike would encumber businesses and slow the economy. Both the state House and Senate will have to vote to approve a final budget agreement.

• Big news here: While Hillary Clinton was driving around in her Scooby Doo campaign van yesterday, she passed through Ohio and stopped for some Chipotle. Surprisingly, this news story says, no one in the Maumee, Ohio, Chipotle recognized her, probably because they were too focused on their double barbacoa double cheese double sour cream burritos. Dude, when I’m eating a burrito, the wailing ghost of James Brown could come in spitting fire and singing "Poppa’s Got a Brand New Bag" and I probably wouldn’t take much note, but then the wailing ghost of James Brown isn’t running for president in 2016 (unfortunately).

• Finally, new revelations have surfaced in the shooting death of Walter Scott,
North Charleston, South Carolina man, by police officer Michael Slager April 5. North Charleston police have released audio recordings taken immediately after the incident in which Slager tells his wife he shot Scott while the man was running from him and then later laughs about the adrenaline rush to a supervisor. Scott was black, Slager white. The incident is the latest racially charged police shooting to capture the nation’s attention in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., last summer.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.13.2015 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
to-do_lumenocity

Morning News and Stuff

Changes coming to LumenoCity, Joe Deters wants his tiger suit, cursive (handwriting, not the emo band) makes a comeback

Hello all. I hope you got out and enjoyed the weather this weekend, which was spectacular. I took a nice six-mile hike organized by Imago, a Price Hill-based nature preserve and environmental education organization and Park and Vine, the planet friendly general store on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. It was pretty great to spend the day hiking through the OTR, the West End and the Price Hills.

On to the news! The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has announced it’s bringing incredibly popular OTR light show LumenoCity back Aug. 5-9, but it’s going to be a lot different this year, at least when it comes to admission. The two-year-old event has up to this point been a free offering to the public. The first year, the light show was open to anyone who wanted to drop by. Last year, however, organizers sectioned off the park and required show goers to claim free tickets online, citing massive demand. More than 30,000 people showed up for the four nights of the show. Those tickets sold out in a flash, and some ended up on eBay for pretty crazy prices. This year, organizers have set up a lottery for tickets. Those who are randomly selected from the lottery will pay up $20 for tickets, which will be limited to four per household and 6,000 per night.

• So this is kinda hilarious. It looks like Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters is down one really killer Halloween costume after a recent magistrate’s decision. As you probably know, a year ago, a group of Greenpeace activists staged a protest at Procter and Gamble headquarters over the company’s use of palm oil, the harvesting of which they say has lead to the destruction of rainforests. As part of this protest, one of the activists repelled down the side of P&G in a tiger costume. For whatever reason, Deters wanted that costume. He wanted it bad. He asked a Hamilton County Court magistrate if he could keep it (it had been held as evidence), but the magistrate recently told Deters to give the dang tiger suit back to the dude.

• Normally, the flow in Washington when it comes to making the big money is that you serve in the government side of things, as a legislator or on a legislator’s staff, then move on to the lucrative lobbying positions that big interests groups hire to gain influence in D.C. But it works both ways, apparently. Here’s an interesting piece about how some national politicians with local ties are hiring former lobbyists to join their Washington staffs. Which seems weird and a little shady, right? Well, it’s not illegal, and the former recipients of big corporate cash swear they’re only working for their bosses (read: us) when they make the move to a legislator’s office. Hm.

• Heroin is a big issue in both north and south of the Ohio River. But the legislative ways Ohio and Kentucky deal with the crisis are very different. Kentucky has recently passed a raft of new laws that look to alleviate the drug’s hold on the region, including making things like needle-exchange programs easier. It’s also ramped up penalties for traffickers bringing the drug into the state. But police officers in Ohio are more likely to carry overdose recovery drugs like Narcan, while many Kentucky police departments are still weighing the drug’s benefits against its costs and possible dangers. What’s more, Ohio is poised to pass more measures ensuring addicts leaving prison get the anti-addiction medication they need. Will the two states ever get on the same page? Unclear.

• The Ohio Democratic Party on Saturday officially endorsed former Gov. Ted Strickland in his campaign for U.S. Senate, tilting the party’s primary further away from Cincinnati City Councilman and Strickland primary opponent P.G. Sittenfeld. That wasn’t entirely unexpected — Strickland has statewide name recognition, polling that shows him trouncing incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman by nine points at this early point in the campaign, and the endorsement of former president Bill Clinton — but it stings all the same. Especially brutal is what Strickland said at a meeting of the state party’s executive committee of delegates Saturday.

“This isn’t a Little League Baseball Game,” Strickland said, probably muttering a condescending “son,” under his breath. “This is a U.S. Senate race.” Dang. It’s getting heated in this thing.

• Is cursive making a comeback in Ohio? No, no, not Cursive, the band I spent many of my angst-ridden teen years rocking out to. I’m talking about the squiggly script students used to be required to master in grade school. These days, districts decide whether or not they teach the handwriting method, but that could change with a new proposed law that would make it a mandatory part of public education. I’m against it. Art is hard and so are those loopy letters. Full disclosure, however, my handwriting is absolutely awful.

• Quick, but important and kind of scary: Remember last summer when we had that gross toxic algae thing in the Great Lakes, in part due to industrial fertilizer runoff? It shutdown Toledo's water supply for a minute, and it could be a big problem again this year.

• Finally, Hillary Clinton is officially running for president again after her Sunday campaign rollout. The former secretary of state and Democratic frontrunner is already on the campaign trail, hitting up Iowa as we speak, reportedly road-tripping in a black van she’s dubbed “the Scooby Doo Van.”

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.10.2015 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gaymarriage

Morning News and Stuff

Cancer awareness advocate Lauren Hill passes away; educational inequality in Cincinnati still huge problem, study says; Clinton to announce candidacy Sunday

Hello Cincy, let’s talk about the news today.

The big story, of course, is the death of Lauren Hill, the 19-year-old Mount Saint Joseph freshman who very publicly and courageously battled inoperable brain cancer. Hill inspired many across the country, continuing to play basketball with Mount Saint Joe even as her illness weakened her. Through her advocacy, she raised $1.4 million for cancer research with nonprofit cancer research agency The Cure Starts Now. Hill passed early this morning.

• Cincinnati’s next big brewery has set its opening date. Northside’s Urban Artifact brewery, located in the historic St. Pius X church on Blue Rock Street, will have its grand opening two weeks from today on April 24. The space will also be a concert venue, and has a unique business model: live music every night of the week that will be recorded, if the artists wish, and streamed on the space’s website. Eventually, Urban Artifact will offer a restaurant at the location as well.

• Local high school students in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren Counties will be able to take a free college class and get a textbook free of charge this summer at Cincinnati State Technical Community College, the school announced yesterday. The offer is open to 2015 graduates and those who will be freshmen in the fall at Cincinnati State as well. Cincinnati State President O’dell Owens says it’s a way for the school to give back to the community while hopefully enticing area students to enroll at the school in the future. 

• Cincinnati schools are making strides in terms of educational achievement by students, but those gains aren't universal and highlight glaring racial and economic gaps, a new study from Cincinnati's Strive Partnership has found. You can read the full study here. Look for more coverage on educational inequality in Cincinnati from us in the near future.

• There’s a pretty interesting wrinkle in the race for the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Rob Portman in Ohio. Democratic challenger Ted Strickland has polled nine points ahead of Portman and many points ahead of his primary foe Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. But Strickland has actually raised less money for his campaign than either of them. Portman has raised over $2 million for the race, Sittenfeld has raised $750,000 and recent campaign filings show Strickland has pulled in about $670,000. That’s not far off from Sittenfeld, and Strickland has much more name recognition from his stint as governor of Ohio from 2007 to 2011. Strickland announced his campaign later than Sittenfeld, a fact his campaign manager says explains why he’s trailing right now.

• Here’s a really informative rundown on the upcoming Supreme Court battle over marriage equality that centers around Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and gay marriage bans in several other states. The case will almost certainly be precedent-setting, and momentum is on the side of marriage equality; many federal circuit courts have struck down other states’ bans, but the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has upheld bans in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Tennessee. That’s created a conflict in federal court rulings, something the Supreme Court will have to sort out with its decision. The nation’s highest court already struck down a federal ban on gay marriage two years ago, and now advocates on both sides are holding their breath for this decisive battle. Arguments before the court kick off April 28.

• Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to announce her candidacy for president Sunday in New York City, according to a number of national news outlets. Clinton is the decided front runner for the Democratic nomination; so much so that some have accused her of a rather blasé approach to the campaign thus far. Clinton has a strong fundraising network and big support from high-level Democrats, though. But she has already had to tussle with a potential scandal: the revelation she used her personal e-mail account for State Department business while she served in that position. That wasn’t illegal at the time, and Clinton has turned over thousands of those e-mails, but critics say there’s no way to know whether she has turned over all of them. Despite these early stumbles, there are few other Democrats who seem feasible challengers. Those on the left in the party have been pushing Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run, but she so far has declined to entertain the idea. More recently, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with Democrats, has made noises that he might be interested in the race. It’s unclear, however, how Sander’s very progressive politics (he’s an avowed socialist) would play with the mainstream Democratic base.

• Finally, a measure designed to prevent businesses who contract with the federal government from discriminating against LGBT individuals kicked in Wednesday. The law, which stems from an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in July, means that those companies can’t consider sexual orientation when they hire. Outside this measure, which only applies to companies who do business with the federal government, there are not laws against employment discrimination against LGBT individuals federally or in Ohio.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.09.2015 10 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
tedstrickland

Morning News and Stuff

Avondale could get $40 million development including grocery; new revelations about Cincy charter school CCPA; Obama calls for "Leelah's law" banning conversion therapy

Good morning y’all. How are you? I’m feeling great today because I just polished off a 6,000-word draft for an upcoming cover story that you’re definitely going to want to read. That’s always a great feeling, and a short-lived one — soon comes the editing process. But let’s stay focused on the here and now, shall we, and talk about the news today.

Could $40 million in new development, including a sought-after grocery store, be coming to Avondale? It’s becoming more and more of a possibility. Developer The Community Builders is looking at expanding development plans associated with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods program, which seeks to improve individual and neighborhood-level outcomes in low-income communities. Developers and the Avondale Community Council and Community Development Corporation have received $30 million from that program, and by using that money to attract other investment have turned it into $100 million for development in the neighborhood. So far, that money has gone to rehabilitating existing structures, but it could soon be used to build new developments, including the so-called Avondale Town Center, a key mixed-use development including a grocery store Mayor John Cranley mentioned in his State of the City speech last year. The development is still in the planning phases, and no grocer has been selected yet, but so far 118 units of affordable and market-rate housing and 80,000 square feet of retail space are on the table as goals.

• More legal troubles could be in the works for the former officials from a local charter school in the West End. Former Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy Superintendent Lisa Hamm and Treasurer Stephanie Millard were implicated in the misspending of more than $500,000 in a 2013 special audit by the state. On Tuesday, State Auditor David Yost released another report saying the two misspent money even as that audit took place, opening up the possibility more charges could be filed.

I want to make a special note about this story. The Cincinnati Enquirer has called the Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy a “magnet school” in at least two articles I’ve seen about it, including the one linked above. That doesn’t appear to be the case at all. Magnet schools are themed public schools run by local districts like Cincinnati Public Schools. (See also: the Department of Education's description of magnet schools.) Charter schools aren’t accountable to local school districts, even if they’re publicly funded. Part of the scandal around CCPA is that its controlling board, which is not the city’s Board of Education, didn’t approve the spending in question. The existence of that stand-alone board shows that CCPA is a charter, not a magnet. The school doesn't appear in CPS' magnet school listings, for instance, because it isn't a magnet under CPS.

Am I missing something? Correct me if you have more insight. In the meantime — why does the distinction matter? Because charter schools have had serious accountability problems in Ohio in the past few years, and we should call CCPA what it is — another charter school with lax oversight and a problematic power structure. To call it a magnet school is to saddle Cincinnati Public Schools with at least one more big problem it doesn’t actually have anything to do with. OK, sorry. Onward.

• Greater Cincinnati developer Jeffery Decker is facing a federal court filing over an insurance claim on a multi-million dollar mansion that burned down in Indian Hill in January last year. Decker filed a lawsuit asking Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to award his family millions for an insurance policy from Chubb National Insurance Co. The Decker family received an advance $700,000 payment on the insurance policy before the insurance company filed a counter claim asking for the money back after Decker’s phone records revealed he was at the house much later in the day on the day the fire happened than he initially claimed — up until about 15 minutes before smoke was reported on the property. Chubb is alleging that Decker misrepresented his whereabouts the day of the fire in his initial claim and therefore invalidated the insurance policy.

• The Ohio Democratic Party could endorse former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland in the state’s 2016 Senate race over primary foe Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. So far, the party has stayed neutral on the race, at least officially, though some high-level Democrats have asked Sittenfeld to bow out of the race. Strickland is the favorite, having garnered an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton and having the advantage of massive name recognition in the state that propelled him to take a nine-point lead over incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman. 

• President Barack Obama yesterday called for an end to so-called "gay conversion" therapy in the wake of the December death of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn. Alcorn, whose given name was Joshua, committed suicide late last year after her parents barred her from getting gender transition treatments and instead took her to Christian-based counseling to try and convince her to give up her transgender status. The Obama administration's call to end the therapy method came in response to a Whitehouse.gov petition that received more than 120,000 signatures.

"We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth," the response reads. "As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors."

• Finally — ah, the nostalgia. By the time I got around to hitting up Forest Fair Mall as a youngin, it was already a creepily empty shell that housed a Guitar Center, a food court with flickering florescent lights and not much else. Now there are discussions about revitalizing the hulking indoor mall in Forest Park, perhaps with a mixture of uses beyond mall retail. Sounds interesting, though honestly, I’m a bit more entertained by the creepy, zombie apocalypse vibe of the place as it stands. Hm. Do I smell a Walking Dead theme park opportunity? I think so.

That's it for me. I'm done writing things for the next half hour at least. In the meantime, hit me up. Email  me or tweet at your favorite exhausted news dude.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.08.2015 11 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gun

Morning News and Stuff

Million-dollar homes in OTR?; bill allowing unlicensed concealed carry proposed; South Carolina cop charged with murder over shooting of unarmed man

Good morning y’all. Let’s get right to the news.

Are million-dollar homes coming to Over-the-Rhine? At least one of the city’s big movers and shakers thinks so. Reds owner Bob Castellini made that prediction last night during a speech at Music Hall for the Over-the-Rhine Chamber’s annual Star Awards, which spotlights the neighborhood’s growth and its business leaders. Castellini is on the board of 3CDC, the developer that is approaching $1 billion in projects completed in the neighborhood and downtown. He’s bullish on the idea that the once-neglected neighborhood will continue to see high-price new developments. He highlighted condos in 3CDC’s Mercer Commons development that have sold for more than $400,000 as one example of growing interest in high-end living in OTR. Following new development, median household incomes and property values have been going up in the historically low-income neighborhood in the last few years. That’s caused a lot of fanfare, but has also stoked fears about gentrification, apprehensions that came up again recently when a developer proposed $400,000 single-family homes in the neighborhood’s less-hyped northern area. Some advocates in the neighborhood say there isn’t affordable housing there.

• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is shifting gears in his campaign for U.S. Senate. Sittenfeld’s campaign manager Ramsey Reid has left the Democrat’s team, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Sittenfeld’s campaign says his departure was planned from the beginning and that a new campaign manager and other new hires will be announced shortly. Sittenfeld recently ramped up his team, hiring a spokesman, a finance director and a polling specialist in his underdog primary battle against former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. Strickland is a heavy favorite to win the primary. He’s garnered an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton and is currently polling nine points ahead of Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman. Sittenfeld has been steadfast about staying in the race despite pressure from some Democrats to bow out.

• If you need proof that the weather here really is a bummer and that you’re not just a big whiner, here it is. A new study by a popular meteorology blog called Brian B’s Climate Blog shows Cincinnati is ranked 5th in the country for major cities when it comes to dreary weather. The city tied for that… err, honor… with Cleveland and Lexington. Buffalo took the top spot, followed predictably by Seattle, Pittsburgh and Portland. The climate blog considered three factors in its rankings: total number of days with precipitation, total annual precipitation and total annual cloud cover. If you need more anecdotal evidence, just find your nearest window.

• A new bill in the Ohio House would allow concealed carry in the state without a license if passed. The
bill, proposed by State Rep. Ron Hood of Ashville, has 20 cosponsors and support from State Rep. Ron Arnstutz, the second-most powerful Republican in the House. Lots of dudes named Ron are into this idea, which makes me think of the ultimate Ron. Anyway, the bill would do away with licensing and training requirements for those who want to carry concealed weapons, limiting concealed carry only to those below the age of 21 or people who aren’t permitted to have guns due to their criminal background or other legal reasons. Five other states, including Kansas, have already approved unlicensed concealed carry, and 10 more states are considering similar measures. Gun rights groups have applauded the bill, but opponents, including law enforcement groups, say it will make the state less safe.

• With bicycle commuting on the rise, both nationally and, I’m hoping, in Cincinnati, do we need better data collection practices from police when it comes to cyclist-car accidents? It seems that way, according to a study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The study, summarized in this CityLab post, suggests that most data collection methods used by public safety agencies around the country are outdated and don’t consider the differences between cars and bikes and don’t make allowances for the different situations in which the two could collide. Better data could lead to safer bike infrastructure, the authors of the study say.

• Finally, it’s almost becoming a sentence in which you can just fill in the blanks with the latest shooter and deceased. Michael Slager, a white police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina shot an apparently unarmed black man named Walter Scott over the weekend. The police incident report says that Scott had the officer’s taser and that Slager feared for his life. But a video taken by a bystander contradicts all of that, showing Slager firing eight rounds at Scott as he ran away. After Scott fell to the ground, Slager appears to casually drop something next to him. More officers soon arrived, though none are seen administering the CPR the police report alleges took place. Scott died at the scene. The incident has drawn national attention and a murder charge for Slager — a rarity perhaps brought about by the graphic and shocking video taken by a witness.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.07.2015 12 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
rand_paul,_official_portrait,_112th_congress_alternate

Morning News and Stuff

Brandery, Urban Sites announce OTR housing for startups; Cincy Red Bike lands first big sponsor; is Rand Paul the 'Skymall' of 2016?

Hey all! Upside today: The Reds won last night. Downside today: It’s really gross outside. Now that I’ve covered the perfunctory topical conversation points, let’s get on to the news, eh?

Investigations continue into a deadly drive-by shooting that happened over the weekend near the Walnut Hills YMCA. Seventeen-year-old Kelcie Crow died in that shooting and two other teens were injured. Police say a fight broke out at a birthday party at the Y, after which a white van drove by and fired at least 60 shots at the large crowd of teens. Police say they don’t currently have any suspects in the shooting. The shootings and Crow’s tragic death have drawn a lot of attention around the city, including from Cincinnati City Council. City Council Law and Public Safety Committee Chairman Christopher Smitherman vowed the city would find and bring to justice the perpetrators. He also placed some blame for the lack of leads so far on what he calls a “no snitching” mentality among some in the community.

• Over-the-Rhine based business accelerator The Brandery has announced a unique project with developer Urban Sites that will provide housing in the neighborhood for entrepreneurs coming to Cincinnati as part of the group’s yearly class of new startups. The Brandery has signed a lease with the developer for two buildings on Walnut Street with 14 two-bedroom apartments that will become a housing option for participants in The Brandery’s accelerator program, which connects young startups with funding, branding and design help as well as potential corporate clients. The accelerator’s fifth class wrapped up in October last year. Each year the accelerator accepts 10-12 startups from around the country and worldwide for its four-month program. About half of these companies stay in Cincinnati after graduating from the program, the group says. The apartments will be somewhat subsidized for participants, the group says, and are a way to meet the needs of entrepreneurs while they’re in town focusing on growing their businesses.

• Cincinnati’s Red Bike, a nonprofit bike sharing program that started last year, just got its first big sponsor. UC Health will pay to put its logo on the nonprofit’s bikes for three years, the hospital system announced yesterday. Red Bike is looking for other sponsors as it continues to grow. Currently, the bike share has 33 stations spread around downtown, Over-the-Rhine and uptown. An expansion in Northern Kentucky is planned as well. The bike share was kick-started last year by a $1 million grant from the city.

• At first, I thought this was just today’s weather forecast, but it turns out it’s a real thing. This summer, a Cincinnati street will turn into a giant waterslide for a day when Slide the City brings its 1,000-foot slide to Jefferson Avenue near UC. You can slide on the street, but it’ll cost you: )ne slide costs $20, three times will cost $35 and unlimited slides will set you back $60. But you also get a tattoo, a mouth guard, a bag and T-shirt with that. So yeah.

• Ah, my alma matter never fails to embarrass me at least once a year. Police at Miami University are investigating a slew of racist and homophobic graffiti in a residence hall there and have also discovered similar graffiti at two of the school's frat houses. You can read more about it at the link above. I'm going to go burn all the Miami spirit wear I own, though I actually bought it from a thrift store a few years after I graduated because it was super-cheap and I was broke.

• A nearby university wants to play host to one of the 2016 presidential debates. Wright State University in Dayton has applied to host a debate next year and is one of 16 sites vying for the opportunity. The school has played a role in presidential campaigns in the past. In 2008, Republican candidate John McCain announced Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate at Wright State, and President Barack Obama has also campaigned at the school.

• Speaking of the election, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky officially announced his candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. Paul is vying with a crowded field of GOP contenders for the party’s nomination, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who announced his campaign a couple weeks ago, and others who have yet to formally declare their intentions, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. As we talked about yesterday, Paul has tried to distinguish himself by playing on the Libertarian legacy of his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who ran for president several times himself. The younger Paul is trying to walk the line between his father’s rabid followers and the more traditional GOP establishment, where big donors and powerful endorsements are to be had.

Another area where Paul has distinguished himself from the pack is in presidential campaign merchandise. Please, please, please do yourself a favor and check out these hot items, including this Ladies Constitution Burnout Tee which, as the website says, is “soft and gauzy… wears well, looks great and sends the statists a message.” Yes. There’s also the NSA spycam blocker (a small plastic piece that slides over your computer’s built-in camera), the Real Rand Woven Blanket (for those times when you want to be all wrapped up in the warm embrace of something other than the nanny state) and something called the Rand Paul Bag Toss Game. I didn’t click on that one. Oh yeah, and you can also get an autographed copy of the constitution for a cool grand, which is probably the most libertarian product ever. 

That's it for me. Tweet, email or comment with your favorite swag from a presidential contender — or to get my shipping address so you can send me the giant Rand Paul birthday card you're going to send me in November.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 04.06.2015 13 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
reds

Morning News and Stuff

Opening day then and now; Strickland tops Portman in U.S. Senate poll; Rand Paul may announce presidential campaign soon

Hey all! Today is Opening Day. You already know this. What you don’t know is that it’s my first Opening Day back in Cincinnati after a few years of missing them. So let’s resign ourselves to the fact that half of the news blog today will be dominated by stuff around this most momentous of holidays.

All kinds of stuff is going on in connection with the game. Here are the highlights: Cincy’s opening day parade has been happening for oh, 96 years now and will kick off at noon at Findlay Market, heading down Race Street through downtown. Taft’s Ale House in Over-the-Rhine right off the parade route has its grand opening today, and from what I’ve heard, it’s already packed. There are also big screens and food vendors in Washington Park so you can enjoy the game there as well.  

The Reds are playing the Pittsburgh Pirates, a pretty common foe on our first game of the year. We’ve played them 27 times in our season opener, and the Reds' first Opening Day in 1882 was played against their predecessors, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (we lost). I hate to tell you this, but we have a pretty bad record against our rivals to the east. They’ve won 19 times when the teams go head to head on opening day. Take a look at the full history of Reds opening day here, including records of our losses against the terrifyingly named Cleveland Spiders in 1891 and the tragic Chicago Orphans in 1900.

In case you’re wondering, here’s what the ballpark is looking like heading up to the game. Oh, wait, my bad, that was the Reds/Pirates Opening Day game from 110 years ago. The reds lost 4-9, bee tee dubs. But we’ll win this time, right? Also btw, more than 18,000 people attended that game. Incredible.

• On to non-baseball related news. Cincinnati ranks among the country’s most affordable cities for housing, according to a study by real estate website Zillow.com. I’m usually pretty wary of these kinds of website-conducted studies, but this one does have some interesting data points. According to the Zillow study, Cincinnati has the seventh-most affordable mortgages of the cities it measured across the country, and the sixth-lowest amount of income spent on rent of cities across the country. Keep in mind these are relative rankings, and that Cincinnati ranks rather well comparatively because it’s not growing as fast as some other cities.

However, the country as a whole is in the middle of an affordable housing conundrum. As the report says, “Rental affordability is as bad as it's ever been across the U.S., in part because there are not enough new, affordable units to meet demand.”

On related note: Though it may not be booming the way Austin or San Francisco are, Cincinnati is again growing, rather than shrinking, in terms of population size. The city saw a slight bump in population over the past couple years, and is projected to top 300,000 people again sometime around 2020.

• This is kind of shocking to me: Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat, is currently out-polling incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Rob Portman by nine points in a Quinnipiac University poll on the 2016 Senate race released today. Portman is running for his second term in the Senate representing Ohio. He’s raised boatloads of money, has the backing of much of the GOP and is unbothered (thus far) with a primary challenger. The only issue that could keep conservatives away is his embrace of marriage equality, but I can’t imagine dyed in the wool Republicans swinging over to a liberal Democrat or staying home because of that. Still, Strickland leads Portman 47 percent to 38 percent among likely Ohio voters. Strickland announced his campaign last month. He’s facing Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in the Democratic primary.

• Here’s a less-shocking poll: a slim majority of Ohioans favor marijuana legalization. Another Quinnipiac poll released recently found 52 percent of Ohioans say they favor legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Forty-four percent opposed legalization, and four percent were undecided. That’s almost identical to a poll by Quinnipiac last year. However, that doesn’t mean ballot initiatives like those put forward by legalization group ResponsibleOhio would pass if presented to voters in November. The poll measures general sentiment, not the sentiment of those likely to vote. Off-year elections are notoriously thin when it comes to voter turnout, and that could derail legalization efforts. Also complicating the picture is ResponsibleOhio’s particular proposal, which would limit commercial growing to 10 sites around the state. That’s been a controversial provision, with both conservative critics and other legalization advocates saying it amounts to a monopoly on the crop.

• Let’s do a really brief presidential campaign roundup before I bid you adieu for the day. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who many hold as a frontrunner in the GOP 2016 presidential nomination contest, described himself as Hispanic on his voter registration in 2009, the New York Times reports today. While Bush speaks fluent Spanish and his wife was born in Mexico, he himself does not have Hispanic roots. Bush has built his platform in part on his appeal to Hispanic voters, whom the GOP desperately need as they attempt to expand their base beyond old, male white people. But uh, nominating yourself as a member of a minority group on official documents may not endear you to that group. A spokesman for his campaign could not explain the error, but Bush has shrugged about the revelation on Twitter, laughing it off as a slip of the pen.

• Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has been getting a lot of press lately, and there are reports he may announce his presidential campaign tomorrow. Paul’s walking a tightrope between the deeply Libertarian politics of his father, Ron Paul, and the kinds of proposals needed to cuddle up to establishment Republican donors. Paul’s been working to reach out to crowds outside the traditional GOP power base, talking about justice system and drug law reform and other issues that have become hot points with minority and traditionally progressive voters. Meanwhile, he’s also been trying a less isolationist tack on foreign affairs issues, calling for increased funding to America's military, among other proposals. As Paul dances, the press has tried to pin him down. He’s alternately described as a radical seeking revolution in the GOP and a candidate going moderate as he seeks the party’s nomination. Is he turning into just another Republican suit, or a fed-abolishing Libertarian constantly asking himself “What Would Ayn Do?” My guess is he’s not sure yet himself. Love him or hate him, Paul will make the race interesting in the coming year.

Tweet at me, email me, comment: get at me with your news tips and best opening day celebratory revelry ideas.

 
 
 
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