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by Rachel Podnar 06.05.2014 85 days ago
at 01:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
sherrod brown

Sherrod Brown Pushes Student Loan Refinancing

New bill would save students and government money, but tax those with big bucks

What’s something that homeowners, business and local governments can do that college students cannot?  

Aside from buying alcohol, everyone else can refinance loans for lower interest rates. But at a time when charges for borrowing money have hit nearly historic lows, students have been locked into their older, higher rates.

A new bill looks to remedy that and promises to not only pay for itself, but cut government spending.

So, students, graduates and budget hawks are happy, and everybody wins.

Wrong.

The tricky part — paying for the program — is something called the Fair Share Tax. The reduction in spending would come from the second part of the bill.

Also called “The Buffet Rule,” named after Warren Buffet and championed by Elizabeth Warren, the tax mandates a minimum rate of 30 percent on those who bring in a million dollars or more a year.   

Offering students loans without a refinancing option is a profitable business — the government is set to take in $66 billion on interest alone from loans issued between 2007-2013, according to the Government Accountability Office. Eliminating that money would have big budget implications. That's where the Fair Share Tax comes in.

The Banking on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act would allow those with loans issued before August 9 last year to refinance at the rates passed in 2013 — 3.8 percent for undergraduate loans.

Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, are trying to gather support for the bill. Brown filed the bill with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.  

Warren introduced the bill in the Senate on May 5. She, Brown and other Democrats will be pushing it in the upcoming week.

“Every dollar a current borrower pays in interest is a dollar he or she can’t spend on a car, on a mortgage, or on starting a small business,” Brown said in an email sent out on Thursday requesting signatures to support the bill.

So far, 36 senators have signed it.

Last year, Congress lowered the rate of new loans but left existing rates the same.

Those higher rates are drowning graduates, keeping them stuck in their parents' basements, Warren said on the Senate floor last month.

“Make no mistake, this is an emergency,” she said. “Student loan debt is exploding and it threatens the stability of young people and the future of our economy.”

The Congressional Budget Office released a report on the bill Wednesday. The report found that lowering the rates of outstanding loans would increase spending by $51 billion, but with the new tax thrown in, the bill would also increase revenue by $72 billion between 2015-2019.

The report said deficits could be reduced in the next 10 years by about $22 billion.

Congressional Republicans are sure to oppose the tax increase, considering most have signed Americans for Tax Reform’s taxpayer protection pledge to not raise taxes.

This won’t be the first time congressional Republicans have opposed the proposed tax. It was introduced in 2012 as the Paying a Fair Share Act and fell short of the votes needed to leave the Senate.

In the meantime, student loan debt totals $1.2 trillion, greater than all outstanding credit card debt.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.05.2014 85 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Budget passes, bridge tolls, unaffordable housing

Cincinnati passed its $358 million operating budget yesterday, and it’s great and all, except for the parts that aren’t. Nearly everyone on council applauded the fact that the budget is balanced, or close to balanced, or … well, I won’t replay that argument, but the city is getting close to leveling spending with what it takes in without layoffs or deep cuts to core programs.

But there are big concerns, too. Council members Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach questioned a few issues surrounding funding of certain non-profits and community redevelopment groups. These included $4 million borrowed from eight neighborhood TIF districts, cuts to the Neighborhood Business District Improvement Program, and some last-minute additions to the budget. Critics of the additions say they’re sweetheart deals built on cronyism. Some of the organizations in question have connections with big political players, including former Mayor Dwight Tillery’s Center for Closing the Health Gap, which will receive $500,000 from one of the Monday add-ons in the budget.

Simpson was the most vocal about the issues surrounding human services and neighborhood redevelopment funding.

“I was committed and part of an administration prior that was really invested in supporting neighborhood development in a significant way,” she said. “And we’ve cut $4.5 million to neighborhood development in this budget, and I think we’re going to regret that.”

• Council also passed Seelbach’s Domestic Partner Registry initiative yesterday, which will allow same-sex couples to register with the city so they can receive equal benefits from participating employers.

“Ten years ago, at this moment … some called this the most anti-gay city in the country, including me,” Seelbach said. “We’ve come a really long way, and this is one of the last pieces of the puzzle. Unfortunately, the state of Ohio doesn’t recognize marriage equality. It will soon, but until then, this is a tool.”

• A new national study by Homes for All Alliance to be released Friday shows that Cincinnati, like much of the country, is in an affordable housing crisis. More than 63 percent of households in Cincinnati are renters, not homeowners, according to the study. Of those households, half pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent, the federal threshold for unaffordable housing. Even worse, 30 percent of renters in Cincinnati spend more than half their monthly paychecks on a place to live.

A panel discussion on the study and affordable housing in Cincinnati is being held Friday at 6 p.m. at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. It will feature Vice Mayor David Mann, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing Director Mary Burke Rivers, Bonnie Neumeier from Peaslee Neighborhood Center and other advocates for affordable housing.

• The Ohio House yesterday passed a measure to allow electronic tolling, which could have big implications for the Brent Spence Bridge. The bridge is crumbling, and Ohio and Kentucky are currently working on a way to rebuild it. Engineers believe it will take $2.5 billion for a new bridge, and much of that money may have to come from tolls, lawmakers say. Though Ohio is (reluctantly) on board, voters in Kentucky have voiced strong opposition to tolls.

• In the “news that isn’t really new but that you should keep an eye on anyway” category, fixes for the Voting Rights Act are still stalled in Congress and probably will be for a while. The Supreme Court struck down a segment of the law regarding standards that determine which states will receive close scrutiny due to past voting rights violations. Congress can set new standards, but given that Congress can barely decide where they're all going to grab lunch these days, it looks like it could be a long wait.

• Finally, someone took DNA from a relative of Vincent Van Gogh, and, uh, 3D printed a copy of the artist’s ear, which he is said to have cut off in a fit of mental illness in 1888. It’s on display in a German museum, because paintings are kind of boring but Jurassic Park-like replicas of severed ears from long-dead artists are awesome.

 
 
by Rachel Podnar 06.04.2014 86 days ago
Posted In: Labor Unions at 12:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
walmart_exterior

Local Walmart Workers to Strike Wednesday

Employees to walk out of Ferguson Road store during rally at 4:30 p.m.

Protesting illegal firings, low wages and erratic scheduling, Walmart workers are taking a stand this afternoon in Cincinnati by walking off their jobs.

Workers will protest outside the Walmart on Ferguson Road at 4:30 p.m. this afternoon with Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, according to a press release sent out this morning.

Today’s strike is part of a larger strike movement happening in 20 cities across the country this week, leading up to the annual shareholder meeting.

The meeting is this Friday and hundreds of worker shareholders are making the trip to Arkansas as part of a union-backed workers group called OUR Walmart. They plan to request a living wage and family-sustaining jobs, calling for the new CEO Doug McMillion to “take the company in a new direction,” the press release said.

A typical Walmart worker is paid less than $25,000 a year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average retail worker makes only $21,000 per year and cashiers even less.

Walmart employees say they have to rely on food stamps while their company received $7.8 billion in tax breaks and subsidies in 2013.

OUR Walmart advocates for a $25,000 base salary for all employees.

“A minimum $25,000 salary at Walmart would not only help families, it would boost job creation, consumer spending, and the company’s bottom-line,” the press release said.

The major employer is currently on trial for worker rights violations involving firing workers who went on strike last year at the company’s annual shareholder meeting.  

The country’s largest and most profitable corporation is also tightening its belt; Walmart took $740 million out of its cost structure in the past year because its operating income grew faster than sales.

Walmart has had to make some changes lately in response to worker’s claims.

In March, the pregnancy policy was updated after an OUR Walmart campaign, allowing for more accommodations for pregnant women.  

In April, the retailer changed its internal scheduling system, making it easier for part-time workers to pick up extra shifts online.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.04.2014 86 days ago
at 11:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Streetcar Advocates Expand Focus

Believe in Cincinnati continues engaging neighborhood leaders about future transit options

Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots group that played a big role advocating for the Cincinnati streetcar during and since the infamous City Hall pause, is expanding its focus beyond Over-the-Rhine.

More than 80 people showed up to
a meeting in Clifton Tuesday night to discuss taking the streetcar beyond OTR.

"We started around the streetcar, but our vision is much broader than that,” said Believe in Cincinnati organizer Ryan Messer. He said people from 80 percent of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods are involved in the group. “I think we have a vision that someday every neighborhood will have a transportation committee. The conversation we want to continue is this broader regional transit plan while ensuring we’re going forward with the Cincinnati streetcar.”

Believe in Cincinnati was instrumental in advocating for the streetcar last winter when recently-elected Mayor John Cranley, who campaigned on opposition to the streetcar, put the project on hold. When the project came back online, Vice Mayor David Mann credited the group with making a big difference.

Now progress on the streetcar is humming along. Project executive John Deatrick says construction of the track and the cars themselves is on schedule, with more than 7,000 feet of track done, four stations stops completed and delivery of the first five streetcars expected next fall and winter. Deatrick says the whole system should be up and running by summer 2016.

Deatrick also talked about the possibilities for “phase 1B,” or the extension of the streetcar into uptown. That leg of the route was part of the initial plans for the system until Gov. John Kasich pulled $52 million in state funds from the project in 2010.

That’s left the proposed extension into Corryville and Clifton without funding. Deatrick said the city has decided not to pursue a federal grant to build the uptown extension, because the downtown portion isn’t far enough along yet.

But Deatrick said the city has continued to explore the possibility of running the streetcar up Vine Street and has kept plans for an eventual expansion up to date.

“As soon as city council and the mayor are ready, we’re ready to apply for more money,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Advocates see uptown, including Avondale, Corryville and Clifton, as a logical next step in the progression of the streetcar since it’s where a big number of the city’s jobs are located, including major hospitals and the University of Cincinnati, the city’s largest employers.

Councilman Kevin Flynn, who cast a deciding vote to restart the project last December, voiced cautious support for Believe in Cincinnati’s efforts but said the challenges faced by efforts to expand the line are daunting. He told the crowd not to put the cart before the horse.

“On the day I made the vote, I said, ‘this isn’t the end, this is the beginning.’” Flynn said. “I see energy, but we have to harness that energy. I understand this is talking about how we get to phase two. I don’t mean to be a party pooper, but the way to get to phase two is to make phase one a success.

"I've talked to a lot of the big employers uptown. They'd all like to see the streetcar up here. There's no money — right now — to do that. But probably more important than the money… there's not the will. The only way the will could possibly be generated is to make phase one a financial success."

While funding is the big stumbling block for expanding the system right now, that hasn’t stopped Believe in Cincinnati from growing. The group recently hired a full-time employee to continue to promote the group and transit projects for the next five months and has been raising funds from donors both in Cincinnati and across the country.

The group has also been meeting with residents in communities outside the streetcar’s current planned path. Messer said he’s spoken with community council members and other community leaders in a number of neighborhoods, including Hyde Park, Avondale and even communities in Northern Kentucky. All have expressed interest in eventually widening the streetcar’s reach.

West Side transit advocate Pete Witte said interest in the streetcar is growing in neighborhoods like Price Hill and Westwood. He joked that Cincinnati’s western neighborhoods are a “lion’s pit” when it comes to the issue. Those neighborhoods voted overwhelmingly for Mayor Cranley and his opposition to the project.

But with progress downtown, Witte said some in the West Side are coming around. He highlighted the looming reconstruction of the Western Hills Viaduct as a great opportunity to have the conversation about expanding transit to the area.

“We’re real people, residents, business owners, raising families, going to school, whatever, who understand the importance that transit can make for our community and the city as a whole,” Witte said of West Siders who are advocating for transit expansion. “We’re going to be meeting and focusing on the Western Hills Viaduct, but it does go beyond that.”

Messer said his group believes the issue of transit doesn’t have to be politically divisive.

“I think a lot of people have said they’re a little surprised we’re not a bunch of flaming liberals who want to put streetcars everywhere and don’t care about what it costs," he said. "Some of us are probably progressive, some of us are not. I don’t know that transit is a partisan issue. We see transit as an investment to grow our city.”
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.04.2014 86 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john becker

Morning News and Stuff

Abortion bills, drones and really old pants

All right. It's morning, it's nasty out, and it's only Wednesday. Let's do this news thing because we've all already uploaded five pics of those ominous clouds to Instagram and doing actual work is hard.

A bill the Ohio House took up yesterday would make it illegal for insurance to cover abortions. House Bill 351, sponsored by State Rep. John Becker, a Republican representing Cincinnati’s suburbs, would ban any insurance coverage for abortion procedures, even in cases of rape or incest. The bill would also keep public employees or those receiving Medicaid from using their insurance to purchase certain kinds of birth control that keep fertilized eggs from maturing, which Becker says is tantamount to abortion.

“This is just my personal view,” Becker said of that scientifically dubious claim. “I’m not a medical doctor.” Just going to leave that quote right there for you to chew on.

More questions are popping up about Cincinnati’s 2015 operating budget, which City Council is set to pass today. Concerns have emerged about $350,000 in blight removal funds directed last-minute Monday to Bond Hill’s Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation, The Enquirer reports. That’s a third of the money budgeted by the city for such work.

One possible way the corporation might use that money is by purchasing Integrity Hall, a banquet hall currently owned by Steve Reece. Reece has strong ties to Cranley, having done work for his mayoral campaign. His nonprofit, Operation Step-Up, also received a $3,700 donation from the campaign. In addition, Reece’s daughter, State Rep. Alicia Reece, endorsed Cranley’s campaign.

The connections between Reece and Cranley have raised questions from some council members. Councilman Chris Seelbach wondered Monday whether the money represents a “pet project.” Cranley says he has nothing to do with the allocation to Bond Hill and denies discussing the sale of Integrity Hall with Reece. Vice Mayor David Mann says there have been no decisions about what the money would be spent on. Reece hopes to sell his building to Bond Hill’s redevelopment corporation for around $335,000.

• Streetcar advocacy group Believe in Cincinnati met last night in Clifton to talk about expanding the streetcar into neighborhoods beyond OTR. About 80 people showed up at the meeting, which focused on uptown, other neighborhoods like Hyde Park and even interest in the streetcar across the river in Northern Kentucky. Ryan Messer, an organizer of the group, said Believe in Cincinnati wants to advocate for all kinds of transit and hopes to expand awareness and get people talking about the issue throughout the region.

Pete Witte, an advocate for transit going to the West Side, spoke about his efforts “in the lion’s den,” as Messer called the city’s western suburbs. Though transit expansion hasn’t been a popular there, Witte says there are a growing number of people there who want something like light rail or the streetcar as an option in the future.

Councilman Kevin Flynn also spoke, reminding the crowd about the realities of funding for streetcar expansion — that basically, the city has no money to pay for it now and that it will take a great amount of political will and support for the current phase of the project to make future expansions a reality.

A University of Cincinnati professor is leading a group of students in drone research and development. So far, the group has made five of the hovering, eye-in-the-sky devices, including one with eight arms called Octorotor. The university is hooking up with the West Virginia Division of Forestry this fall to offer a co-op for students looking to push the boundaries of what drones can do while fighting forest fires. Next up, I hope: a drone that delivers pizza to my window at the CityBeat offices when it's storming and I don't want to leave the building.

Archeologists in China have found the world’s oldest pants, because, you know, that’s what science does. The pants look suspiciously like something you might grab from an Urban Outfitters, with straight legs and a wide crotch that seem to make them direct ancestor of those dreadful drop-crotch skinny jeans Justin Bieber has taken to wearing. On the plus side, these things lasted 3,000 years. Meanwhile I can’t find a pair of jeans that doesn’t start fading and fraying after six months. They just don't make em like they used to, etc.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.03.2014 87 days ago
at 08:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Budget watch, $500k for baseball, AR15s and appletinis

City council continued to tinker with the budget yesterday, shifting around a few items in an edge of your seat, five-plus hour thrill ride that was as riveting for me to watch as it would be for you to read about. Instead of giving you the play by play, though, because it’s probably too early for that much excitement, I’ll just hit you with the high points.

Under the changes approved yesterday, Cincinnati Works will get $250,000 for a jobs program on which Cranley campaigned, Bond Hilll will get $350,000 for blight removal and the Camp Washington pool will stay open.

Council passed the changes 6-3, with members Kevin Flynn, Chris Seelbach, and Yvette Simpson voting against due to some lingering concerns about the city’s pension fund.

Other issues still looming include a water rate hike and questions about $4 million the city owes eight neighborhoods. On that last issue, Councilman Charlie Winburn suggested the sale of the Blue Ash Airport could cover the borrowed money. Council may need to decide quickly, because a lawsuit hits court today over the city’s use of the money.

There is a public hearing tonight on the budget in Westwood, so you can still catch some of the action. Let’s get fiscal! Council is expected to take a final vote on the package tomorrow at its weekly meeting, though it has until June 30 to pass the budget.

The state could throw Cincinnati half a million dollars to help the city with hosting the 2015 Major League Baseball All Star Game. That money from taxpayers could be used for extra police, enhanced transit options and general beautification, according to The Enquirer. Though the money hasn’t been allocated yet, Gov. John Kasich has indicated he’s looking for ways to make it happen.

Elsewhere, Seattle just raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour, among the highest in the country. The city has yet to receive a predicted smiting from the economics gods, though no doubt it will soon turn into a hellish wasteland where fast food workers can actually afford to buy things like food and shelter without government assistance.

When even the National Rifle Association says your preoccupation with guns is “weird,” you know you’re in Texas. Open carry advocacy groups in the Lone Star state have gotten in hot water recently for toting their assault rifles into Chili’s and other fine dining establishments. AR15s and appletinis? What could go wrong?

Got news? Want to talk? Email nswartsell@citybeat or hit me on Twitter-- @nswartsell

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.02.2014 88 days ago
Posted In: LGBT Issues at 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pride_seelbach_jf

Council Poised to Pass Domestic Partner Registry

Measure would allow same-sex couples to register for benefits purposes

Cincinnati is one step closer to joining nine other Ohio cities that have established domestic partner registries, which would open up more possibilities for equal employee benefits for same-sex couples.

A measure introduced by City Councilman Chris Seelbach to have the city set up the registry passed unanimously through the council’s Human Services Committee today. Mayor John Cranley and a majority of council have expressed support for the measure, and it seems likely to come up for a vote and pass during Wednesday's council meeting.

The registry, which would be run through the City Clerk’s office, would verify financial relationships between non-married domestic partners. The list would take a burden off employers, who currently have to independently verify financial relationships if they wish to provide equal benefits for partners of employees.

Couples would be required to show strong financial interdependency to qualify. Applicants to the registry would be eligible if they own joint property, have granted each other power of attorney, are named in each others’ will and meet other requirements.

Many large companies, as well as the city, already offer some form of domestic partner benefits. However, requirements can vary, and it’s expensive and time-consuming to set up criteria and then screen employees’ eligibility, especially for smaller employers.

The registry proposed for Cincinnati is based on one adopted by Columbus in 2012. It requires a $45 fee to register, which Seelbach says will pay for the program. If passed, Seelbach said the plan could be up and running in a few weeks.

Metro on May 29 announced plans to provide health and dental benefits to domestic partners of its employees, becoming the first employer to say it will utilize the registry once it passes. 

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.02.2014 88 days ago
at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Budget wrangling over neighborhood improvement; City Hall evacuated over "thing"

City Council is likely just days away from voting on the city's $358 million operating budget, but some sticking points remain. A deferred repayment of funds meant to improve eight neighborhoods around the city has raised concerns among some council members. 

In 2011, the city borrowed $5 million from tax incremental finance districts in Avondale, Bond Hill, East Walnut Hills, Evanston, Madisonville, Oakley, Queensgate, and Walnut Hills. The money went to pay off debts to Cincinnati Public Schools. $2 million of the loan was scheduled to be repaid by next year, but the budget pushes that repayment off until 2017. The money was culled from increases in tax revenues following capital improvement projects in the neighborhoods. Officials in each say they need the funds to carry out necessary improvement projects. So far, only $1 million has been repaid. Council members Kevin Flynn and Yvette Simpson have raised concerns about the delay in repayment, with Simpson calling it "an assault on neighborhoods."

The $5 million borrowed from the neighborhood TIF districts will be the center of a lawsuit brought against the city by a private developer in Oakley.

Other possible hotspots in the budget include another $900,000 cut in spending that was meant to improve business districts in neighborhoods around the city and a looming fight over what to do with money for the city's bike program. Mayor John Cranley has indicated he wants to use the money for offroad trails, though the city's plan as originally written focuses on bike lanes on city streets.

Eighth Street downtown was closed this morning and City Hall evacuated after a... thing... was found nearby. The thing, which looked like the kind of bomb a zany Scooby Doo villian would plant, was later determined by fire crews to be "just a piece of junk" that probably fell off a truck.

Debate continues over what to do with the old School for Creative and Performing Arts building on Sycamore. Some would like to see a plan to turn the building into luxury apartments come to fruition, though others in the neighborhood have reservations, especially about a proposed parking garage that would eliminate green space around the building. Plans will be discussed further at a community meeting tonight at 6 p.m. at Rothenberg Academy.

A measure to make sure counties and municipalities across the state make public information available online is gaining momentum. Four bills in the Ohio House to create the DataOhio Initiative have passed through committees and are one step closer to becoming law. The bills would create grants for local governing bodies to digitize their budgets and spending information so they're more accessible to citizens.

The Obama administration today is expected to release its strongest proposals yet for fighting climate change, including EPA regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions from U.S. power plants by 30 percent before 2030.

Finally, a safety note. Tie down your inflatable summer fun devices, folks, or risk a tragic carpet ride. Tie them down well.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 05.29.2014 92 days ago
Posted In: Environment at 01:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
voices_wwe_johnkasich

Kasich to Sign Bill Delaying Renewable Energy Standards

Ohio would become first of 37 states to roll back such standards

Gov. John Kasich says he'll sign a bill that would freeze the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards for two years and then weaken them after that.

Kasich announced his intention to sign SB310 shortly after the bill passed the Ohio House yesterday, paving the way for Ohio to become the first state to roll back already approved energy-efficiency standards. 37 states have passed some form of renewable energy standards.

Conservatives in Ohio's state house have taken to disliking the standards, even though the state passed nearly unanimously in 2008. Most memorably, Bill Seitz, a Republican state senator from Cincinnati, called them Stalinist last year.

Kasich yesterday called the current standards “unrealistic” and costly for Ohio’s economy.

But others, including conservative-leaning business groups, say the standards freeze will actually be more costly.

The Ohio Manufacturer’s Association says it fears the measure will increase energy costs and make Ohio less competitive industrially.

Honda, one of Ohio’s biggest employers, has also come out against the freeze.

Several last-minute provisions inserted during debate on the bill in the state Senate could make it harder for renewable energy companies to get loans or increase capacity. Another last-minute change jettisons requirements that power companies get half their renewable energy in the state of Ohio.

Ohio ranks fifth nationally in green jobs, a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics study says. Nearly 140,000 Ohioans work in industries related to renewable energy or environmental conservation.

Environmental groups have also criticized SB310. An analysis by the Ohio Sierra Club says that the average Duke Energy customer in the Cincinnati area will spend $117 more for energy over the next two years thanks to the standards freeze.

Ohio's renewable energy and energy efficiency standards aim to reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels in favor of greener renewable energy sources like solar and wind energy.

That law originally called for a 5.5 percent increase in the use of renewable sources of energy by 2017. Overall, the law aims to have 12.5 percent of all energy sold by power companies in the state coming from renewable sources by 2025.

SB310 will pause upcoming standards increases and keep them at their current levels until 2017, when a smaller, 3.5 percent increase will kick back in.

Ed FitzGerald, Kasich’s Democratic opponent for the governor’s office, blasted Kasich over his support of the pause.

“Tonight, Governor Kasich's office announced that he intends to move Ohio's economy, families and environment backwards,” Fitzgerald said in a statement yesterday.

Kasich acknowledged that alternative energy is a big part of Ohio’s economy but said there are problems with the standards that needed to be ironed out.

Americans for Prosperity, the big-money conservative group backed by petroleum and gas magnates the Koch Brothers, has been a cheerleader for the standards delays. The group released statements today applauding SB310’s passage. Also supporting the bill were coal and gas powered utilities throughout the state.

 
 
by Rachel Podnar 05.29.2014 92 days ago
Posted In: LGBT Issues, Public Transit, City Council, Mayor at 12:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
34654622-c5a6-4ae7-8f05-0b2569894db9

Metro to Offer Domestic Partner Benefits

Organization could become first to utilize city’s proposed domestic partner registry

Kim Lahman was doing cartwheels in her mind for Metro this morning.

The organization’s Ridership and Development Director celebrated Metro’s announcement on Thursday that it will provide health and dental benefits to domestic partners of its employees.

Lahman said she has used same-sex partner benefits in the past, when she went back to school.

“[My partner and I] know first-hand what it means to have the flexibility and equality as others do in the workplace,” Lahman said at a press conference at Metro’s office. “This is just a fantastic day and I’m so proud that Metro is able to do the right thing.”

Metro is the first employer to say it will use Cincinnati’s domestic partner registry if the initiative passes next week in City Council. Should it pass, Cincinnati will be the 10th city in Ohio to have a domestic partner registry.

Mayor John Cranley and City Councilman Chris Seelbach attended the press conference and spoke in support of the move.

Cranley called it “symbolically and substantively right” and during   the announcement shared a memory in honor of Maya Angelou, her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.

“She ended it with ‘Good morning,’” Cranley said. “I think this is a good morning for Cincinnati, a new day.”

Many of Cincinnati’s major employers, including Procter & Gamble, Kroger and Macy’s offer same-sex and domestic partner benefits.

Seelbach said while those companies already have systems to evaluate domestic partnerships, the registry will give other companies like Metro an easy way to provide those benefits.

“We are now leaders in the nation and the region to make sure everyone is welcome in our city, regardless of who they love,” Seelbach said. “Everyone should bring their full self to their workplace and be able to do that with health benefits for their partners.”

Seelbach said while Metro is the first to say it will use the registry, other companies like Cincinnati Bell have expressed interest.

Metro is a nonprofit tax-funded public service of the Southwestern Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) with around 850 employees.

One of SORTA’s executive statements says the organization is committed to a work environment that “promotes dignity and respect for all.”

Board Chair Jason Dunn said SORTA’s commitment to inclusion is a great business decision.

“It shows that we value our employees,” Dunn said. “It shows that not only is Metro on the cutting edge of transportation but also making sure we are open to talent and we are open to retaining great talent in our system.”

Same-sex partners with a valid marriage license, same-sex partners registered by a government entity and same-sex partners with a sworn affidavit will be recognized by Metro for domestic partner benefits, which will take effect January 1, 2015.

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

by Nick Swartsell 08.29.2014 7 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_6-18_unionterminal

Morning News and Stuff

Museum Center board backs revised icon tax, streetcar money wrangling goes on and Obama's D.C. fashion faux-pas

There is so much happening today and I'm going to tell you about all most of it.

The board of the Cincinnati Museum Center yesterday voted to support county commissioners’ plan to fund renovations of historic Union Terminal, which houses the museum. Officials for the Museum Center originally criticized the plan, which replaced an earlier proposal that included Music Hall, because it seemed to put some funding sources for renovations to both Union Terminal and Music Hall in jeopardy. Republican Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann voted to put the new plan on the November ballot despite these concerns. Now officials with the Museum Center say their concerns have been addressed and they’re comfortable putting their support behind the new, Union Terminal-only deal, which will raise about $170 million through a .25 percent sales tax increase. The renovation project is expected to cost about $208 million. The gap will need to be covered by private donations and possible historic tax credits.

 

• Speaking of lots of money (seems like we’re always talking about lots of money around here, but hey, cities are expensive) the streetcar battle continues as the city searches for funds to pay operating costs. Right now, the city needs to account for a slightly less than $4 million a year to run the streetcar plus another $1 million in startup funds, which will need to be raised by next July. Supporters on city council say this shouldn’t be a problem and that multiple options exist for ways to raise the funds, including sponsorships and advertising, selling gift cards for rides on the streetcar, different property tax districts, possible grants and private donations. But opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley, are more doom and gloom, saying that the shortfall is just the kind of scenario they had in mind when they spoke out against the streetcar. Either way, the city is committed at this point. It agreed to run the streetcar for 25 years when it accepted millions in federal grant money for its construction. Is there a really large couch somewhere in the city with lots of change under the cushions? I’d start there.

 

• Ah, the early days of presidential campaigns, when the candidates are about as committal as those tentative, nascent romances you had your freshman year of college. Sen. Rob Portman has officially decided he wants to think about the possibility he might run for president in 2016 and is considering setting up an exploratory committee so he can raise and spend money should he decide he wants to try for the big gig. That’s basically the campaign equivalent of texting someone, “hey, ‘sup?” The presidency has yet to text him back, but I’ll keep you updated. Portman has been also non-committal in his statements, saying he’ll think about a run for the White House if no other Republican candidates seem capable of winning but that right now he’s just working on his Senate campaign. He’s raised $5 million toward that end, money he could shift that over toward a national campaign.

 

• California lawmakers have passed a law requiring its colleges to adopt the most precise standards yet for what constitutes sexual consent as part of a drive to curb the sexual assault crisis sweeping college campuses. The so-called "yes means yes" bill is controversial, which is kind of mind-boggling since its provisions sound like common sense when you read them.

 

The prospective law says that consent is "an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity" and that lack of struggle, silence or the use of drugs or alcohol do not invalidate claims of sexual abuse. Opponents say the bill is an overreach and too politically correct and that it could open up universities to lawsuits. California Gov. Jerry Brown must still sign the bill into law, and has until September to do so.

 

• A while back we talked about New York City’s mixed-income developments and so-called “poor doors,” or separate entrances the buildings’ low-income residents must use. The battle over those doors rages on, and the New York Times has an in-depth look at the fight. As large-scale public housing goes the way of the dodo across the country and affordable housing becomes more a private enterprise, it’s a debate worth check out.

 

• So. There are a lot of important things going on in the world. We’re struggling with how to handle ISIL, a militant, fundamentalist insurgent group in Iraq, and the UK just raised its terror alert level due to threats from the group. Russia continues to dance all over the Ukraine. Our economy is struggling to support America’s middle class. Racial tensions in the U.S. continue to simmer and our police forces are becoming more militarized. But the most breathtaking news of all happened yesterday, when President Barack Obama wore a tan suit. TAN. In what only further proves that journalists on Twitter are the absolute worst people on the planet, that little bit of ephemera went viral as every reporter ostensibly paid to inform you about a news conference discussing some of the aforementioned important events flipped their wig about Obama’s new fashion statement. The suit was completely unremarkable– a little too baggy, a little too buff-colored, maybe, but come on now. The response to Obama's suit even spawned an article about the response, because that’s journalism now. Someone got paid to write that article about journalists' response to Obama's suit, and now I’m writing about the article about the response. Sigh.

 

• In other important national news, forget those cases of beer that have like, 30 beers in them. Reuters reports that a small brewery has invented the 99-pack of beer. Alas, it’s only available in Texas, where gas station beer caves are the size of airplane hangers and the average Super Bowl party attracts 500 people. 

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.28.2014 31 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john boehner

Morning News and Stuff

Footage from Beavercreek Walmart shows Crawford "shot on sight," family's attorney says; Cincinnati second most American city; Boehner MIA in West Chester

This week is almost over, and that's a great thing. I haven't had my customary coffee and donut yet this morning, so let's do this news so I can get to that.

Security footage from the Beavercreek Walmart where police shot John Crawford III shows that Crawford was not acting violently, an attorney for his family said yesterday in a statement. Attorney Michael Wright says Crawford was facing some shelves and talking on his cellphone when he was fired upon and that police “shot him on sight.”

This contradicts officers’ reports. They say Crawford was waiving the pellet gun he had picked up from a shelf at the store and refused to drop it. Reports said, “he looked like he was going to go violently.”

Crawford, 22, is one of a number of young black men who have died during incidents with police recently under controversial circumstances. The death of Mike Brown  in Ferguson, Missouri, a few days after Crawford’s death sparked wide-scale unrest in the St. Louis suburb.

Activists in Beavercreek and across the country have demanded release of the security footage of Crawford’s shooting, which Attorney General Mike DeWine has refused to release until a grand jury is convened Sept. 3. DeWine says releasing the tapes to the public could bias the jury pool and hinder the ongoing investigation.

• There has been talk lately of changing some one-way streets in Over-the-Rhine to two-way, including parts of Main Street. The shift could slow traffic to levels safer for pedestrians and help local businesses, traffic experts say. UrbanCincy has a much more detailed rundown of proposed changes and the history of traffic patterns in OTR here. It’s interesting stuff, especially if you have to drive through the area every day or live there and have to deal with the increased traffic zooming through.

• The Hamilton County Board of Elections today announced it will host a “vote check” where county residents can call into a the board to make sure their voter registration is good to go. The phone-bank style call-in session will be held Sept. 23 from 5 to 6 p.m. and on Oct. 6 at the same time. That Oct. 6 date is the last day to register or change your voter registration information in Ohio. Put it on your calendar.

• I didn’t know a place in America could be more or less American than any other place in America, but apparently there’s a listicle for a city’s degree of American-ness, and Cincinnati came in second behind Nashville. The report by WalletHub.com, a personal finance website, considered 26 factors in the country’s 366 largest metro areas including age, income, housing, gender and other demographic measures to come to its ranking of places most statistically like America’s overall averages. Indianapolis came in third in the most-American sweepstakes. The southwest dominated the bottom five, with two Texas cities (Brownsville and McAllen) and an Arizona burg (Yuma) hanging out and being all un-American (whatever that means) with the likes of Altoona, Pa. and Boulder, Co. America!

• If you spend a lot of time up in West Chester, well, first, sorry about that. That’s unfortunate. But if you are hanging around up there in the land of Ikea and you’re hoping for that rare, elusive, thrilling sighting of House Speaker John Boehner, who reps the area hard in Congress, well, you may as well be looking for a yeti. You won’t see Boehner at the local Red Robin or whatever the heck other fancy, all-you-can-eat-fries restaurants they have up there, shaking hands and kissing babies in his district, because he’s out raising millions for the GOP. Yes, he has a Democratic challenger for his re-election bid, Miami University professor Tom Poetter, but Boehner’s not sweating him too much. His campaign has raised more than $2 million to Poetter’s $60,000, and Boehner’s coasted to re-election easily in the past. Instead, Boehner is wooing party donors in Wyoming (the state, not the neighborhood) resort towns and shoring up his power base with fellow establishment GOPers, hustling hard to keep his seat as speaker as he fights off attacks from his right.

• Finally — cheer up! The economy is getting better. For someone. Somewhere. Economic growth was better than expected in the last quarter, according to the Department of Commerce. Despite this, more Americans are anxious about the state of the economy now than during the Great Recession, a new Rutgers University poll reports. Some of this has to do with the fact that the average worker still hasn’t recovered fully financially from the economic downturn, wages have remained stagnant even as unemployment has decreased and perceptions of job security are lower than ever, even as Wall Street rebounds and corporate profits have soared.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.27.2014 56 hours ago
Posted In: News at 09:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
images

Morning News and Stuff

Local prosecutors will investigate Crawford shooting, former Kroger CEO says his pay was "ludicrous" and the sad story of a 9-year-old with an uzi

Morning y'all! After a rough start (a bit more on that later), I'm here and ready to give you the news.

Two prosecutors from Hamilton County will lead the state’s investigation into the police shooting death of John Crawford III, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced yesterday.

Stacey DeGraffenreid and Mark Piepermeierand were appointed by the AG yesterday. Piepermeierand, of Sharonville, heads the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s office criminal division and has handled many high-profile cases in that capacity. He’s responsible for reviewing all police use-of-force issues in Hamilton County and has done so for the past 15 years.

Police shot Crawford inside a Beavercreek Walmart Aug. 6. Another customer called 911 when he saw Crawford with what he thought was an assault rifle. Officers arrived and demanded Crawford drop the weapon, which turned out to be a pellet gun from the store. When he didn’t comply immediately, officers shot him and he died. Crawford’s family, along with activists, have called for answers as to why he was shot.

The state of Ohio has ordered embattled restaurant Mahogany’s closed after it didn’t follow state sales tax rules. The restaurant on The Banks has struggled to pay rent and loans owed to the city and was almost evicted in April. The restaurant was able to catch up on the rent but still owes more than $300,000 to the city in loans. Owner Liz Rogers has said that the restaurant has struggled after $80,000 was embezzled from the establishment and a rough winter kept business slow. Rogers has also pointed the finger toward someone in the city’s administration who she says has been leaking untrue information about the business. Mahogany’s can reopen after it pays back the undisclosed amount it owes the state in sales taxes.

• Think sky-high executive pay is kind of absurd? You’re not alone. Former Kroger CEO David Dillion said
during a panel on management at the Aspen Ideas Summit last month that his paycheck for leading the company was “ludicrous." A video of that summit is just now trickling out, with Huffington Post covering the statement yesterday.

Dillion’s $13 million paycheck last year was actually below the $15 million average for CEOs in America, which makes his compensation “seem a little more responsible,” he said during the summit. “Still you’d argue, I think,” he continued, “it was pretty damn high.”

Dillion said his eight-figure pay package started out fairly reasonable but ballooned out of control as Kroger’s stock went up. That’s a terrible problem to have. That dang stock price, that dang paycheck, both just rising and rising and rising like the temperature needle on my poor struggling car as I sat in traffic this morning (yes, my car overheated on the way here and I’m bitter). There’s just nothing you can do about that. If only Dillion had like, RUN THE COMPANY or something, maybe he could have gotten that ludicrous pay rate under control. Oh, wait…

• Speaking of big ole billowy clouds o’ cash, former 20102 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is on his way to Kentucky to help make it rain for Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is fighting a tough battle against his Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan-Grimes. McConnell has been pulling out all the conservative A-listers to raise cash, a sign that he’s seriously worried he could lose his seat in what looks to be one of the most contentious and expensive Senate campaigns in history. It’s certainly the fight of his career, but the stakes go higher than that. Every seat matters come November, when Democrats will struggle to maintain their slim majority in the Senate. Should Republicans take enough seats, they’ll run both that chamber and the House, making President Obama’s last two years in office one big bummer.

• Another politician experiencing a big ole bummer right now is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was indicted a couple weeks back on some pretty serious felony charges involving abuse of power. It's a long, complicated story that involves a DUI (not Perry's), some backroom dealings, a possibly shady cancer research organization and more. So much more. Anyway, Perry's been kinda sailing through this whole thing, smirking in his mugshot and getting ice cream afterward, the whole deal. He's also played it well politically, refusing public money for his defense team of all-star attorneys. But he recently dropped a comment about that that is less than great PR. He's not turning down public money for his defense because it's the right thing to do, but "to keep folks from grousing about it," he said. The whole Texas-sized imbroglio (gotta love that word) has also hit Perry where it hurts: his holster.

• I usually try to end with some weird news to lighten the mood a lil, but this story is just crazy and sad and confusing. A shooting instructor in Arizona died Monday while teaching a 9-year-old girl how to shoot an uzi. The girl lost control of the semi-automatic weapon due to its recoil as she was firing, and the instructor was shot in the head. An investigation is ongoing to determine the exact sequence of events.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.26.2014 3 days ago
Posted In: News at 08:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

City to offer transgender benefits; Sen. Brown: eat at Wendy's; newsflash: Americans don't trust cops

Hey all. It's morning news, and I'm earlier than usual. I'm as surprised as you are.

The city of Cincinnati has announced it will cover medically necessary transgender surgery for employees under its insurance plan. A majority of city council signed a letter urging the change, which was then initiated by interim City Manager Scott Stiles. The city will be the first in Ohio to do so, joining only Berkeley, Calif., Portland, Ore., San Francisco and Seattle offering the benefit. A mental health professional will have to agree that the procedure is necessary for an employee before it is covered. The change will kick in next year and is a way for the city to stay competitive and attract the best job candidates possible, said Councilman Chris Seelbach. Many large companies, including P&G, offer transgender-inclusive benefits.

• Oops again. Duke Energy revised their estimates for the amount of diesel fuel it spilled into the Ohio River last week up to 9,000 gallons. The company previously reported it thought about 5,000 gallons had spilled when an oil transfer valve was left open Aug. 18 at the company’s New Richmond power plant. On the positive side, the cleanup of that spill is almost complete, and no adverse affects to wildlife or residents living along the river have been reported.

• A shifty fast-food sovereign looks to leave the country he rules for cold northern lands to save a few gold coins. Meanwhile, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown really wants you to grab a Frosty and a Crave Case this weekend in protest. Brown is up in arms about a proposed merger between Burger King and Canadian-based Tim Horton’s. The deal would create one of the world’s largest fast food conglomerates and see the king abdicating his burger throne in Miami, Florida for Canada. That part rankles Brown, who says the merger could well be a corporate inversion, or a move from the U.S. meant to evade corporate taxes. He’s encouraging his constituents to grab some grub from Ohio-based companies like Wendy’s or White Castle.

“Burger King’s decision to abandon the United States means consumers should turn to Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers or White Castle sliders,” Brown said in a press release that contained little hint anyone responsible was aware how hilarious that sounds. I’m going to avoid all this royal intrigue and continue to get my burgers from the grill outside of Avril-Bleh’s downtown.  

• A national gun control group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense has started a petition asking Cincinnati-based Kroger to ban open carry in its stores. The group cites recent violence in the company’s stores, including a Georgia murder-suicide in June and another shooting incident in the same state that left two people injured. Kroger has said that the safety of its customers is important and that its policy is to follow prevailing state law. Open carry laws vary by state, with some states like Ohio placing few restrictions on your right to tote a deadly weapon around while you’re picking out breakfast cereal or cilantro for a nice homemade pico de gallo. Moms Demand Action received criticism recently when it was revealed the group received $50 million from noted gun control advocate and ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who, anonymous sources reveal, is not in fact a mom.

A national Pew Research poll released yesterday found that Americans have very little faith in law enforcement’s ability to hold its officers accountable for misconduct, engage in good race-relations practices and use an appropriate level of force. This distrust held true for respondents of all races but was especially marked among those in the black community, where nine out of 10 respondents said the police do a “fair” to “poor” job. The poll comes as the police shooting of Mike Brown, an unarmed black teen in a St. Louis suburb, has set off a national debate over police conduct, especially as it relates to race.

• Finally, this new photography project by the New Orleans Times-Picayune is worth a look. You can slide between photos of New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina and recent pics of what the same areas look like today to get a powerful look at how the city has — and in some places hasn’t, really — recovered from the disaster.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.25.2014 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
voices_wwe_johnkasich

Morning News and Stuff

3CDC calls for development proposals, Ark park draws controversy and Kasich declines food stamp work waivers for most Ohio counties

Heya. It's news time.

Got a few hundred thousand dollars sitting around? Want to be part of the gentrification renaissance in Over-the-Rhine? Step up and make your pitch to 3CDC! The development corporation has announced it will open up the 33 city-owned properties for which it is the preferred developer to other developers who want to get in on the action in OTR. 3CDC will then make recommendations to the city on which plans for the properties around Findlay Market get the green light, based on financial feasibility, timeliness of renovation, parking considerations and whether hotdogs, tacos and pizza served at your proposed upscale but casual eatery are artisanal enough. Proponents of the process say it’s far more open than 3CDC’s development strategies thus far, while opponents of the development group’s preferred developer status say 3CDC still has too much power calling the shots in the neighborhood.

• As the streetcar gets closer to a reality in downtown and OTR, Northern Kentucky is now looking at how it can get on board. City leaders in Newport and Covington are talking about ways those cities can link up with Cincinnati’s streetcar. Covington Mayor Sherry Carran and Newport City Commissioner Beth Fennell have expressed support for the idea, saying the transit system could alleviate traffic problems and boost economic development there.

• While we’re talking Northern Kentucky, let’s talk about the Noah’s Ark theme park, called The Ark Encounter, being built in Grant County. The project has come under fire from Americans for the Separation of Church and State, a national advocacy group, because it has applied for tax credits despite possibly discriminatory hiring practices. Americans for Separation of Church and State points out that the park’s parent organization, Answers in Genesis, requires job applicants to sign a “statement of faith” that pledges allegiance to the group’s Christian values, including opposition to homosexuality and a belief in the literal truth of the bible. Americans for Separation of Church and state says that amounts to discriminatory hiring and should make the Ark project ineligible for the $73 million in tax incentives the state has approved for the project. Officials with The Ark Encounter say the park’s employment policies have yet to be written and that they will comply with all state and federal laws.

Butler County Children Services employees have been on strike for the past week, fighting for a 3.5 percent pay increase each year for the next three years. The county is standing firm, however, and things have started getting acrimonious. The county claims union representatives for the Child Services workers have misrepresented work done by the county since the strike has happened by claiming that some 80 home visits have been missed in that time. Union officials deny any misrepresentation. They say they’ve been forced to strike by the county’s refusal to meet their demands and that work isn’t getting done. The county has hired a number of new personnel since the strike and say they’re handling the workload without the striking union members.

• Gov. John Kasich signaled last week that he will again turn down job-requirement waivers for food aid in all but 17 counties in the state. Last year, the governor’s office allowed just 16 counties to get the waivers, which the federal government issues in high-unemployment areas to exempt those seeking food stamps from work requirements. Without the waiver, food aid recipients are limited to three months of benefits before they must find a job or enter a state-funded work program. But both jobs and spots in these work programs have been difficult to find, leading to criticism of Kasich’s decision to turn down the waiver in most of Ohio’s counties from groups like the Ohio Association of Foodbanks and liberal think tanks like Ohio Policy Matters. Advocacy groups have filed a federal civil rights claim seeking to overturn the state’s decision and extend the waiver to all 88 Ohio counties.

• In national news, the funeral for Mike Brown, the 18-year-old shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, was held today. Brown’s family has asked protesters who have taken to the streets in the wake of his Aug. 9 shooting for a peaceful event. Ferguson has been on edge since the shooting, with everything from peaceful demonstrations to all-out rioting taking place. Civil rights attorney Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and the parents of Florida shooting victim Trayvon Martin all attended the memorial.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.22.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
david pepper

Morning News and Stuff

More help for homeless vets, watch out for landmines and AG candidate Pepper–serial parking perp?

It's a gross rainy Friday, so grab some coffee and let's settle in with some news.

Two local organizations that help veterans experiencing homelessness will be getting a $1.5 million boost, Secretary of Veterans Affairs and former P&G head Bob McDonald announced yesterday. A program run by Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries in Woodlawn will get nearly $1 million in grant funding from the VA. The Rehabilitation Center Inc. serves seven counties in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region. The Talbert House in Walnut Hills, which serves veterans in Hamilton County, will get the other $500,000. The funding is part of more than $300 million in grants given out nationwide, nearly $9 million of which went to organizations in Ohio fighting homelessness among veterans.

• Is there anything more comforting than the knowledge your local police department is slowly becoming a paramilitary force? Recent revelations about the federal government’s program decommissioning military equipment into the hands of local law enforcement are mind-boggling and also darkly hilarious.

Even among my friends and family who are still afraid of living in urban areas, I would think fear of landmines in Cincinnati is pretty low, maybe non-existent. But that hasn’t stopped the Hamilton County law enforcement officials from receiving two land-mine detection kits from the program. Kenton County got a mine-resistant truck along with 44 pairs of night-vision goggles, 34 pieces of body armor and 22 assault rifles. Newport got a pretty awesome Humvee, though it’s not armor plated. Really important question here, guys — is that thing land-mine proof?

• Caesar’s Entertainment Corp., parent company to Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, will pay the largest fine ever doled out by the Ohio Casino Control Commission. Caesars will pay a $200,000 fine for lack of financial transparency involving the company’s ongoing $23 billion debt restructuring efforts.

• Attorney General candidate David Pepper has received criticism recently for his legal record. Do records show he embezzled money? Took bribes? Sold drugs? No, no, I’m afraid it’s much darker. Pepper, it seems, is a serial illegal parker. Over the past 14 years, Pepper has paid more than $9,000 in parking fines, averaging 13 tickets a year, though the bulk occurred when he was County Commissioner from 2007 to 2009, according to an investigation by the Associated Press. That’s a lot of tickets, sure, but most of them are for parking at expired meters. Some are a bit more serious offenses — displaying expired plates. When you break it down, he’s been fined about $700 a year for all those offenses. Pepper’s campaign chalks the fines up to a busy schedule and a lot of late meetings. But his opponent Mike DeWine’s campaign says the number of offenses isn’t an accident and makes him unfit to be attorney general.

“Nearly everyone has made a mistake by forgetting to go back and feed a parking meter,” DeWine campaign spokesman Ryan Stubenrauch said. “But that Mr. Pepper racked up nearly $10,000 in fines shows a stunning disregard for basic traffic laws — particularly for someone running to be Ohio’s top law officer.”

Pepper’s campaign said it would rather have that smudge than allegations facing DeWine, which include accusations that the attorney general’s office has been engaged in pay-to-play practices, allegedly awarding lucrative legal contracts with the AG’s office to private firms that donate to DeWine’s campaign.

“[Pepper is] happy to debate old parking tickets versus Mike DeWine’s current practices as attorney general,” Pepper spokesman Peter Koltak said.

• Finally, things in Ferguson, Mo., seem to be calming down for the time being. Protests, some violent, have rocked the St. Louis suburb since the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Lately, however, the protests have become somewhat more peaceful. Yesterday the state’s National Guard units withdrew from the city and the number of arrests police have made has been dropping. Investigations into the shooting are ongoing, as the Justice Department works with state and local law enforcement to try and determine what happened between Brown and officer Darren Wilson. Wilson says that Brown attacked him in his patrol car, though others say Wilson was the aggressor and that Brown was retreating when he was shot. An autopsy showed that Wilson shot Brown at least six times.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.21.2014 8 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pe_streetcar_jf1

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar tracks head downtown, new development on Central Parkway could include grocery store and Joe the Plumber is still saying crazy stuff

Morning yall!

If you’re like me, you passed work crews installing the first stretch of streetcar tracks in the Central Business District today. If you’re REALLY like me (clumsy), you almost fell off your bike trying to get a better look at the work. This is not recommended. The track work is happening right around between Central Parkway and Court Street along Walnut Street, where the city held a press conference this morning to talk about the progress. Councilman Kevin Flynn, who had been a swing vote during the battle over whether the streetcar would even happen last winter, called the latest progress “a milestone” and said he’s not giving up on some federal money to help operate the streetcar. A $5 million application for a federal grant completed by the city looks unlikely to be successful in its current form. That money would have funded operating costs for the streetcar for the next few years, according to city officials. Other private funds have shored up the transit project’s operating budget to some degree, but more funding is needed.

• While we’re talking about that little corner of the world, check this out. Some day, you may see a new Kroger near the spot where streetcar tracks are going in. A $50 million residential development is being planned for the corner of Central Parkway and Walnut Street. It will feature 200 apartments and 25,000 square feet of retail space. Rookwood Properties, based in Blue Ash, has approached the grocery chain about possibly filling some of that retail space. It’s all speculative for now, though. Kroger is looking to open a new location downtown but will not comment on specific locations, including the development on Walnut. I hope they hurry up, because I need a place close by to purchase all my Triscuits, Arizona Green Tea tall cans and ready-made boneless buffalo wings, which is pretty much my daily lunch these days.

As we reported yesterday, the Women’s Med Center in Sharonville will cease providing abortions. The facility announced yesterday it will not appeal an Aug. 18 court ruling upholding earlier orders that the clinic close down its abortion services. The clinic will remain open to provide other services, specifically helping prepare women seeking abortions before they receive the procedures at the company’s Dayton clinic location.

Lots of rumblings about shady dealing at Cincinnati's major airport after an the Kentucky State Auditor released a report Tuesday calling for a restructuring of CVG's board. The audit details high levels of inefficiency, nepotism and back-room dealing in the way the airport is run. CVG is among the most expensive airports in the country for passengers, and its board has been under fire for some time. The audit comes after a nine-month special investigation into its operation. Proposals for restructuring the board focus on making it more regional, folding in a representative chosen by Hamilton County Commissioners, the Ohio governor's office and the Cincinnati mayor's office.

• OK, so there are a lot of complaints about the suddenly ubiquitous ice bucket challenge, but the Cincinnati Archdiocese has a unique one. The trend has attempted to harness social media to raise money for the ALS Association. That part is great. The organization funds research to fight Lou Gehrig’s disease, a degenerative neurological disorder that eventually causes muscle paralysis and death. But a viral trend where people film themselves dumping super-cold water on themselves instead of giving money to charity and then challenge others to do the same as a kind of activism… seems a bit counterproductive. (Though, to be fair, the organization has said it’s gotten some $16 million in donations since the fad started).

Anyway, the Archdiocese has a different sort of problem with the challenge. They don’t mind the inane and narcissistic part. They’re upset about people giving money to the ALS Association, because the group funds research involving embryonic stem cells, the harvesting of which the church equates with abortion. Dump ice on yourself and post it on Vine all you want, the Archdiocese says, but god forbid you give any money to the group that’s trying to heal people.

"We appreciate the compassion that has caused so many people to engage in this," Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said. "But it's a well established moral principle that a good end is not enough. The means to that ends must be morally licit."

The Archdiocese has directed Catholics to send money to a catholic group that doesn’t use embryonic stem cells in its research instead.

• Remember Joe the Plumber? Of course you do! Ohio’s favorite native son first came to prominence during the 2008 presidential election when his shaky math about his small business (which he hadn’t even started yet) was picked up by the McCain campaign. Since that time, he's become a kind of pundit for the far right, writing books, appearing on talk shows and even running for Congress. He recently made national news by taking to Facebook and proposing HIS solution to the Ferguson unrest. His idea achieves a pretty impressive trifecta of being racist, classist and making absolutely no sense whatsoever. His post says “The best way to end the rioting and looting in Ferguson… Job Fair. They’ll scatter like cockroaches when the lights come on!” Great.

• Finally, speaking of working, this New Yorker piece on the trials of hourly workers in the age of employers’ push for maximum efficiency is a good read and very likely familiar for anyone who has ever had to work an ever-shifting schedule in retail, food or other service industries. Lots of interesting data and insights into the way the economy continues to shift in ways that are tough for working people.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.20.2014 9 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
chris_monzel

Morning News and Stuff

Duke oil spill slides by Cincinnati, Tarbell jumps in Commissioners race and Common Core repeal bill could bring intelligent design to Ohio classrooms

Hey all! Was so busy chasing stories yesterday that I didn’t get a chance to do the morning news. Let’s catch up, shall we?

Welp, that’s not good. A spill at a Duke Energy facility about 20 miles upstream from Cincinnati dumped 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the Ohio River late Monday night, officials say. The Coast Guard closed off the area around the spill, and crews are working on clean up, which could take several days. Greater Cincinnati Water Works closed off intake valves on the river to avoid taking in contaminated water, though it has since announced that the spill has passed Cincinnati and that operations have returned to normal. The plant in New Richmond has had a number of environmental issues in the past.

• The race for Republican Chris Monzel’s Hamilton County Commissioners seat just got a little more competitive. Former City Councilman Jim Tarbell has entered the fray as a write-in candidate for the Democrats. Tarbell and a couple other experienced Democrats came up as possibilities for the official Democratic candidate after Monzel’s icon tax plan caused an uproar earlier this month. But Sean Patrick Feeney, who won the Democratic primary, signaled he wouldn’t step down as the party’s candidate. Tarbell ran for the same seat in 2010, when he lost to Monzel.

• Macy’s, the Cincinnati-based department store giant, has agreed to pay $650,000 to settle racial profiling charges brought about after an investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office. That investigation started after customers, including actor Rob Brown, complained they were racially profiled at the chain’s New York stores. Brown was detained by security at the store on suspicion he stole merchandise, which turned out to be false. The investigation looked into profiling practices at the chain’s Herald Square store in New York City. In addition to the money, Macy’s has agreed to institute new employee training policies, post a “customer bill of rights” at its New York stores and its website, and other measures.

• The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is celebrating its 10th anniversary this week, and is having a number of events to celebrate. One of these is the Dreamer’s Summit, happening tonight from 6-8 p.m. The free event features young immigrants who have settled in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky telling their stories — the struggles and triumphs they’ve experienced making their way from places around the world to live here. Seems very worth a trip to the riverfront, and if you get there an hour early at 5 p.m., you can get a free tour of the Freedom Center, certainly one of the coolest buildings in the city.

• A while back we reported on the fight over new Common Core educational standards. Now, that fight is getting real here in Ohio as conservative lawmakers in the state legislature attempt to pass a bill repealing Common Core in the state. But the stakes are higher than just a new set of standards. The legislation in question, House Bill 597, could mean that intelligent design and creationism, for instance, would be taught alongside evolution in science classes. 

• The situation in Ferguson, Missouri continues to be tense as a grand jury gears up to consider the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a city police officer. Last night started off quiet, with slightly smaller groups gathering for peaceful protests in the city. But later in the evening, violence flared, causing police to use pepper spray and arrest 47 demonstrators. Despite the unrest, Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol called last night a turning point, saying the crowd dynamics have changed and that calm is slowly returning to the city.

“We had to respond to fewer incidents than the night before,” he said. “There were no Molotov cocktails tonight. There were no shootings.”

• Finally, this is amazing — three teenage sisters from Georgia have made an app that tracks police misconduct, with the aim of creating a database of police abuse and holding law enforcement accountable. The app, appropriately called Five-0, is a kind of “Yelp for police officers,” the teens say. Kids these days.

 
 
by Steven Rosen 08.18.2014 11 days ago
at 03:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Road Scholar Adds Cincinnati to Signature Cities

This is big news for Cincinnati tourism — a sign that the city's ongoing revival is attracting national interest.

Road Scholar, the big tour company that plans excursions around the world — from Cuba to Cambodia — has just added Cincinnati to its Signature (American) Cities offerings. The first trip will be March 29-April 3, 2015, and is being advertised as a visit to "the first truly American major city — founded after the Revolutionary War by American-born settlers."

Here's the description from the brand-new (just released today) North American Preview catalog:

"Historians admire it as the first truly American major city — established after the Revolution by American-born founders. Art and culture lovers revere it for its galleries and performing-arts venues. Now it’s your turn to fall in love with Cincinnati, where laid-back Midwest charm meets artsy big-city sophistication on the banks of the Ohio River. Join local experts at museums and landmarks that interpret the many hats Cincinnati has worn, from America’s original boomtown to waypoint on the Underground Railroad. Admire Art Deco architecture and horticultural artistry unrivaled in the nation. Learn about the city from a unique perspective aboard a riverboat on the Ohio River. Go backstage at the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, enjoy the vitality of downtown right outside your hotel and much more."

A big part of the trip will be an exploration of Over-the-Rhine.

Prices start at $1,075 and include five nights of accommodation, 13 meals, three expert-led lectures and 10 field trips.
Cleveland already has been a Signature City. Road Scholar also is expanding the program to Indianapolis. Additionally, it will have an American Queen riverboat excursion from St. Louis to Louisville along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. This year, Road Scholar had an American Queen excursion that stopped in Cincinnati.

Road Scholar will also have a new "Silver Screen Cinematic Voyage" excursion on the American Queen from Cincinnati to St. Louis starting on July 11. It will visit sites associated with the filming of movies, such as In the Heat of the Night, which was filmed in Sparta, Ill.

For more information, visit roadscholar.org.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 08.18.2014 11 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Abortion clinic closing; Cincinnati lends post-unrest wisdom to Ferguson; Mason's Applebees is the spot for tennis stars

Hey. It's news time. Check it.

One of two abortion clinics in the Greater Cincinnati area must close by the end of the week, a Hamilton County judge ruled, unless its lawyers file an appeal.

Women's Med in Sharonville has been fighting for months to stay open after the state of Ohio refused to grant a variance to recent rules that require the clinic to have hospital-admitting privileges. The Ohio Department of Health has granted these exceptions to the clinic in the past, since the clinic’s doctors have individual admitting privileges at hospitals. The clinic appealed the state’s decision, but last month a ruling by a Hamilton County magistrate ordered the clinic to close. That ruling had to be approved by Judge Jerome Metz, who issued an earlier ruling allowing the clinic to stay open while it appealed the state’s decision. On Friday, Metz ruled that he could not overturn the magistrate’s decision and that the clinic had five days to appeal or close.

Val Haskell, the clinic’s owner, said that Gov. John Kasich is “methodically targeting each Ohio abortion provider for closure, one by one, hoping no one will notice. It is our medical center today, one in Cleveland or Columbus tomorrow."

Cincinnati has one other clinic, a Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn. It has been waiting for word from the state about its license renewal for more than a year.

Over the weekend, two Cincinnati activists traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, where unrest continues after the police shooting of an unarmed, 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown. Rev. Damon Lynch III, pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church and Iris Roley, a Bond Hill businesswoman, made the trip to share ideas and best practices for recovering as a community from the trauma of such an incident. They’ll be sharing their thoughts on Cincinnati’s 2002 Collaborative Agreement, which helped define strategies for a more community-oriented approach to policing in the Cincinnati Police Department. Cincinnati knows the pain Ferguson is experiencing well, having seen days of protests and civil unrest following the 2001 death of Timothy Thomas at the hands of a Cincinnati police officer.

• Ferguson continues to roil after a brief respite last week. Over the weekend, crowds refused to disperse, despite a midnight curfew set by the governor, and police again used smoke bombs and tear gas on protestors. Meanwhile, an autopsy performed on Brown determined he had been shot six times. The governor has declared a state of emergency in the St. Louis suburb.

3CDC will be pitching in to get a long-running project downtown moving toward completion. The apartment tower at Fourth and Race has been in the works since February 2013, and 3CDC has already had a consulting role. But now they’ll build and own the site’s garage and ground-floor commercial space. Flaherty and Collins, an Indianapolis developer, will still develop the tower’s apartments. In the past, the project has included plans for a 12,000-square-foot grocery store, though those plans have been revised several times. It’s unclear how many units the building will include, though initial plans called for 300 apartments.

• Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald has waded into the sports mascot debate, saying that the Cleveland Indians’ mascot Chief Wahoo should be banned. The clearly racist caricature image of a smiling Native American has been the Indians’ logo for a long time, but continued controversy over professional sports teams’ usage of demeaning names and images based on stereotypes of Native Americans has called the image’s appropriateness into question. See: the whole huge debacle over the Washington Redskins. Gov. Kasich, asked the same question about the Chief, said “of course” the mascot shouldn’t be banished.

• Finally, this amazing story in The New York Times about the Mason Applebees at the center of the world this weekend. When tennis stars come to town for the Western & Southern Open, they flock to the 'Bees for some mozz sticks and appletinis. I’ll leave you with the best quote:

“We didn’t have to talk. Let’s just watch TV and eat.”

 
 
 
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