One year ago today, the city signed contracts to start construction on the streetcar. Fast forward 365 days, and the new transit loop through downtown and Over-the-Rhine is quickly taking shape. Roads are closed as major sections of track go in. Workers are constructing concrete slabs for the passenger stops. The cars themselves are being built. And the city recently named downtown-based Kolar Design to do branding work for the streetcar. The Business Courier has photos of the progress so far. Or you can just drive through Over-the-Rhine and see for yourself. Just don’t take Race Street if you’re hoping to get downtown — it's still closed at 12th Street.
• We’ve all lived with roommates who don’t always take out their garbage. It’s gross. But I guess it could be worse. Like, tens of thousands of times worse. The city recently shut down a compost company called Cincy Compost in Winton Hills after two years of complaints from miles around about the ghastly smells emanating from what is effectively an 80,000 pound pile of rotting food, but things could get worse before they get better. The heap, which is piled two feet deep, needs to be cleaned up by the city now that the company is no longer in business. It seems the business didn’t get the correct balance of garbage for the compost process to work and was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of garbage it took in. It racked up 45 code violations while it was open. Now the city will have to spend $250,000 to kick-start the process and finish turning the garbage into soil. That involves stirring all that garbage around, basically, which is only going to make the smell worse in the short-term. Gross.
• Community groups in the city will be holding a rally calling for an end to violence in the city at 7 p.m. in Piatt Park today. Last week, four people were shot, one fatally, in two separate but related incidents at the park. Cincinnati saw a surge in shootings early in the year, though that trend has slowed and the city may not see an increase over last year’s 75 murders. Forty-two people have been murdered in the city this year, many with guns.
• One guy who will not be at that rally, I’d imagine, is this dude, who threatened to shoot down a University of Cincinnati Health Air Care helicopter yesterday. Angry that the helicopter was flying too low over his Green Township house, Leonard Pflanz is accused of driving to Mercy West Hospital and telling the helicopter’s pilot that he would shoot him if he did it again. Pflanz is appearing in court this morning over charges stemming from the threat.
• General Motors may soon be in some big trouble with federal prosecutors, who are investigating whether the company made false statements about a defect in some of its cars that has killed at least 13 people. The defect relates to an ignition switch problem that has caused some GM cars to lose power while operating. The feds accuse GM of making misleading statements to the public about the defect, downplaying the dangers of the defective switches. The company has already been fined $35 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for dragging its feet in response to the problem. Some believe GM’s ultimate liability could end up being even more than the $1.2 billion Toyota was ordered to pay earlier this year over similar charges.
• Finally, Smithsonian Magazine reports that skin cells may be able to detect odors and that some of these odors may aid the body in the healing process. Basically, this means the whole surface of your body is receptive to smells in one way or another. This is interesting, maybe even great news, unless of course you live near a failed composting facility or something.
We're mere hours from freedom, folks. I'll be quick today and give you the morning news rundown in short order so you’re ready for the weekend.
If you’re a gay or bisexual man, the Food and Drug Administration won’t let you give blood. A blood drive today at UC’s Hoxworth Blood Center in Corryville is drawing attention to that rule hoping to get it changed. The FDA first instituted the policy in 1984 at the height of the AIDS crisis.
Gay and bisexual men are encouraged to bring eligible proxy donors to Hoxworth today as well as sign a national petition to the White House asking it to reconsider the rule. Organizers hope to get 50 donors, and if you want to give to the cause, get to Hoxworth or call for an appointment before 4:30 today. The center has computers where you can sign the petition, which needs 100,000 signatures nationally by the end of the month. The blood drive is part of a national gay blood drive taking place in 60 cities today.
• After a pretty harrowing week downtown (four people were shot in two incidents near Piatt Park, one of whom died of his injuries) the Cincinnati Police Department says it will be out in force this weekend for Bunbury Music Festival. CPD has instituted a no vacation policy for officers over the next few days so they can cover downtown and the rest of the city. Apologies to all the hard-working officers out there who were looking forward to partying with Andrew W.K.
Police Chief Ken Blackwell says it’s part of a larger effort to make sure police are ready for big summer events. These include the National Urban League Conference coming the last weekend in July, which features a keynote address by Vice President Joe Biden. That weekend will also be an all-hands-on-deck scenario, Blackwell says.
“The bottom line is that we took an oath to protect the city, and sometimes police work calls on you to work long hours and do stuff you ordinarily wouldn't want to do,” he told WLWT yesterday.
• Those fancy New Yorkers at Esquire stumbled across our quaint little river town yesterday, it seems, and decided it was noteworthy enough to write about. Overall, it’s a super-positive piece about the city, which is awesome. There are some stumbles in the article, though–originally it spelled the city’s name as “Cincinatti,” called Vine Street “Vine Avenue” (both since fixed) and asserted that local treasure and all-around swell bar Japp’s Since 1879 has been serving for 120 years. That's especially befuddling because the name implies it’s been open for 135 years, though it actually opened in 2011. Also puzzling is the writer’s assertion that revitalization in the city is without “inherent class warfare.” As far as I can tell, that’s been a pretty visible fight here in the city for decades, but, you know. These are small quibbles. The piece does highlight some great spots in town, including Japp’s, Everybody’s Records (no Shake-It, though!) and Holtman’s Donuts. It also enlightened me on a possible place to get a haircut downtown. Anyway, you should check out the article, even if it’s only to copy edit it further.
• Finally, here’s an interesting article about how ride share company Uber is restructuring how much it charges for rides, and why that matters in the grand scheme of urban transportation. With Uber and Lyft becoming more of a force in the Cincinnati area, it’s a good read.
More demand for housing aid and less money from the feds have combined to create a simple but brutal equation swelling the number of homeless individuals and families in the Cincinnati area and across the country. As more low-income people need affordable places to live, they have fewer housing options to choose from and less federal aid available to them, data shows. That’s left an increasing number of families and individuals on the streets.
In 2011, $2,225,000 was available to Hamilton County residents for rental assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This year, it’s just $750,000. These federal funds provide much-needed aid to families struggling to make rent payments.
The cuts come at a time when affordable housing is getting harder to find. The amount of available affordable housing has decreased by 6.8 million units since 2007, while the number of very low-income renters who need it has grown by more than 2.5 million, according to data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.
The money spent on rental aid in the past made a dent–a study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found the number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States dropped by 17 percent from 2005 to 2012, despite the economic recession and national housing crisis. Especially effective was the 2009 Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Act, which spent $1.5 billion to aid families experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
Locally, federal programs have been crucial. Nearly all families in Hamilton County who received rental assistance through such programs avoided becoming homeless, according to a report by Strategies to End Homelessness, a Cincinnati non-profit.
Despite the success of the program and increasing need, the number of people in Hamilton County served by federal anti-homelessness efforts has dropped by more than 56 percent since 2011.
That year, 2,810 people received rental or utility assistance in Hamilton County from programs provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That number dropped to 1,870 in 2012, and dropped again to 942 in 2013. This year is on pace to see a similar number–about 966– receive the services.
Meanwhile, the number of homeless in the county is rising. 8,271 people in Hamilton County experienced homelessness last year, according to the Strategies report. That’s up from 7,838 people in 2011 and 7,983 in 2012.
Families are hit especially hard hit by federal spending cuts.
"I have never seen this many families come to us from sleeping in a car," Darlene Guess, director of client programs at Bethany House Services, told the Cincinnati Enquirer July 9. The Cincinnati area's five shelters that serve homeless families in the city help about 1,000 families a year, service providers estimate.
The reductions come as a result of the 2011 sequester, continuing across-the-board cuts to federal programs that happened as a result of Congress not being able to reach budget agreements. Some of the funds were first allocated during the federal government’s 2009 stimulus efforts.
Shortfalls at HUD caused by the cuts could eventually mean as many as 140,000 fewer families nationally will receive rental assistance, and that 100,000 homeless or formerly homeless people will be cut off from other assistance programs offered through HUD.
Other dynamics associated with gridlock in Congress have exacerbated the problems facing low-income people on the brink of homelessness–Democrats and the GOP in Congress have fought a pitched battle over extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, for instance, as unemployment levels recede at a stubbornly slow pace. Many have reached the end of their benefits, and now struggle to pay rent or mortgages.
Whoa, tons of news happening right now. Here's a brief rundown of what's up today.
Homelessness has spiked in Hamilton County, social service providers say. It’s a trend that’s happening across the country as federal spending cuts hit programs aimed at aiding the homeless and preventing homelessness. That trend has hit Cincinnati-area families hard, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Some of the increase right now is seasonal, the Enquirer story reports, but some is more systemic, coming from a greater emphasis on chronic individual homelessness over the past few years by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Hamilton County.
• The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra announced today that it will be expanding access to Lumenocity due to overwhelming demand. The light and music event takes place Aug. 1-3 at Washington Park.
CSO will release 3,300 additional tickets to the main events, plus another 5,000 to a dress rehearsal the day before, also in Washington Park. Those tickets will be given away in a drawing you can enter between now and Tuesday at lumenocity2014.com. In addition, the event will be broadcast live at Fountain Square and Riverbend. The Aug. 1 performance will be radio broadcast on 90.9 WGUC. The Aug. 2 performance will also be broadcast on public television station CET. The event will also be live streamed on Lumenocity’s website all three nights.
The event was wildly popular last year, so this year, the CSO hoped to gain a bit more control over the size of the crowd by issuing free tickets online. The 37,5000 tickets given out last month were snatched up in mere minutes. Some later popped up on eBay for as much as $150. Vice Mayor David Mann requested an investigation into the giveaway and resulting ticket resales.
• A city review board gave a big “meh” to design proposals for GE’s new building at The Banks. The Urban Design Review Board, which is responsible for giving recommendations about buildings that will have a significant profile downtown, was underwhelmed with the conservative plans for GE’s 10-story office building near the riverfront. The building’s architect calls it “timeless mainstream design,” but board members said it just looks like a run of the mill suburban office building.
“We were looking for a special building, and this is a routine one,” board Chairman Buck Niehoff said.
Ouch. To be fair though, the board does have a point. The building will be a very prominent part of The Banks, and GE is receiving unprecedented incentives from the city (read: from taxpayers) to build there. Is a little flash too much to ask? Maybe a tiara on top, or a Cadillac sticking out of part of the building. Or like, maybe it could look like a big jet engine? These ideas are free, GE, so you can take them if you want. Or call me, I’ve got tons more…
• The Ohio GOP is suing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, currently Cuyahoga County’s executive, over access to records detailing his comings and going at county offices and parking garages. The suit comes after media in Cleveland requested the same records back in April and were denied.
The GOP’s lawsuit is filed with the Ohio Supreme Court, and holds that FitzGerald’s records are public information that must be released. FitzGerald says the records of his keycard swipes at county buildings are security-sensitive information, and that they needs to be closely held because he’s had security concerns, including death threats, related to his job and his past work in law enforcement.
Ironically, his opponent Gov. John Kasich is fighting much the same fight. He’s refused to release information about his schedule and security threats, and is also facing a suit in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.
• Controversy over immigration at the United States/Mexico border continues, and the situation is basically becoming a circus. President Obama yesterday met with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other Texas officials, activists, and faith leaders to discuss the crisis at the border, where sharp spikes in migration by people from Central America, many of them children, are being reported. More than 52,000 youth have been caught crossing the country's southwestern border this year, double the amount from last year.
Perry spent at least part of the meeting making sour faces or perhaps fighting constipation. Obama's asking for $3.7 billion from Congress to help shore up the border with more judges and detention centers to expedite the deportation process, while Perry is asking for 1,000 National Guard troops at the border. The GOP, which controls the House of Representatives, looks unlikely to budge on the issue and give Obama the money. Some House members, including Rep. Randy Neugebauer, also of Texas, have complained that conditions at detention centers are too cushy. These are, by the way, the same detention centers that many reports show are overcrowded, unsanitary, and inhumane.
"When you look at the lovely way they're getting treated -- they're
getting free health care, free housing, you know, they're watching the
World Cup on big screen TVs," Neugebauer said on conservative pundit Sean Hannity's radio show yesterday. Well, jeez, sign me up for that, Randy.
Meanwhile, in what only highlights the absurdity of the political crapshow that the situation has become, noted humanitarian and completely reasonable person Glenn Beck has announced he's speeding toward the border with soccer balls and hot meals for migrant children. It's gotten real, I mean, really real, when Glenn Beck is one of the sane, caring voices in any debate.
• Finally, scientists have developed a chip that provides remote control birth control. The chip is implanted under the skin and can be switched off in case a woman decides she’d like to conceive. The device is projected to last for up to 16 years. There’s still a lot of work to be done on the device—studies must be done to determine its failure rate and whether it’s safe to have the chip in your body for an extended period of time.
Hey folks. The weather’s killer, the week is half over, and Beyoncé apparently loves Over-the-Rhine. It’s a great day to be in Cincinnati, so let’s talk about what’s going on, good and bad, in our fair city.
As a wise group of sages once said, cash rules everything around us, and if you’re looking for insight into the movers and shakers, the powerbrokers , the people pulling the levers in Cincy, you could do a lot worse than two lists that have recently popped up. One, released yesterday by Forbes, details the country’s richest families, and three area clans made the list. The Scripps family, owner of the E.W. Scripps media company, is tops in Cincinnati, with a net worth of $7.5 billion. They’re the 34th richest family in America. Next down the list are United Dairy Farmers and American Financial owners the Lindners, who have about $1.7 billion in assets and money in the bank. They’re ranked 130 on the national list. And with a measly $1.5 billion, the Farmers, who run the enormous Cintas uniform empire, round out Cincinnati’s contribution to Forbes’ rankings. They’re the 140th richest family in the country. The Waltons (Wal-Mart) and the Kochs (a bunch of things related to energy, including fracking companies in Ohio) topped the national list. No surprises there.
Another list of note is the Business Courier’s ranking of public companies in Cincinnati with the most cash on hand. These are companies with extra capital to spend who may make big moves in the next year or so. Procter and Gamble topped this list, followed by Macy’s, but you’ll also see some of the same names as the Forbes list, including American Financial (3rd on the list with almost $1.9 billion in cash), Cintas (5th on the list with $349 million) and the E.W. Scripps company (10th with $194 million.)
• For years, both when I lived here and during visits back home while I was living elsewhere, I would walk past the gorgeous but vacant church on Elm Street across from Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine and daydream about possible uses for the building. I definitely wasn’t the only one, and now two developers are turning their visions for the space into reality. Work is beginning to convert the 147-year-old church, which has been empty for over a decade, into a bar and events space for concerts, weddings, and other happenings. Building owners Josh Heuser and Michael Forgus envision their space as a community building cornerstone in the area–a place where people can come together. They hope to have the space open for business by May next year.
• Sometimes, one can isn’t enough. The folks at Rhinegeist in OTR have dreamed up a solution for the dilemma you face when you want a lot of beer but don’t want to carry around multiple cans, because let’s face it, that just doesn’t look very classy. They’ve come up with the crowler, which holds 32 ounces of the any of brewery’s creations. The crowler actually has more utility than just keeping you from double or triple fisting–it works like a growler, allowing you to take beer home, but with a much longer shelf life of up to a month. Genius.
• Connie Pillich, the Democratic candidate for Ohio’s treasurer, has floated the idea of creating an independent watchdog group to keep those counting and spending the state’s money accountable. The group would keep an eye on the treasurer’s office and other state government agencies to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer funds. Pillich has cited past scandals in the treasurer’s office, as well as questions about current treasurer Josh Mandel, as reasons Ohio needs the watchdog.
"We are in dire need of having an independent watchdog to make sure the office where all the people's money is kept is operating efficiently and safely," Pillich told Cleveland.com. "People should be able to go to bed at night assured there's someone in Columbus watching their funds."
Pillich is running against current treasurer Mandel, who has been the subject of scrutiny for alleged shady dealings. Mandel made a national list of worst politicians recently–one of just two Ohio politicians to receive that dubious distinction. Mandel denies any wrongdoing and points to the clean audits his office has received while he's been at his post.
• Ohio is getting all the big national events lately. The MLB All Star Game, the Gathering of the Juggalos, and now, the GOP National Convention, which looks likely to take place in Cleveland in 2016. The convention taskforce for the Republican National Committee announced its recommendation yesterday, and now the full RNC will vote on, and likely pass, that suggestion. The group responsible for the selection, headed by RNC Chairman Reince Preibus, has said they were blown away by Cleveland’s efforts to secure funding and demonstrate their readiness for tens of thousands of conservative convention-goers. The field of cities, which once included Cincinnati and Columbus as well as Las Vegas and other contenders, was narrowed down to just Cleveland and Dallas. The RNC convention group said they based their decision on how much each city rocked, and while Dallas was pretty good, Cleveland has a national reputation for said rocking. No telling how much the RNC was influenced by the Insane Clown Posse’s decision to relocate its annual convention of sorts to Ohio from Michigan, though Republican convention officials have been heard remarking that if Ohio is good enough for ICP, it’s good enough for the GOP. (This part is complete fiction, by the way, though who knows how these decisions are made...)
This news this morning is all (well, mostly) about politics, so put your civics hat on.
Former Procter and Gamble executive and prospective head of the Department of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald has quickly gone from wrangling over local sales taxes as head of the Cultural Facilities Task Force here in Cincinnati to meeting with senators in Washington. McDonald, who is President Obama’s nominee to lead the troubled VA, is making the rounds in the nation’s capital this week on a series of informal get-togethers with senators, who will vote on his confirmation soon. He’ll also be boning up on his knowledge of the VA and its current challenges.
Confirmation hearings for Obama’s nominees have been tough the past couple years, and with the high-level controversy swirling around the VA lately, McDonald could face a bumpy ride. High wait time for patients, patient fatalities and record-keeping scandals have clouded the agency’s image. McDonald will have to convince 14 senators on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that his corporate experience with P&G has equipped him to address these issues quickly and steer the VA back onto the right course. He’ll make his case at a confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
• Now time for a quick break from the political: New music venues seem to
be popping up all over lately. The latest is in Clifton, where the
owners of Olives restaurant have announced they’re closing July 20 and
preparing to turn their space on Ludlow Avenue into a live music
destination. The restaurant is located in the historic Ludlow Garage,
which was run by Jim Tarbell and hosted national acts in the 1970s. The new venue will open in November, booking local and national acts. No word yet on what kinds of music are in store there.
• Now back to politics. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced yesterday that 16 of Ohio’s May 6 primary races around the state were decided by a single vote. That makes 63 races in a year’s time that have been decided by the slimmest of margins.
“This underscores the importance of election access and integrity,” Husted said, “and why it is so important to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
It’s funny that Husted would talk about making it easy to vote, given that the he and the Ohio GOP have moved time and again to restrict early voting hours around the state. These attempts include a swipe at Sunday voting directly before election day, a day with heavy turnout from African-American communities across the state. Courts later ordered Sunday voting restored.
• Democratic candidate for attorney general David Pepper has slammed his opponent, current Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, over a number of issues recently. These include DeWine’s lack of response to the state’s heroin addiction epidemic and the fact that DeWine drafted a brief in support of Hobby Lobby in its recent Supreme Court case. Now he’s blasting DeWine over Ohio’s lag in testing rape kits, which are samples collected when a rape is reported. Those samples can help identify the rapist — one in three kits results in a match with someone in Ohio’s DNA database. The problem is, Ohio has a backlog of more than 4,000 rape kits waiting to be tested, some more than 20 years old. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation can test about 300 of the kits in a month. That’s not fast enough, Pepper says, attributing it to DeWine’s mismanagement. He proposes sending the kits to other regional labs for testing, speeding up the process and hopefully catching more rapists.
“At the current rate, this will take four to five years,” Pepper says. “To me, that’s just not good enough.”
DeWine says he didn’t create the backlog and in fact requested the extra kits from local law enforcement agencies, which often had them locked away for years in evidence rooms, so they could eventually be tested. He says sending the kits to other labs is a bad idea and that the state’s lab has developed unique expertise necessary to test them.
• Well, shoot. The Associated Press announced recently that it plans to start publishing articles written by robots. The stories will mostly be business stories summarizing earnings reports, though AP has also been using robots for some sports reporting. It’s not an unprecedented move — The Los Angels Times and other publications have employed robots to write immediate reports on earthquakes, crime and other subjects where highly formulaic reports are required. The AP estimates that it will be able to produce more than 4,000 articles a quarter this way — a huge leap above the 300 it now produces.
No worries, though. This morning news roundup wasn't written by a robot. Or was it?
Long weekends mean lots of news. Let's get caught up.
Another incident involving pitbulls this weekend has some in Cincinnati calling for the city to reintroduce a ban on the breed. Over the weekend, a pitbull attacked a Jack Russell Terrier in East Price Hill, which has led its owner and others to demand action. The controversy around the dogs flared up in June when 6-year-old Zainabou Drame was severely injured by two pits in Westwood.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman has said he’s working on ways to address the issue in the Law and Public Safety Committee he chairs. He has yet to decide 100 percent what the right course of action is to address the problem, he says, but seems to believe that an outright ban wouldn’t work. He voted to repeal a ban the city once had. Smitherman has said he believes the problem is with irresponsible owners, not just the breed itself.
• Here’s some great news — work began today on protected bike lanes on Central Parkway. The first phase of the protected lane will stretch from Elm Street north to Marshall Street. Construction happening now includes striping the new bike-only lanes, putting up new signage, building new bus stops that keep buses and bikes separate and eventually installing plastic poles between the bike lanes and the rest of the road.
• Local anti-tax group COAST has raised opposition to Hamilton County Commissioners’ proposed plans to raise either sales or property taxes to help pay for renovations to Music Hall and Union Terminal. The group says the city, not the county, owns the buildings and that it’s unfair for the city to ask county taxpayers to foot the bill for their renovations. COAST supports an alternate idea floated by Commissioner Todd Portune that would raise the money by charging a tax on tickets to events held at the buildings. The group opposes putting the tax increase measure on the ballot so that, you know, the majority of taxpayers could decide for themselves the best way to go about paying for the buildings. At least two of the three county commissioners must approve the tax plan by Aug. 6 for it to go on the ballot.
• Filming begins today here in town for Miles Ahead, a film exploring Miles Davis’ reclusive period in the 1970s. Don Cheadle is directing the project, as well as starring as Davis. He chose Cincinnati because it has the architecture and vibe of 1950s and '60s-era Manhattan, which the film flashes back to periodically. Cheadle also cites Ohio tax credits, the city’s film support network and the fact that “this town is a music town,” he told The Enquirer.
• Construction began last week on five single-family townhomes in the Pendleton district of Over-the-Rhine. It’s part of a plan to bring suburban-style housing to OTR and the urban core, according to developer Edward Wright of Wright Design. Each of the five houses will have three bedrooms and a two-car garage. Four of the homes are new builds and one is a renovation. All are LEED certified. Five more are planned nearby in the next year.
• Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul continues to position himself for a 2016 presidential run. As he does so, he’s reaching out to minority voters and becoming more and more blunt about what he sees as the GOP’s big problem. Last week, he put it in the starkest terms yet.
“If we’re going to be the white party, we’re going to be the losing party,” he said July 2 at a ceremony in Kentucky honoring the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Paul has made trips to low-income, predominantly minority communities in Kentucky and other states. But Paul has problems of his own to overcome, including past statements expressing doubt about some elements of the Civil Rights Act and the fact that both he and his father have some racially tinged baggage. Rand will be in Cincinnati July 25 speaking at the National Urban League conference.
It's almost the 4th of July, and what's more American than protests, historic music venues, under-funding education and weird robot selfies? That's what's on tap for the morning news today.
A Hamilton County judge ruled yesterday that nine Greenpeace protesters who hung huge banners from Procter and Gamble headquarters in March are still on the hook for burglary charges.
Lawyers for the group argued that no other laws were broken when the group trespassed on P&G property to protest the company’s use of palm oil. Felony burglary charges require more than just trespassing, but prosecutors say the group also damaged windows and could also be charged with criminal mischief or disorderly conduct. The distinction matters because trespassing is a minor charge, while the burglary counts carry penalties of up to eight years in prison.
The group was let into the building after one of the protesters posed as a business person. Once inside, they hung the banners from cables that prosecutors say caused damage. The Greenpeace members have said they didn’t damage anything. The group was protesting palm oil because its harvest is destructive to rain forest habitats that are home to many endangered animals, including tigers, which were featured prominently on the banners.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for July 21.
• Over-the-Rhine will get a big music venue and a historic building will be rehabbed at the same time. A project to redevelop OTR’s Woodward Theater is progressing with fresh financing. The owners of MOTR Pub, which is right across Main Street, purchased the theater last year. The plan has been to fix up the building, built in 1913, and turn it into a 600-capacity music venue for bands that draw a bigger crowd than MOTR can handle.
MOTR’s owners announced yesterday that they’ve secured the necessary $1.25 million in financing for the project from two nonprofit lenders. Building plans and permits have already been approved, and work will start soon to renovate the structure, which will include adding bars and a large stage. In the past, the building has been a theater (obviously), a Kroger store and an antique shop.
• Tomorrow when you’re lighting up some explosives and celebrating our founding fathers’ infinite wisdom, think about this: Cincinnati is No. 3 on the list of top places to celebrate the 4th of July. A ranking touted by Parade Magazine and originally put together by finance website WalletHub (sounds totally legit) put the city above Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and other quintessentially American cities. We came in just under Richmond, Virginia and Irvine, California, both of which clearly cheated. The rankings take into account 14 different factors including legality of fireworks, weather, average drink prices, the number of tri-cornered hats per capita and the statistical chance a bald eagle will land on your head while holding roman candles in its talons and screeching the "The Star Spangled Banner." Err, not so much the last two, but I would like to see the data on those. Cincinnati fared especially well in the “most swimming pools per capita” category (we ranked second) and the “most outdoor attractions” category (we ranked third). The worst place to celebrate the fourth? Corpus Christie, Texas. Seems about right.
• Let’s play good news/bad news. The state of Ohio is running a surplus this year, but most of it is already spoken for. The state is $800 million in the black, about 3 percent of Ohio’s total budget. But the majority of that extra money is going to tax cuts and a Medicare savings fund. About $76 million will go to low-income tax credits, $91 million to more general income tax reductions and about $229 million to tax breaks for businesses. The rest gets stashed away for next fiscal year, which starts today. Meanwhile, spending on education and other vital services remains flat, a point Democrats are highlighting as they look to unseat Gov. John Kasich in November.
• Finally, Google recently unleashed its street view cameras to take pictures of the insides of more than 200 museums across the country, including Union Terminal. A strange, postmodern byproduct of this effort is that sometimes these cameras come across mirrors inside the museums and end up taking weird robot selfies. The future is now, and I really don’t know how to feel about it. Questions: Are these robots on Instagram, and how long until Kim Kardashian and Kanye photobomb one of these shots?
Here at the morning news desk (which is really just my desk, only in the morning), we usually lead off with some local news. But the big story of the moment comes from across the river.
Kentucky's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled yesterday. The judge struck down Kentucky’s amendment to its state constitution banning same-sex marriages, though he is holding implementation of his ruling until after hearings here in Cincinnati next month. The next showdown over gay marriage in the region comes Aug. 6, when the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals downtown will hear cases from Ohio, Kentucky and other states about same-sex marriage bans.
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune is pitching user fees for events at Music Hall and the Cincinnati Museum Center as a way to raise funds to renovate the historic buildings. He floated the idea in a letter yesterday, where he also indicated he’s not sold on the idea of a sales tax hike to pay for the renovation projects. Portune said he’s not a flat no on the tax hike but that it will be a tough sell for him without some kind of ticket price increase. The buildings need more than $300 million in repairs.
An Indianapolis-based developer working on rehab projects for three iconic historic buildings in Cincinnati is making progress. Core Redevelopment LLC is redeveloping the former School for Creative and Performing Arts building in Pendleton, the Crosley building in Camp Washington and the old Windsor Elementary School in Walnut Hills. The group was just awarded tax credits on the Windsor project, which will contain 44 units of housing. CEO John Watson indicated that he thinks Walnut Hills is on the verge of a “full scale redevelopment” as a neighborhood. The SCPA project is expected to break ground in September and will be home to 142 units. Finally, the group will develop 238 units in the looming white Crosley building, which was built in the 1920s by the Crosley company as a factory for radios and other items. All three projects will be market rate housing. The group expects the 800-square-foot, one bedroom units at the Windsor building will run a little over $800 a month.
The city of Middletown is officially dissolving its housing authority after complaints it tried to kick people off Section 8 rolls. The Middletown Public Housing Authority voted unanimously to dissolve itself yesterday. MPHA will shut down by September, turning over 1,662 Section 8 vouchers to Butler and Warren Counties.
Miami University of Ohio is the most expensive public university in the country, a new study finds, and Ohio’s other public universities are also among the priciest. Miami rings up at a net cost of $24,000 a year after financial aid is considered. As an alum, this makes me wonder if the resale value of their degrees is higher, too. I have one recent-model English/Poli Sci double if any one’s interested… rarely used, buyer takes over payments.
It’s not every day you see your state’s Democratic senator take a selfie with your ultra conservative, Republican governor. But Sen. Sherrod Brown and Gov. John Kasich apparently got cozy for the camera yesterday at The Banks while celebrating the new GE deal. Cincinnati, bringing people together.
Finally, scientists are working on breeding bald chickens that can withstand the increased heat caused by climate change in regions near the equator. That's... terrifying. I imagine they'll be able to do it, though, since they've already been able to genetically engineer the spicy and extra crispy varieties.
A federal judge today ruled Kentucky’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. But same-sex couples in the state can’t get marriage licenses just yet.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled that a 2004 amendment to Kentucky's state constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law found in the U.S. constitution.
It's another sign that the tide may be turning in the region. The decision comes as a similar ban looks to be in serious legal trouble in Indiana, and just before an August federal court date that will decide
questions surrounding the issue in Ohio and other states. Since February last year, federal courts have upheld the right to marry for same-sex couples 19 times.
The decision came in response to a challenge to Kentucky’s ban by two same-sex couples. Maurice Blanchard and Dominique James were denied a marriage license on Jan. 2013. They were charged with trespassing after refusing to leave the Jefferson County Clerk’s office after being turned down for their license. A jury eventually found them guilty, though the two were fined only $1. The two other plaintiffs in the case, Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza, applied for a license in February 2013. The two have lived together for 34 years.
The plaintiffs and other same-sex couples looking to marry will have to wait a little longer, though. Heyburn has delayed implementation of his decision until after Aug. 6, when a higher court, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, will hear several gay marriage cases from Kentucky, Ohio and two other states. Those cases will be heard in Cincinnati.
Heyburn, who in February also ruled that the state must recognize same-sex marriages from other states, rejected Kentucky’s reasons for its ban. Lawyers hired by the Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear argued that traditional marriage helps ensure economic stability and a favorable birth rate in the state. The state’s Attorney General Jack Conway refused to defend the law on behalf of the state.
“These arguments are not those of serious people,” Heyburn said in his decision. He said there is “no conceivable, legitimate purpose” for the ban, which keeps same-sex couples in the state from enjoying the economic, social and emotional benefits of marriage. These include tax benefits, the ability to share insurance, the ability to adopt children as a couple and other rights.
The ruling continues a wave of recent decisions by federal courts upholding marriage rights for same-sex couples. But there’s still uncertainty even as the tide shifts. Most recently, on June 25, a judge struck down Indiana’s ban, allowing same-sex couples to immediately apply for marriage licenses. That decision was overturned a few days later on appeal, and couples who married in the three-day window are now waiting for a final decision to see if their marriages are valid in the state’s eyes. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.
Transgender advocate and actress Laverne Cox will give a keynote speech at Northern Kentucky University in celebration of LGBT History Month on Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m.
Many will recognize Cox for her groundbreaking role as Sophia Burset, an incarcerated transgender woman, in the Netflix com-dram series Orange Is the New Black.
Earlier this year, she made history as the first transgender person to appear on the cover of Time Magazine and the first to produce and appear in her own television show, TRANSForm Me.
Her success in the film and TV industry has made Cox a highly sought after speaker. Her empowering messages about gender expectations and transgender issues have made her an icon in the LGBT community, being named in Out Magazine’s “Out 100” and one of the top 50 transgender icons by Huffington Post.
Tickets for the event have been selling quickly, as less than 10 remain available to the public. They can be purchased for $10 in Student Union Room 320 on the NKU campus.
The event is sponsored by the university's LGBTQ Programs & Services, which provides advocacy and support to NKU students, staff, faculty and the greater Northern Kentucky community. More info here.
Hello Cincy! Here’s what’s going on this morning.
Though you won’t find a way to help shore up the building on the ballot in November, efforts to fund renovations of Music Hall may get a big boost soon. Advocates for the Cincinnati landmark have applied for $25 million through the Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program offered by the state once every two years. Music Hall is competing for the tax credits with The Huntington Building and May Co. Department Store building in Cleveland and the former Goodyear headquarter building in Akron. The award would be in addition to another $25 million in other tax credits and $40 million in private donations, all of which go along way toward the building’s estimated $133 million renovation costs. The winner of the credits will be announced in December.
• Lots of questions have been popping up in City Council and elsewhere recently about the way the city makes development loans, even as past loans to some of the city’s biggest developers continue to linger unpaid. Council members have expressed concerns that there isn’t enough of a process for deciding who gets the loans and on what terms, leaving a patchwork of deals that are of questionable value for the city. The city has a number of old loans it has made to big developers still hanging around, including almost $9 million worth from between 1991 and 2001. Those loans were used on big, now completed projects in and around downtown. The terms are fairly generous, and many of the borrowers have yet to repay much if any of the principles on those loans.
• Err, so I went to school here for a few years. The Principal of Edgewood High School, which is up in Butler County between Hamilton and Middletown, has said he’ll be getting his concealed carry permit so he can start packing a gun on the job. State law allows individual districts to decide if staff should be armed, but Edgewood, based in the rural/exurban town of Trenton, is the only district in the Greater Cincinnati area that has moved to allow it. Principal Russ Fussnecker said he may start carrying the weapon before the school year is out. He says it’s a measure “to make the school safer” in case of a mass shooter. Other schools have taken milder safety measures. Kings High School in Mason has installed new barriers to keep someone from shooting their way through doors into the school. Lakota has added in-school police and training drills.
•Law enforcement officials from Memphis, Tenn., and Detroit are meeting with officials from Ohio in Cleveland this week to discuss rape kit backlogs at a first-of-its-kind summit around the issue. Untested kits, which may contain genetic information that can convict rapists, have piled up here and in other states. The untested kits have become a big issue in this year's race for attorney general, as challenger Democrat David Pepper hits Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine over Ohio's backlog.
• Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is getting more help from Democrats in her much-watched run against Kentucky Senator and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Many of the 16 female Democratic senators are rallying around Grimes with campaign plugs, strategy advice, money and other support. Powerful Senators like Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. and progressive firebrand Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. have all jumped on board, holding fundraisers, donating cash and giving shout outs to Grimes. Whether all that help will pay off remains to be seen. Various pundits and polls have recently declared Grimes dead in the water, while others say she’s still neck and neck with McConnell.
• One of the big issues in the race is the state’s dependence on coal. Both McConnell and Grimes have promised to keep coal-friendly policies alive in Kentucky, which is dominated by the industry. McConnell has tied Grimes to Obama, who many Kentuckians blame for the industry’s decline. But how much does coal really matter to Kentucky? Turns out, there is as much myth flying around as fact.
• Throw off thy long-sleeved chains of corporate oppression, my barista sisters and brothers, and put on the short-sleeve shirt or necktie of freedom. But please not both at the same time, because that just looks terrible. Starbucks is lifting its ban on visible body art, as well as “colored ties and neck scarves and black denim.” Really? You all couldn’t wear black jeans? If CityBeat outlawed black denim, I would have to go buy like, five new pairs of pants.
All right. It’s beautiful outside right now and I’m at a desk (as I imagine you are) with a load of election stories to write. I’m sure you’ve got your own stuff going on as well; let’s do this news thing quick so we can all be a little closer to getting to the weekend.
Are you embarrassed for Ohio yet? No? Just wait. Everyone’s favorite big-talkin’ sheriff will be representing the Greater Cincinnati area to an audience of millions soon. Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones is filming a segment of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, where he will tangle with host Jon Stewart. Jones is well known for his antics and sometimes factually questionable assertions. He recently tried to bill Mexico for the amount it cost Butler County to jail undocumented immigrants he alleges came from that country. He also likes to equate immigrants with crime, drugs and disease which I explored briefly a while back. Now… he’s going national.
“We’re going to be filming a segment on illegal immigration and the upcoming elections,” Jones told the Cincinnati Enquirer about the show, which he’s filming this afternoon. Can’t wait!
• Dena Cranley, wife of Mayor John Cranley, will join 14 area pastors’ wives in an effort to extend health tests and information about diseases that predominantly affect low-income urban areas, the mayor's office said in a news release today. The services will be available at area churches with financial support from Walgreens. The program is part of a national push called First Ladies Health Initiative that has already been launched in Los Angeles and Chicago. The initiative provides free screening for diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, and more.
• 3CDC will buy three buildings with 80 units of low-income housing in Over-the-Rhine on the 200 block of West 12th Street across from the Drop Inn Center and at 1301 Walnut Street. The developer says the buildings are “problem” properties, with high amounts of police calls, and that residents there want out. 3CDC says it’s helping those living in the 64 occupied units find other places to live. The developer doesn’t know what it will do with the buildings yet, but says the building on Walnut may become an expansion of nearby Mercer Commons project and could end up as mixed-income housing,. Helping low-income people find more enjoyable, safer surroundings sounds great, but a couple questions spring to mind. Will the low-income units be replaced one-for-one? What do residents have to say, and will they be relocated to nearby housing in OTR? None have been quoted so far about the buildings’ problems, and it’s unclear where they will be moved to. You can peruse crime stats yourself to see the propensity of police calls to the buildings, how many people arrested lived in the buildings and so forth.
• There’s a reason you shouldn’t get relationship-related tattoos, and I think it’s kind of the same with building names. Chiquita Brands International peaced out on Cincinnati in 2011, first moving to North Carolina and now training its wondering eyes toward Ireland. Until recently, we still had a big, prominent building, the Chiquita Center, bearing the company’s name. It kind of made us look like we weren’t ready to move on from the relationship. No more. We’re finally letting go. The center will be rebranded as 250 East Fifth, a simple, bold declaration that the building doesn’t need to define itself by its bygone relationship with some flashy, globe-trotting company with tons of banana money.
• Finally, I think I found my Halloween costume. This guy was dressed in the creepiest possible way when he drunkenly entered someone’s house and passed out on their couch, only to be discovered by children. Undead Santa couch surfer for the win.
It’s probably safe to call 80,000 tons of rotting meat and vegetables a big mess. In fact, I don’t want to live in a world where such a thing doesn’t qualify for “big mess” status. The deeper issue is what can be learned from such a mess and who will be held responsible.
Council voted Oct. 15 to spend $300,000 to clean up Compost Cincy, a former composting company created in Winton Hills in 2012 with the help of the city’s Office of Environment and Sustainability (OES).
Neighbors of the site have complained for the past year of unbearable odors. The company closed its doors in October 2013, but the smell remained. Now, the city is left with the bill for cleaning it up.
Composting takes food waste, and by rotating it and controlling its decomposition, converts it into soil. San Francisco was the first city to institute a municipal program when it started collecting compostable waste in 1996. Today, the city collects more than 600 tons of waste a day for composting. A number of other cities, including Portland, Ore., Seattle, Boulder, Colo., and other generally progressive places also have programs. If composting isn’t done correctly, though, allowing for the correct mixture of air to reach the refuse, you just end up with a progressively worse smell.
That seems to be what happened with Compost Cincy. Since 2012, the company accumulated 45 code violations from the city and two EPA citations. The city refused to renew its lease last year due to complaints about odor. One factor at play may have been the fact the company was doing outdoor composting. Many compost facilities are located indoors as a way to mitigate odor creation.
The OES will cover $220,000 of the cost of clean up with its budget, with another $80,000 coming from city contingency account. Mayor John Cranley pinned a good deal of the blame for the project’s failure on the city office.
“The origin of this entire organization is to combat odor,” Cranley said during an Oct. 15 City Council meeting. “So it’s pretty embarrassing that it was this office that came up with this compost mess in the first place. It’s a nightmare for the people who have had to go through this for a year."
Council voted 9-0 to fund the clean up effort. But Cranley’s remarks created a good deal of controversy around the role of the organization and the city’s efforts to establish sustainability programs.
The official mission of the office goes beyond odor control. The OES is charged with leading sustainability efforts in the city. That includes redeveloping brownfield sites around the city, helping run Cincinnati’s recycling program and protecting the city’s air quality. Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach all chimed in to support the office.
“I want to stick up for the Office of Environment because I don’t think it’s their fault, or that they were in any way trying to emit odors on purpose in our city,” Seelbach said at the meeting. “Composting is something that there is a large demand for. The business, Compost Cincy, was actually doing really well because lots of people wanted to bring their compost there and buy the soil that it produces.”
Seelbach said zoning was the big issue, something the OES doesn’t control. Simpson said that the Office of Trade and Development, not the OES, selected the site. She said the office needs more support.
“We need more resources to the offices of sustainability to so we can get at least 10 years behind,” Simpson said, noting that Cincinnati is falling short of sustainability efforts made in other, comparable cities. She acknowledged that Compost Cincy was "poorly executed" but said that wasn't the fault of OES.
She praised the city’s recycling program and said the city should support more sustainability efforts, not mock failures. She pointed out that council and the mayor have been willing to support other endeavors that don’t guarantee success.
“We’re going to continue to have conversations about whether the city should support small businesses, and we just invested $5 million in Cintrifuse, which runs start ups,” she said. “Some may work, some may not, some stay in the city and some may leave, but there’s no question we should spend money on that.”
Cranley also faulted other OES initiatives, including the city’s infamously unpopular one garbage can policy.
“This came out of the same organization that said we should have meatless Monday and all kinds of bad ideas,” he said. “It seems like we should not be funding organizations who then end up creating multi-hundred-thousand-dollar cleanups.”
Councilman Kevin Flynn also had pointed questions about the project, but from a different angle.
“If this was a good business, then why is the city having to pay $300,000 to clean up this mess?” he asked. “We need to be able to go after the money that resulted from these people paying for dropping off their waste and the money from the people who were buying the dirt created by that waste. Under our current policy, we don’t have that ability to do it.”
Flynn said the structure of the business and the city’s agreement with it mean that owner Grant Gibson may not be liable for cleanup costs. Gibson told The Cincinnati Enquirer he had sunk about $500,000 into the business.
Meanwhile, Compost Cincy’s website is still live, though it states that the company is shuttered. In a somewhat passive aggressive farewell message, the owners also put some blame on the zoning process for the company's problems, though they say, in the end, location doesn’t matter as much as the attitudes of a composting project's neighbors. The site’s farewell missive seems to claim it was sunk by unfounded fears about composting.
“If our society doesn't move faster towards actually being green and not talking about it, our planet will be 100 percent wrecked of natural resources in the very near future,” the site says. “With that said, make the changes necessary to your life.”
Good morning Cincy! I’m a little groggy today after last night’s Iron Fork event, which was awesome. If you were at the Moerlein Taproom for the chef showdown and restaurant sampling festivities, you probably saw me with the group that pretty much monopolized the giant Jenga set all night. Sorry ‘bout that. Anyway, on with the news.
One of the Greenpeace activists on trial for hanging an anti-palm oil banner from P&G headquarters has died, the Associated Press reports. Tyler David Wilkerson, 27, died Oct. 6, according to an obituary in the Fresno Bee newspaper. No cause of death or other details have been released. Wilkerson was one of eight activists facing felony burglary and vandalism charges in connection with the March protest. A ninth activist took a plea bargain.
• Yesterday’s City Council meeting was action packed. Well, maybe not action packed, but interesting and eventful. OK, OK, just eventful, and with more bickering than usual for some reason. Members of council got their feathers all ruffled by the fact that the media knew about Cincinnati’s $18 million budget surplus before they did, perhaps marking the end of new City Manager Harry Black’s honeymoon with the city’s most illustrious deliberative body. Council members found it a bit off-putting that plans were already being made for that money before they even knew it existed. Black promised to make sure every council member is tipped off the next time the city finds unexpected change in the couch cushions.
But look at me over here gossiping. Substantive stuff happened as well.
• The city will pay $300,000 to help clean up a failed compost facility in Winton Hills affectionately nick-named “Big Stanky.” OK, no one but me calls it that. But it does smell very bad, and that’s caused a great deal of controversy. The company, Cincy Compost, went bust earlier this year, but left something like 80,000 tons of rotting meat and other food scraps behind. The city is chipping in on the cleanup because it has to be done, but Mayor Cranley and a few council members weren’t happy about it. Cranley used the issue as an opportunity to jab at the city’s Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability, which he blamed for the mess. Other council members, including Chris Seelbach, jumped to defend the office, to which Cranley replied that the office’s “Meatfree Monday” initiative was dumb. Seemed like a bit of a low blow, since Seelbach is a vegetarian, but that’s neither here nor there.
• Council also voted to apply for nine HUD grants worth more than $6 million for the city’s Continuum of Care program. The money would be used to provide rental assistance for homeless, low-income people with disabilities. Council also approved a $500,000 loan to Walnut Court Limited Partnership, a Walnut Hills developer. The developer will be rehabbing 30 units in the neighborhood to provide housing for very low income individuals. This deal was a bit more controversial, as Councilman Kevin Flynn questioned how the property, which was overseen by HUD, came to need such extensive renovations and why the city should have to pay for them.
• Moving on to market rate developments, there are some new plans for the former site of the historic house that held Christy’s/Lenhardt’s restaurant and bar in Clifton Heights. The house was demolished last year to make way for an apartment building in the university neighborhood. Gilbane Development Co., which was part of initial plans to put a larger development at the site, has come back with some revised, scaled-down ideas. The building was originally going to be eight stories tall with 245 units of housing. It will now be only six stories with 190 units, as well as some commercial space. The project will be part of a larger development effort for the block that should happen sometime in 2015.
• A little old, but worth noting: The Hamilton County Public Defenders Office has written a letter to Mayor John Cranley
about Cincinnati Prosecutor Charlie Rubenstein, saying he took
inappropriate actions last month by getting a judge to sign a warrant
that would have allowed him to search the entire public defender’s
office over a single robbery case. That just doesn’t happen to private
law firms, the defender’s office says, and shouldn’t be allowed. The
mayor and the city manager have said they want to work with the public
defender’s office to make sure evidence is gathered in the least
invasive way possible in the future.
• LeBron James was in Cincinnati yesterday for a Cavs preseason game at
Xavier University against the Indiana Pacers, and he said he liked the
city, calling it “a great sports town.” Despite being arguably the
state’s biggest name in sports, James had never played in Cincinnati
before. He scored 26 points in the game.
• Let’s take a quick jog south and revisit the Kentucky Senate race, shall we? Recent articles have prognosticated that time is almost up for Democrat Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his seat. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the party’s national arm in the race, stopped spending money on ads in the state this week, leading reporters to say the party is pulling out of the race and that Grimes is ready for the fork, cause she’s done. That appears to have been a premature judgment, however. Potential Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaigned for Grimes yesterday in Louisville, urging voters in the Bluegrass State to “put another crack in the glass ceiling” by putting Grimes into office. It also turns out that the DSCC is still running polls in Kentucky and may jump back into the race with more ads before all is said and done. Grimes' campaign also has about $4 million in that cash money in the bank, so don't count her out just yet.
Much has been made of Grimes’ refusal to say who she voted for in the last two presidential elections, and some pundits, including conservative commentator Rich Lowry, have said it has sunk Grimes’ chances in the race. Lowry wrote a deeply dumb rant ostensibly about that subject (though it quickly jumps the rails and becomes yet another boring anti-Obama diatribe about four paragraphs in). Clearly Democrats are still hoping Grimes has a chance, though.
So much stuff has happened in the last 24 hours. I’m just going to hit you with all of it without my usual witty introduction.
A jury found Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter guilty on one felony count yesterday. The jury says Hunter broke the law by gaining access to confidential files relating to the firing of her brother, an employee of the juvenile court, and passing them on to him. The jury could not reach a decision on eight other felony charges against Hunter, for which she may or may not be retried. The conviction carries a penalty of up to a year and a half in prison. Hunter will be sentenced in December. It’s also very likely the state Supreme Court will take disciplinary action, which may include disbarring her. Hunter has been on suspension with pay as the trial took place and will now be suspended without pay until she is removed from the bench officially.
• Sometimes you put on that pair of jeans you haven’t worn in a long time and find some cash you forgot about wadded up in one of the pockets. I love those days. Cincinnati just found $18 million in its pants somewhere, and now the city is debating how to spend it. The cash is a budget surplus from better-than-expected tax revenues and cost-cutting. City Manager Harry Black has some ideas on how to use that money, including kicking more than $4 million to a fund for winter weather response, using another $4 million to pay back neighborhood development funds the city borrowed, holding $3 million in reserve for possible future police and fire expenses, $275,000 to make sure the city hires more businesses owned by women and minorities, $400,000 for a new city government performance analysis office and other ideas. I always just spend extra money I find on pizza, but that’s probably among the reasons why I don’t run the city. But seriously, $18 million is enough to buy each resident of the city $60.50 worth of pizza, maybe combined into one enormous Adriatico’s MegaBearcat the size of Mt. Airy Forest. Think about it, Mr. Black.
• You’ll note that using any of the surplus to fund streetcar operating costs is not on that list, presumably because Mayor John Cranley has drawn a hard line in the sand about using city money for its projected $4 million annual shortfall. But others are more open to using money from the city’s coffers to plug that gap, including Vice Mayor David Mann, who suggested at yesterday’s City Council Transportation Committee meeting that while not ideal, he hasn’t written off the idea. That’s significant because Cranley's suggestion to draw down operating hours to close the funding gap would have to be approved by City Council. Other options include raising funds through a parking plan, special improvement or other means. Council seems split on whether it would vote for a reduction in service hours
• Mayor Cranley thinks there are "too many" transitional living houses for those recovering from addiction in the city, but Price Hill-based New Foundations Transitional Living can stay in the neighborhood, according to a settlement it reached with the city recently. The six homes for men and women recovering from addiction to drugs and alcohol have been the focus of controversy in recent months. Neighbors complained earlier this year about the houses, saying the neighborhood wasn’t zoned for them. Price Hill is zoned for single occupancy, not the so-called “congregant occupancy” needed to normally run group homes. The city investigated removing the homes from the neighborhood. But under the Fair Housing Act, transitional homes such as New Foundations are allowed in single occupancy neighborhoods. Under a compromise, the for-profit group will reduce the occupancy of the houses and promise not to expand in the neighborhood.
• Another building along Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine is being rehabbed, and this one’s really cool news. The Central Parkway YMCA is getting a $27 million renovation that will include the creation of affordable housing. The update will modernize and augment the building’s fitness equipment, adding new weight rooms and group fitness areas, a cycling studio and put affordable housing for seniors on the top floors. I love the building and have recently pondered getting a membership because they’re one of the few fitness places in town with an actual track for running. I should probably wait a little bit on that, though, because the building will be closing in December for renovations. It’s expected to open back up in early 2016.
• If you’re not tired of the tea party vs. conservative establishment narrative that has dominated the political news cycle the past, oh, seems like forever now, here’s another one for you. Some prominent local tea party activists are bummed because they weren’t allowed into a Monday rally for Gov. John Kasich in Butler County. The group, including Cincinnati Tea Party President Ann Becker, was outside the rally protesting Common Core, the educational initiative that looks to standardize performance measures for U.S. students. They say they were denied admission because they were wearing anti-Common Core T-shirts. Officials with the Kasich campaign say it had nothing to do with their shirts and everything to do with the fact they were being disruptive to the event. I honestly don’t know who to root for here so I’m just going to move along on this.
• While we’re on the “suburbs are cray” tip, let’s talk about this story for just a sec. State Rep. Ron Maag is throwing a fundraiser he’s calling a “Machine Gun Social” in Lebanon Oct. 25. By throwing Maag a little cash for his re-election campaign, you get to fire machine guns in a nature preserve. Just like when you were in high school and your cool gun rights friend would invite you out to the rock quarry to shoot at bottles and cans! But don’t worry — you have to be at least a teenager to fire the guns, they’ll be permanently pointed downrange and there will be instructors present to, like, instruct you on the best way to neutralize a threatening soda can with a hail of semi-automatic rifle fire. Maag’s Democratic opponent is of course pitching a fit, but has chosen, oddly, only to take issue with his use of the word “social.”
• Whoa, this is already too long, but I need to get at least one national story in here. Another medical worker in Texas has tested positive for Ebola. That worker apparently flew from Cleveland to Dallas the day before she started having symptoms. I usually try to end this stuff on a positive, non-terrifying note, but today I failed.
So, I skipped writing the morning news yesterday to hang out at City Council half the day. I know, you’re jealous. Let’s catch up.
The city should declare Mahogany’s, the former restaurant at The Banks, in default on its $300,000 loan, Councilman Kevin Flynn said during the Budget and Finance Committee meeting yesterday. After coming to The Banks two years ago, restaurant owner Liz Rogers fell behind on rent, loan payments and state sales taxes, eventually shuttering Mahogany’s last month. Rogers has tried to convince the city to reduce the amount she owes, and even threatened to sue, but the terms of her loan mean she may be on the hook for more than just the $300,000. The city could initiate foreclosure proceedings on her other restaurant in Butler County, which she offered up as collateral. Rogers may also be asked to pay back a nearly $700,000 grant the city gave her. Rogers still owes more than $265,000 on the loan and is $40,000 behind on her payments. Flynn is asking for all relevant financial records from the restaurant so the city can determine what assets still remain that the city could claim to recoup part of its investment.
• Meanwhile, in the Law and Public Safety Committee meeting earlier yesterday, councilmembers wrestled with Councilman Charlie Winburn’s marijuana expungement ordinance. Winburn’s proposal looks to give those convicted under a 2006 city law that criminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana a chance to expunge those convictions from their criminal records. In Ohio, possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor that does not show up on a person’s criminal record, though the ordinance changed that to a fourth-degree misdemeanor, which does. The ordinance itself was repealed by council in 2011, but many who were convicted still have trouble getting jobs or educational loans due to the blemish on their records. The committee wrestled with some detailed legal questions about the ordinance, including the tricky nature of issuing an ordinance that seeks to work retroactively. Though the ordinance has yet to pass out of committee, Winburn said he hoped it would be ready for a full council vote in two weeks.
• A new budget proposal by Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman looks to fundamentally shift the way the county pays for the services it provides. It will do so in a way that could very well shift more of the burden onto the backs of low and middle-income people, however, as sales taxes increase and property taxes go down. You can read more about that here.
• Dr. Deana Marchbein, the president of Doctors Without Borders USA and expert on Ebola, spoke last night at the downtown library. Marchbein talked about the risk the virus represents, as well as other world health issues worth concern. Marchbein has said she isn’t super worried about Ebola in the United States since it is less contagious than many other diseases and because the U.S. has better access to modern medical isolation of patients than West Africa, where the disease has run rampant. Marchbein did express serious concern about that, noting that the spread of the disease there has grown out of control. Her talk is well timed; last week in Dallas, a man from Liberia died from the disease, the first fatality in the U.S., and a second case, the first time Ebola has been transmitted here, was discovered. That person, a nurse who treated the deceased man in Dallas, is now isolated and receiving treatment for the virus.
• Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes faced off in their first and only debate last night. McConnell is the Senate minority leader and has held the Kentucky Senate seat for 30 years. Grimes is the Kentucky Secretary of State. The two went at each other last night, trading barbs on a number of issues while not really revealing anything new about their policy proposals. McConnell battered Grimes by tying her to President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and basically any other Democrat he could think of, including the Clintons. Grimes bashed McConnell over his cozy relationships with big money donors, including the infamous Koch Brothers, who have poured millions into a large number of races for candidates supporting their vision of a libertarian utopia where companies have little oversight from the government.
The race has been a titanic battle so far. Grimes has been running very close behind McConnell, who usually coasts to victory. At least one recent major poll has put Grimes ahead by a couple points, though other polls have her trailing by the same margin.
• Finally, if you’re like me, you’re still trying to figure out what to wear to Halloween parties. Yes, I’m kind of a grownup, sort of, but my friends still have costume parties so I’m still required to figure out what to be every year. My fallback—a cowboy—is getting pretty old, so I’ve been perusing costume ideas. But I don't think any of these are going to work. I can’t decide if the zombie hotdog costume is the worst thing ever, or the hashtag costume. No, wait, definitely the hashtag. Warning: a few of these are mildly NSFW.
A budget proposal by Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman unveiled Oct. 13 called for a .25 percent increase in sales taxes and a decrease in property taxes for the county. The decrease would amount to $38 for every $100,000 worth of property, meaning homeowners would generally see a wash or net savings on the deal while low-income and middle class residents pay more in taxes.
Sigman says the budget represents a big
change in the way the county funds itself. The benefit of relying more
on sales tax, he says, is that it raises much more money from those who
live outside the county but buy things here. The budget proposal would
provide $210 million in 2015. That’s short of the $222 million needed by
county departments, but a big jump from the $200 million available
under the current budget.
Democratic County Commissioner Todd Portune said the proposal was “bound to be controversial,” since sales taxes place a higher burden on the poor.
Unlike income or property taxes, everyone pays the same sales tax rates regardless of income or assets. But lower income residents generally spend more of their money on necessities, including those subject to sales tax, meaning they end up paying a larger portion of their income in sales taxes. The bottom fifth of workers in Ohio, those making less than $17,000 a year, pay 7 percent of their income in sales taxes under the state’s current tax structure. Meanwhile, top earners, those making more than $138,000, pay as little as 1 percent in sales tax. And Ohio’s tax structure has gotten more regressive over the years due to cuts in the state’s income tax.
At 6.75 percent, Hamilton County’s sales tax is about average for the state. Even if the .25 percent increase were to pass on the ballot in November, it would still be lower than other major cities in Ohio. Franklin County, where Columbus is located, has a 7.5 percent sales tax, and in Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is, it’s 8 percent.
The sales tax increase was first proposed last summer as part of a plan to renovate Music Hall and Union Terminal. Republican County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel voted to strip Music Hall out of that plan, but the tax hike will be on the November ballot for Union Terminal. That hike could also be used to provide for a number of other county needs, including a proposed move for the county Board of Elections office from downtown to Mount Airy.
Commissioners have not said whether they support the budget proposal.
Oh wow it’s Friday, I saw pretty much the best show I’ve seen in months last night when Mirah played MOTR Pub and I just had a pretty great donut and tons of iced coffee. But this isn’t a baked goods or early 2000s music blog (I wish), so let’s get to the news.
Attorneys for the Greenpeace activists arrested for hanging a banner from P&G’s headquarters in March lost a legal tussle yesterday as a judge ruled jurors wouldn’t be able to take a tour of the crime scene. The defense alleges the activists didn’t damage windows when hanging the banner, and that other windows on other floors have similar damage that pre-existed the protest. The felony charges against the activists hinge on that damage. P&G says the company has made so many changes since the incident, including new security measures, that a tour of the building would only confuse jurors. The judge in the case sided with the company, because nothing is more confusing to jurors comparing windows than some extra security guards milling about. Eight of the nine protesters face felony burglary charges that could land them in prison for more than nine years. A ninth protester made a plea bargain over the summer.
• Imagine this: guidelines from a federal agency are vague and clouded, and local factions on both sides of an argument are using that ambiguity to make political points. Shocker, right? The streetcar funding imbroglio is a white elephant gift that just keeps getting passed back and forth between the mayor, transit advocates and news organizations. First, the mayor said the city may cut streetcar service if the project’s $4 million annual operational funding gap isn’t filled. Advocates for the project objected, saying that the federal grants used to build the streetcar prohibit the city from doing so. Then a Cincinnati Enquirer story last month said the hours would be up to the city, with the Federal Transportation Administration staying out of the mix. But it also suggested that the city couldn’t run it only for special events, as Mayor Cranley suggested on 700 WLW in what he later called an “extreme hypothetical.”
Hm. So, uh, can we just get some numbers up in this? Like, just how many hours a week does the city have to run the streetcar? In its various grant applications to the FTA, the city has promised to run the streetcar 16-18 hours a day, 365 days a year. Is the city tied to that number? The FTA’s response to the controversy doesn't totally clear this up.
“We expect Cincinnati to provide the nature and quality of service that
it proposed in both the TIGER and Urban Circulator grant applications,
which were a consideration in the selection of the applications for the
award of grant funding,” the agency said in a statement responding to recent questions from the Cincinnati Business Courier. Well, huh.
• The clock is still ticking on an effort to establish a co-op grocery store at the site of the former Keller’s IGA in Clifton, but the game is now in overtime. Officials with the group Clifton Cooperative Market announced they’ve signed an extension on a contract to purchase the building on Ludlow Avenue near Clifton Avenue, and now have 90 more days to do so. The group is trying to raise $1.65 million to buy the building by selling shares to community members. So far, they’ve got more than 800 co-op members and $600,000 banked for the project. The market will be an “uptrend” grocery, which I think means $3 bottled sodas, a lot of quinoa and kale as far as the eye can see. I’m not hating. I like all those things.
• Here's an interesting story about the way the city of Cincinnati collects property taxes, and how small-government conservatives passed laws back in the late 90s limiting the amount the city can collect to a specific dollar figure. The results have been a mixed bag at best.
• Cincinnati is one of the worst places in the country for irrelevant political ads, a new study has found. I mean, given the level of non-representation we’re getting out of our federal, state and local politicians and the appalling lack of options we have for most races, I’d say pretty much anything these jokers slap on a billboard is more or less irrelevant. But alas, the study says our ranking is because our market is split between Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana and because candidates in one state often have to buy ads for the whole region.
• The accepted wisdom on millennials is that we’re all entitled Bard College grads working on our Tumblr poetry blogs and being snotty to baby boomers from our perch as lowly Starbucks baristas while we work to save up money to move to Bushwick. We really haven't helped ourselves in this regard, as we're pretty much a generation obsessed with branding ourselves as such. But hey! Did you know that two-thirds of millennials don’t have a bachelor’s degree? Did you know that many grew up facing deep poverty and lack of educational opportunity? This NPR piece gives a little more attention to young folks who you probably won’t see on an episode of Girls anytime soon. It’s a good read.
• Finally, I can't decide if this fake John Matarese Twitter account is trolling us or not. Or if it's even really fake. John, is that you?
Theoretically, there is no better real estate for a political candidate than the inside of a polling place, where a candidate’s name can be freshly stamped onto voters’ minds as they enter the voting booth. Currently, though, only one politician in Ohio gets access to this potential last-minute plug: Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted.
He says recent voter information signs prominently featuring his name are standard issue for secretary of state. But Democrats say he’s taking unfair advantage of his position.
There are laws against campaigning in polling places, and bumper stickers, buttons or other campaign swag are frowned upon in our temples of democracy the way movie theaters hate it when you try to sneak in some Twizzlers or a bunch of McChicken sandwiches in your pants. (I tried this once and the theater wasn’t too happy. I think you can sneak snacks into the polling places, though.)
So big signs with your name on them are a no-go, unless you’re the current secretary of state, charged with overseeing elections. Then you’re required to draw up informational posters with instructions on how voters can update their voter registration and make sure they’re at the right polling place. These posters can be posted at voting locations. You can also put your name on those things. Real big, if you want to.
Husted definitely wanted to, and did, emblazoning his name and signature on 2-foot by 3-foot posters that his office is now requiring all polling places to post. That has Democrats, including Hamilton County Democratic Chairman Tim Burke, crying foul.
Burke has taken exception to the inclusion of Husted’s name “the size of an oversized bumper sticker” on those posters. Burke is also chair of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, and he fired off an email earlier this week to Husted’s office demanding clarification about the requirement polling places post the posters. The letter contained some not-so-subtle digs as well.
“I am struggling to understand how it is legitimate or fair to create a situation where you will be the only candidate on the ballot in next month’s election to have your name prominently displayed along with the office to which you seek reelection in each polling place,” Burke wrote in the message dated Oct. 7.
Burke also questioned the inclusion of a second, 11-by-17-inch poster that likewise prominently features Husted’s name. That poster, designed by a 5th grade contest winner, has little factual information about voting, Burke says.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Damschroder replied later that evening, saying the posters are a routine task for the secretary of state’s office and that Husted’s name and signature are present to assure voters that the poster is official. Damschroder also pointed out that county board of elections members, such as Burke, have their signatures displayed at the bottom of ballots.
Those signatures are small, however, and are unaccompanied by text spelling out the commissioners’ names. Perhaps they should work on the size and legibility of their autographs.
Let’s not forget the fifth-grade contest winner in all this. Damschroder said polling places aren’t required to post that poster.
“We have simply suggested that boards of elections post the winning design to advance the two-fold goal of encouraging participation in the democratic process, generally, and building civic-mindedness among the next generation of voters,” he said.
If that kid is following along with what’s happening to that poster, she or he is surely getting a lesson about politics as well.