Morning y’all. Before we begin, I have to share something only tangentially related to the news. Last night I went and checked out a concert at Union Terminal, which has a 100-year-old organ in house and more than 4,000 pipes for that organ built into the walls. I don’t know a whole lot about baroque and classical music, but I do know a lot about loud music, and it was insanely loud. And awesome. Very recommended. To tie this into newsy stuff, I’ll just say go weigh in one way or the other on Issue 8 (the icon tax) at your local polling place.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee yesterday more or less tied up what the city will do with its $18 million budget surplus. The committee, which is composed of all nine council members basically adopted City Manager Harry Black’s recommendations outright. The decision came with controversy, however, as some on Council again questioned the process by which the recommendations were proposed. Council members Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and P.G. Sittenfeld pushed back on the process, accusing Budget Committee Chair Charlie Winburn of trying to push the proposals through quickly and asking why public input wasn’t sought on the proposals before they were brought before Council for a vote. The three abstained from voting for Black’s recommendations.
• Council also wrangled again over funding for Mayor John Cranley’s Hand Up Initiative at the committee meeting. Several council members had questions about why some established programs are being cut to fund the $2.3 million jobs initiative, especially when the city is running a large budget surplus. Councilman Chris Seelbach pushed for an amendment to the ordinance funding the program to try and restore some cuts to housing advocacy group Housing Opportunities Made Equal and People Working Cooperatively, which helps the elderly and low-income with home weatherization, maintenance and energy efficiency. Those programs lost federal dollars from Community Development Block Grants that have been diverted to the mayor’s new jobs program. The amendment was voted down, 5-4.
“These programs employ people,” said Councilman Wendell Young, who, along with council members Seelbach, Sittenfeld and Simpson voted for the amendment. “When these programs take a hit, that impacts their employees. There’s a real paradox there. These programs leverage dollars. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s help everybody.”
Others turned out to either support the mayor’s program or oppose the cuts. Many spoke on behalf of Cincinnati Cooks, which is a Hand Up partner. But some questioned the mayor’s program. Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless Director Josh Spring praised the organization's partnering with Hand Up, but said cutting other programs was counterproductive and unnecessary.
“Are we really going to lower poverty by five percent in five years by serving just 4,000 people? What the mayor has accomplished is that he has forced groups that get along to come down here and fight each other,” Spring said. “We do have a surplus. There are other ways to do this. Things like lead abatement, things like home repair, things like upward mobility so that folks experiencing low incomes can move up economically — those aren’t handouts.”
• One other skirmish broke out at the marathon meeting, which was still going when I stopped watching it on Citicable at about 6 p.m. (yes, I lead an exciting and enviable life). The tussle broke out over money that was once set aside for permanent supportive housing in the city. That money had been earmarked for a prospective 99-unit affordable housing development in Avondale for those recovering from addiction and other issues called Commons at Alaska. However, pushback from some community members there hamstrung that development. Now it will be used for other things.
“Last June, we had money set aside in the budget for permanent supportive housing,” Seelbach said. “I know some people say Alaska Commons doesn’t have enough community buy-in. But permanent supportive housing is an essential part of the equation. We were told we were not going to be eliminating it. And now guess what? We’re eliminating permanent supportive housing. Well, I’m not going to do that.” Seelbach voted against moving the money, along with Simpson, Young and Sittenfeld.
• That’s enough City Council action, at least until Wednesday. Let’s move on. Normally, the words “best” and “suburbs” in the same sentence cause heavy cognitive dissonance in my brain. But this is cool, I guess. Three Cincinnati suburbs have been ranked among the best in America by a new study. Madeira (3), Montgomery (21) and Wyoming (24) were tops in the region and among the best in the country, according to Business Insider. The rankings looked at nearly 300 ‘burbs across the country and took into account housing affordability, commute times, poverty, public school ratings and the number of stifling gated communities, GAP outlets and SUVs with stick figure family stickers on the back window per capita. Just kidding on those last ones, guys. Suburbs can be cool, too.
• The end of a long, watery saga: Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant, a boat that has been basically sinking since August, is being demolished.
• The Ohio Department of Transportation commissioned a study to determine future transit needs, and it found that the state will need to double its funding of transit over the next decade to more than $1 billion due to increasing demand. In 2000, the state spent $44 million for public transit. In 2013, it spent just $7.3 million. ODOT also gets money for transit from the federal government, however. Gov. John Kasich's administration has been especially cold to public transit, calling passenger rail supporters a "train cult" and turning down $400 million in federal funds for a commuter line between Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. He also, you know, withheld state funds for the streetcar. This is why we can't have nice things.
• In Ohio and beyond, it’s looking more and more likely that Democrats are going to take a beating this midterm election. That’s especially true in Congress, where once-safely Democratic House seats suddenly seem to be up for grabs. If Dems lose enough of those seats, they may not have any chance of taking back a majority in the House until redistricting rolls around again. Many analysts and some in the party have blamed the potential slide in House seats on the unpopularity of the president.
• Finally, if all this news is just too overwhelming for you (I know how you feel) check out this porcupine. He’s eating a pumpkin. It's adorable. You’re welcome.
If you got caught with a joint that one time in college here in Cincinnati and now you're applying for jobs, that youthful indiscretion can make it much tougher for you.
But that could change. Some of the 10,000 Cincinnatians convicted under an unpopular and now-repealed marijuana law may soon be able to put the past behind them.
City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee today passed an ordinance that, if backed by a full Council vote Wednesday, would allow some city residents convicted of having less than 200 grams of marijuana to have the charges removed from their criminal record.
In 2006, the city passed an ordinance making it a criminal offense to have even small amounts of the drug. A first offense was a fourth-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. A second offense could net someone a first degree misdemeanor charge punishable by 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Under Ohio law, possession of small amounts of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor charge akin to a parking ticket. Those charges are much easier to get expunged. But municipalities can pass tougher laws against the drug, leading to a patchwork of penalties from one place to another.
Cincinnati’s law was repealed by City Council in 2011, but the after effects remain for many in the city. The drug charges stay on a person’s criminal record, are difficult to get expunged and could inhibit them from getting jobs or school loans.
“Our goal to seal these records so citizens can get on with their life and get jobs," said Councilman Charlie Winburn at the Monday meeting. Winburn, a Republican, has been pushing the ordinance as he runs for state Senate in Cincinnati’s largely Democratic 9th District.
Hey all! We’re hustling this week to put together our election issue, which will be just overrun with everything you need to know before Nov. 4 or, heck, right now if you’re doing the early voting thing. In light of that, I’m going to hit you with a brief, just-the-facts version of morning news.
• Some folks in the city, including advocates for the poor, are upset with the way Mayor John Cranley’s new job training program, called the “Hand Up” initiative, will be funded. That initiative is getting some of its funding from federal grants originally slated for other established programs in the city. Cranley says those programs aren’t the best use of the federal funds, and that his program will help up to 4,000 Cincinnatians reach self-sufficiency. Others, however, challenge that assertion.
• Seven Greenpeace activists were scheduled to stand trial today for hanging a banner protesting P&G’s use of palm oil from the company’s headquarters in March. But that trial has been postponed until Jan. 20. Another activist who was also facing charges died Oct. 6. A ninth took a plea deal Sept. 8 and is awaiting sentencing. The remaining activists could face more than nine years in prison on felony burglary and vandalism charges.
• Yet another development deal may be happening soon on Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine. Have you ever driven down Central Parkway near Liberty Street and wondered what the building that says Warner Brothers on the front was all about? Developer Urban Sites is considering turning the 40,000-square-foot historic building, which was used by the film company as a vault, into offices or apartments.
• Democrat Senate candidate and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is still running neck and neck with Sen. Mitch McConnell in one of the country’s most-watched races. Recent polls put the two dead even, and, in a sign that folks who follow such things think she still has a chance, Grimes was endorsed by two of Kentucky’s major newspapers over the weekend. Both the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader have backed Grimes. McConnell’s challenger made a last-minute swoop through Covington over the weekend, showing up to hang out with a few dozen supporters at the MainStrasse Village Dog PawRade.
• Let’s zoom out to the bigger picture on the Senate. This AP story explores how weak Republican governors in some states could hurt the party’s chances of taking back the Senate, which it desperately, desperately wants to do so it can keep President Obama from doing really communistic type things like making sure people have health care and stuff.
• Finally, while we’re talking about elections, could the national attention focused on civil unrest Ferguson, Mo., spur greater black turnout in this midterm election? I normally don’t pay too much mind to the Daily Beast, but this article is thought-provoking.
Cranley’s “Hand Up” job initiative will be funded in part by cuts to other anti-poverty and blight mitigation programs. That has some advocates for the poor up in arms.
The Hand Up program, which has an overall budget of $2.3 million, will provide education, job training and other services for Cincinnatians experiencing poverty. It will fund nonprofit job training organizations Cincinnati Cooks, Cincinnati Works and Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention.
Cranley says the program will eventually provide more than 4,000 Cincinnatians with jobs making at least $10 an hour. But it will do so by redirecting more than $1 million from federal Community Development Block Grants that was budgeted to other well-established Cincinnati programs that serve the poor.
Former City Council candidate Michelle Dillingham, who now works for the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, says the cuts are short-sighted and unfair.
“The programs the mayor has recommended for elimination are the few we have that are able to address systemic discrimination and inequality faced by our citizens,” she wrote in an Oct. 21 editorial in the Cincinnati Enquirer. She also noted that there are other more pressing concerns the funds could be used for.
“Block-grant funds could also be used to create more units of affordable housing,” she says, “an especially acute need given than homelessness in the city is increasing and the average age of a person receiving emergency shelter last year here was 9.”
Cranley says the cuts have been vetted by a board that approves the city’s use of CDBG funds. CDBG grants, which come from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, allow cities some flexibility in how they’re distributed. But HUD hasn’t prioritized job training over the kinds of programs being cut, critics like Dillingham say.
The cuts include $40,375 from Housing Opportunities Made Equal, which does tenant advocacy work, tenant education and other services. About $152,000 will come from People Working Cooperatively, an organization that provides home repairs, energy efficiency help and other services to low-income people.
Some critics, including Over-the-Rhine Community Council President Ryan Messer, say Cranley’s message of job training over assistance for the poor mirrors regressive conservative talking points about poverty, including Wisconsin Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s infamous budget proposal last year, which slashed spending on food aid and other anti-poverty programs.
Cranley has said that the program is designed prioritize teaching people to provide for themselves over “traditional welfare handouts.”
Councilman Chris Seelbach has been skeptical of the cuts and has drawn up a motion to restore funds to some of the programs. He’s hoping to get the motion before council at its Nov. 3 meeting.
Morning y’all. Here’s what’s happening in Cincinnati and the wider world this morning. On a side note, I can’t wait until Nov. 5 so I can stop writing about politics quite so much. Anyway, onward.
The city’s last facility providing abortions could be closing soon. Planned Parenthood’s Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center in Mount Auburn received notification that the state is citing it under a law passed last year requiring all clinics providing abortions to have agreements with area hospitals to take patients in case of emergencies. The Mount Auburn facility doesn’t have that agreement with any hospital but applied for an exception, called a variance, last year. The state has yet to reply to the clinic’s application. If the center closes down, Cincinnati could become the largest metropolitan area in the country without access to such facilities.
• The city’s much-discussed proposal to charge $300 a year for residents to park in Over-the-Rhine to pay for streetcar operating costs might not be legal, a former city solicitor says. In 2012, Ohio Supreme Court justices ruled that fees levied against a specific group of people but used for projects that benefit the general public are a no-go. City officials say the parking permits are a different issue than that case, which involved zoning permits, because parking permits are voluntary. The city has also stressed that no legislation has been voted on or put forward yet, and that they’re working to make sure any proposal falls within the letter of the law.
• The race for the Ohio House seat representing the 28th District in northern Hamilton County has been a knock-down, drag-out fight. The latest skirmish between Republican Jonathan Dever and his Democrat Michael Kamrass is over campaign finance. Dever says Kamrass’ campaign colluded with Coalition for Ohio’s Future, a PAC, on mailed ads the PAC run against Dever. That’s illegal under campaign finance rules. Dever points to the fact that the ads use photos identical to those paid for and used by Kamrass’ campaign and that the ads both have the same client number from a direct mail company called JVA Campaigns. Kamrass’ campaign says the photos are available for download on Flickr. JVA says the number on the ads in question simply denotes the month in which the ads were ordered.
• Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown yesterday released a statement criticizing Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted for displaying his name prominently on informational posters his office is requiring be hung in polling places.
“A Secretary of State’s obligation is to fair and accessible elections, rather than furthering his own reelection,” Brown said. “I’ve never seen a Secretary of State who is on the ballot insist that his name be prominently displayed near the voting booths, where a voter would be barred from even wearing a small button or sticker. Jon Husted is abusing his office by forcing boards of election to give his campaign a boost.”
Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Tim Burke first called out the posters last month. Husted says they’re simply part of his job administering elections for the state. He's is running for reelection against Democrat Nina Turner.
• Speaking of statewide races: It must be hard being Ed FitzGerald right now. The Democrat candidate for governor has taken a shellacking in the press for campaign missteps and he’s trailing his opponent, Gov. John Kasich, by oh, about $4 million in fundraising. And last night, during the only debate between the two and Green Party candidate Anita Rios, Kasich literally gave FitzGerald the cold shoulder. Kasich, leaning back in his chair with no tie on like Don Draper just after closing a big ad sale to GM, cast not an eye toward FitzGerald. He didn’t bother answering any of his challenger’s questions, either, or really directly address FitzGerald at all. Cold. He DID accidentally call a reporter at the debate Ed, which was not the reporter’s name. So, you know, at least he’s thinking about FitzGerald on some level.
• I feel it’s worth noting in the national scheme of things, so here it is: Someone in New York has been diagnosed with Ebola. The 33-year-old doctor is the fourth case confirmed in the United States. But don’t freak out. About Ebola at least. There are plenty of other things to freak out about.
All right. Let’s talk about this news stuff, shall we?
In just 12 days, voters will decide whether or not to back a plan put forward by Republican Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel for fixing Union Terminal. But the details still haven’t been worked out completely, as this Business Courier article discusses. The tax increase proposal, an alternative to another scheme drawn up over a number of months by a cadre of the city’s business leaders that also included Music Hall, has been a kind of plan-as-you-go effort by the commissioners. The 5-year, .25-percent sales tax increase won’t provide all the money needed for the project, and it’s still a bit up in the air where the rest will come from. The structure of the deal will hold Cincinnati Museum Center, which occupies the building, accountable for cost overruns or revenue shortfalls, which they’ll need to make up with private financing or donations. A new nonprofit entity might also need to be created to officially lease the building from the city in order to qualify for state and federal tax credits, a possible stumbling block that will require city-county coordination. All of which is to say there’s a long way to go before the landmark is on its way to renovation.
• The NAACP is ready to tap Cincinnati for its 2016 national convention pending a site visit in November. That’s a bit of a surprise, as many assumed Baltimore, where the organization is headquartered, would get the nod for its presidential election year convention. Cincinnati also hosted the NAACP convention in 2008. Big political players, including presidential candidates, often speak at the convention during election years. The 2016 election is shaping up to be huge for Ohio, with Cleveland hosting the GOP national convention and Columbus in the running for the Democrat’s big national event.
• A talk by award-winning conservative Washington Post columnist George Will at Miami University last night drew a number of protesters unhappy that the school invited him to speak. Will has caused controversy over remarks he made in a column in June criticizing new sexual assault rules on many college campuses. Will has blasted the “progressivism” of the rules, saying they place men accused of assault in a “guilty until proven innocent” situation. Specifically, Will criticized measures that stipulate a person who is considerably inebriated is unable to give sexual consent. Students and faculty who opposed Will’s talk say they collected more than 1,000 signatures from members of the Miami University community asking the school to cancel the event.
Will has gained a reputation for his controversial, sometimes outlandish remarks. He has dismissed climate change science, for instance. Most recently, he claimed on Fox News that Ebola could be spread through the air via coughs and sneezes, an assertion contradicted by nearly all scientists who study the disease.
• Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s attorney Clyde Bennett has filed a motion for a retrial, saying that two of the 12 jurors on the case did not vote to find Hunter guilty on a felony charge earlier this month. Hunter was on trial for nine felony counts. The jury hung on the other eight but allegedly agreed that she was guilty of improperly intervening in a case involving her brother, a court employee who allegedly punched a juvenile inmate. Hunter’s sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 8, though a Nov. 13 hearing on Bennett’s retrial motion could change that.
• If you live in Kentucky and are hoping Yuengling comes to your neck of the woods soon, you may be disappointed. There’s a battle brewing (haha) over beer distribution in the state as giant Anheuser-Busch seeks to buy a distributor in the Kentucky that could give the company a quarter of the beer market there. That has mid-sized independent companies like Yuengling and some wholesalers saying there may not be room for them. Generally, beer brewers aren’t allowed to own distributors or stores under anti-trust laws, but Anheuser-Busch won the right to own one in Louisville after suing the state in 1978.
• In international news, four former employees of Blackwater, the private security firm that the U.S. contracted during the Iraq war, have been convicted for the 2007 shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis. The incident, which happened at a public square in Baghdad, became notorious as an example of U.S. contractors’ misconduct during the Iraq war. A judge in the case ruled that the killings were not an act of war, but a crime. One defendant, sniper Nicholas Slatten, faces life in prison for murder. Three others face 30 year minimum sentences for charges including committing a using a machine gun to carry out a violent crime and voluntary manslaughter.
Good morning y’all! Here’s a quicker than usual rundown of the day’s news before I jet for an interview.
There is yet another version of the Union Terminal restoration deal being passed around. The deal, which Hamilton County Commissioners are expected to vote on soon, doesn’t make many changes to the sales tax hike on the November ballot, but would hold the Cincinnati Museum Center responsible for any cost overruns the project might incur while allowing its leaders to seek financing for the project. Voters will still have to approve the .25 percent sales tax increase before that deal would go into effect.
• VLT Academy might be gone, but there’s at least one more bit of turbulence related to the troubled former charter school. VLT closed in August after losing its sponsoring organization, required by Ohio law, and falling behind on its rent. It seems computers sold at an auction to pay off the school’s debts may not have been scrubbed of private personal information. The Ohio Department of Education says it has launched an investigation to make sure that information was erased properly and didn’t fall into the wrong hands.
• The push for a high-speed rail route between Chicago and Cincinnati has gained more supporters. The mayor and city manager of Hamilton recently sent a letter to OKI, the region’s planning office asking for the office to fund a feasibility study for the potential project. They join Hamilton County Commissioners, who voted in September to request that study. The rail line could have big economic benefits, but would also be a huge, long-term undertaking.
• Speaking of transit, you can tell the Ohio Department of Transportation what you’d like to see in the future at a public discussion from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Oct. 31. Yes, that’s in the middle of a workday. It’s also in Lebanon for some reason, which you can’t really get to by public transit. That has some people kind of miffed. The meeting is for the entire Southwestern Ohio region, ODOT says, and that’s why it has to be held in a central location. Come on, guys, you couldn’t have two meetings in Dayton and Cincinnati on a couple Saturdays? I’ll bring the donuts and coffee. Anyway, the event is part of a statewide outreach effort by ODOT to get input about transit options in the state. Meetings have also been conducted in Columbus, Cleveland, Athens and Findlay.
• An Ohio man arrested in North Korea in May finally returned home today. Officials in the isolated country detained Jeffery Fowle after leaving a bible in a nightclub there. He was held until recently on charges of Christian evangelism, a crime in North Korea. His release might have been hastened by repeated appeals by President Obama to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
• We’ve reported a bit about Common Core in the past. Controversy continues over the new federal academic standards, and the fight is coming to the state board of education elections. Seven candidates are running for election to the 19 member board, and several of them have made repealing the standards a key point in their campaigns. Mary Prichard, who is running to represent Butler, Preble, Montgomery and Miami Counties on the board, has made the issue the centerpiece of her candidacy. She calls the standards “a government takeover.” Zac Haines, running to represent Hamilton and Warren Counties, has promised to work to repeal them in the state. His opponent, Pat Bruns of Price Hill, supports the standards. Ohio is one of 40 states to implement Common Core.
• Wait. Did Gov. John Kasich really say that? He did, and he didn’t. The Associated Press reports that in a speech Monday, Kasich said a repeal of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is “not gonna happen.” Then Kasich, either backtracking or clarifying, ran them down and asked the AP to make a correction. He was only referring to the Medicaid expansion of the ACA, he said. That’s been a controversial issue all its own, with many conservative governors refusing to take the federal dollars to increase eligibility for residents of their states. Kasich did take the money, though, which has helped hundreds of thousands of Ohioans get medical coverage.
Kasich’s correction is a bit of a small distinction, since most conservatives roll the ACA up in one big, evil ball. Rejecting the Medicaid expansion has been something of a litmus test for conservative governors. But Kasich has not only taken it, he’s praised the program. Opposition to expanding Medicaid, which governors like Texas’ Rick Perry have worn like a badge of honor, “was really either political or ideological," Kasich said in the same speech. "I don't think that holds water against real flesh and blood and real improvements in people's lives.”
That alone is a noteworthy thing for a conservative governor to say. But have no fear, Kasich still hates the program, saying in his clarification that it “can and should be repealed.” Wait, even the part you said helps people?
So it’s not Monday anymore, which is a plus, but still. This week is the first week in my mission to give up caffeine and donuts. It’s going to be a long, long haul. Anyway, on with the news.
The city administration yesterday described in more detail a parking plan for Over-the-Rhine that’s been floating around for a bit now. The plan would charge $300 a year, or $25 a month, for residents to park in the neighborhood as a way to raise funds for the streetcar. Increased rates and hours for parking meters are also part of the plan. Currently, you have to feed the meters from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Sunday. The new hours would stretch from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday thru Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Mayor John Cranley has championed the plan. Council would need to vote on the residential permit part of the plan, which would be the highest parking fee in the country if enacted. City officials stressed at the Monday Neighborhood Committee meeting that they were still in the planning phases of the proposal, that a final proposal was contingent on continued feedback from residents, and that they weren’t asking for any decisions to be made yet.
• It’s not very often labor unions and conservative anti-tax groups get together on an issue. But it seems like proposed tolls to fund the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge may just be the one issue that… uh oh… bridges the usually wide ideological divide (see what I did there?) Advocacy group Northern Kentucky United, which has campaigned against tolls for the Brent Spence with its “No BS Tolls” initiative, announced that both Teamsters Local 100 and the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes have hopped on board the effort. You may remember COAST as the folks who stamped their feet and threw a temper tantrum over Cincinnati’s streetcar project. The two groups are the first Ohio organizations to support the anti-toll group, which claims to have 2,000 members. The group is totally against those BS tolls, that much we know. Less certain is what alternate proposals the group does back for the crumbling 51-year-old bridge’s replacement. It will cost something like $2.5 billion to replace, and federal and state officials have said government dollars are not in the cards for the project.
• Embattled Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter today was suspended from practicing law by the Ohio Supreme Court, meaning she cannot practice law anywhere or represent anyone in a courtroom. Hunter was convicted on one felony count in a high-profile trial last week. Hunter was accused of forging documents, misusing a court credit card, improperly intervening for her brother, a court employee accused of punching a juvenile inmate and other charges. She was convicted on the charge she illegally gained documents for her brother, though the jury was hung on the other eight felony counts she faced. Hunter faces up to a year and a half in prison. Sentencing in the case will begin Dec. 2.
• Oh man, this is terrifying. What would you do if a county prosecutor’s office mistakenly put your picture in a newsletter as someone who had a recent heroin conviction? That happened to Dana J. Davis of Covington. Davis was temporarily put out of work, mistrusted by neighbors, and even shunned by family after an electronic newsletter contained his picture and a blurb that he’d pleaded guilty to a heroin charge and had been sentenced to prison time. But it was a different Dana Davis, and the Kenton County Prosecutor’s office grabbed the wrong photo. Oops. Now Davis is suing over the mistake, looking to be compensated for lost wages and damage to his reputation. The prosecutor’s office is arguing they shouldn’t have to pay because the newsletter does a public good, and because the prosecutor’s office is immune from that kind of lawsuit. The case is headed to court.
• Here’s something I can get behind. Cincinnati is the second best city in the country for Halloween, according to a new ranking released by lifestyle site mylife.com. The rankings took into account number of costume shops per capita (we ranked second), vacant houses (we also ranked second), local Twitter mentions of Halloween, as well as interviews with local ghosts camped out in abandoned costume shops tweeting about Halloween (not really). The rankings do give a shout out to the city’s rich history, though, as well as Pete Rose for some reason. If you’re curious, number one was Las Vegas. Florida and Arizona were represented heavily in the top 10, which makes sense. Both are terrifying places.
• A minimum wage job in Ohio won’t pay for a college education, a new story from data reporters at Cleveland.com finds. I guess the shocking news in this is that it ever did. Apparently, in 1983, you could work a minimum wage job full-time during the summers and school breaks, work ten hours a week during school, and make ends meet. That seems so quaint now! It would take a wage of $18 an hour to make that possible today, and working minimum wage will leave you more than $11,000 shy of the average tuition, room and board at a university in the state. In my day, I worked two jobs, crashed at my mom’s house and commuted an hour each way my senior year, sometimes sleeping in my car, and sold blood and the rights for my first-born child to pay for my degree from Miami University. Ok, maybe not all of that, but it was kinda rough. Alls I’m saying is, kids these days should have to do the same.
• A new study finds Ohio has benefited greatly from its expansion of Medicaid. More than 367,000 Ohioans are now enrolled as of August 2014, according to the report by Policy Matters Ohio. The report claims that the expansion has lowered health care costs and improved health outcomes for low-income people. You can read all the details here.
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.
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is using a two-day event this weekend to kick off the 140th anniversary celebration of the founding of HUC in Clifton. On Sunday at 4 p.m., it will observe the role of one of the school's past presidents, Julian Morgenstern, in rescuing 11 college professors and five rabbinical students from Nazi-occupied Europe and the Holocaust. Many of the professors were dismissed from their European faculty jobs by the Nazis because they taught Jewish studies. Despite financial struggles, HUC-JIR hired them, nearly doubling its faculty.
One of the speakers Sunday will be Susannah Heschel, a professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College and the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the rescued scholars. The event is being held on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland as well as to observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The program, which will be free and open to the public, begins in Scheuer Chapel on the campus at 3101 Clifton Ave. People who want to attend can RSVP by calling 513-487-3098 or going to http://huc.edu/rsvp/IHRD.
On Monday at 4 p.m., there will be a panel discussion on Respectful Discourse on College Campuses to focus on the increasing amount of hate speech on college campuses. Three college presidents will discuss how to promote safe and respectful spaces for political discourse — Santa Ono of the University of Cincinnati, Eli Capilouto of the University of Kentucky and Rabbi Aaron Panken of HUC-JIR. Professor Heschel will moderate the panel.
A second part of the program, which will start at 5:30 p.m., will feature three members of the clergy also talking about the subject — Rabbi Irwin Wise of Adath Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Amberley Village; Rev. Bruce Shipman; and Rev. Eugene Contadino, S.M., of St. Francis de Sales, a Catholic parish in Cincinnati.
Hey hey! In the past, specifically around election time, I’ve admonished you about getting involved in the democratic process. Well, it’s time to do your civic duty once again by casting your ballot in CityBeat’s Best of Cincinnati reader survey. Vote! Yes, it’s a long ballot, but don’t worry. You can skip some sections in case you don’t have an opinion on the best combination cupcake bakery/live music venue/dog grooming salon in the city.* But while you’re weighing in on the best burger in the city and the best place to hang while waiting for a table in OTR, consider casting a vote for best journalist, whether it be one of CityBeat’s great staffers or contributors, the top-notch reporters at other publications, or heck, yours truly. There are no electoral colleges or hanging chads in our process, so you’re basically mainlining democracy. America!
*Not a real category
On to news. Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed an ordinance adding homeless individuals to those protected by the city’s hate crimes law. The new ordinance could mean up to an extra 180 days in jail for those convicted of hate crimes against the homeless. Members of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, who worked with Councilman Chris Seelbach on the legislation, say it’s a huge step forward for the city.
• Cincinnati activists who have organized a number of events around racial injustices in police killings of unarmed black citizens are asking for an apology from the mayor of Norwood. Yesterday, I told you about a letter Norwood Mayor Thomas Williams sent to the city’s police force decrying what he called “race-baiting black leaders.” Williams’ letter refers to those who have raised questions and protest around police officers who have killed unarmed blacks across the country. Members of the group Black Lives Matter Cincinnati, who have organized marches, teach-ins and other events protesting the deaths of citizens like John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and others, sent their own letter addressed to Williams today asking for a full apology for his remarks.
“We call upon Mayor Williams to publicly retract these comments and issue an immediate public apology,” the letter says. “Locally and nationwide, Black people are under assault by the negligent policymakers, inequitable school systems, broken windows policing, disproportionate conviction, sentencing and incarceration, and overall limited access to resources that are designed to maintain a high quality of life. Drawing attention to these realities is not ‘race baiting’ and attempting to silence the critique of Black leaders is a form of derailment that we will not tolerate.”
The letter highlights a 2013 excessive use of force lawsuit brought against the Norwood Police Department that led to a misdemeanor assault conviction of involved officer Robert Ward, who subsequently resigned. It also highlights a 2014 Civil Rights lawsuit filed against the department by Maurice Snow, who alleges he was wrongfully imprisoned by police there in a case of mistaken identity. The activist group who wrote the letter is asking for an apology by Jan. 26.
• Northside is about to get another entertainment venue, along with a brewery. A group of local musicians and developers calling themselves Urban Artifact have put their heads together to create a concept for the old St. Pius X church on Blue Rock Street that will feature two performances spaces, a full-service brewery and other attractions. The brewery will start up next month, with a goal of being open by April. Another interesting detail: Live performances at the space will be recorded and streamed from the space’s website. Originally, Urban Artifact wanted to launch its model in Over-the-Rhine, but the building on Jackson Street it sought needed extensive renovations that would have precluded a quick opening.
• In-person head counts of students in Ohio charter schools done by the Ohio Board of Education often contrast sharply with those schools’ reported enrollment figures, the OBE announced earlier this week. Half of the 30 schools where auditors did surprise counts had head counts “significantly lower” than reported enrollments, the board said. The privately run schools receive taxpayer dollars on a per-student basis, raising questions about whether the schools are cheating taxpayers. Of the 30 schools counted, more than half had discrepancies greater than 10 percent. Some were off by as much as 50 percent. One school in Youngstown that was supposed to have 95 students had zero in attendance on the day a headcount was taken.
“I’m really kind of speechless of everything that I found. It’s quite a morass,” Ohio Auditor Dave Yost said during a news conference in Columbus this week. Yost stressed that the findings were by no means comprehensive and that further investigation was being carried out.
• Speaking of schools, a new study released last week shows that for the first time, more than half of U.S. public school students are considered low income. Fifty-one percent of students at public schools qualified for reduced price or free meals in 2013. That eligibility, based on household income, is used to determine how many students in a school are low-income. In 1989, fewer than 32 percent of students in public schools met those criteria. In 2000, that ratio had risen to 38 percent. The Southern Education Foundation produced the report using data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The report says the data marks a “turning point” for public schools and shows the trend is spread across the country. Mississippi had the highest concentration of poor students in public schools with 71 percent. Concentrations were highest generally in the South. Kentucky’s public schools had 55 percent low-income students; Ohio’s had 39 percent.
• Finally, let’s take it back to local news for a zany incident: The old cliché is that you can’t fight City Hall, but apparently you can drive a truck into it. William Jackson was upset about difficulties he has been having in selling his business Beverage King and decided to take his concerns to the city, piloting his extended cab pick up right into the steps of City Hall while his dog sat in the passenger seat. Jackson then demanded to see Mayor John Cranley, who is in D.C. this week meeting with federal officials. Both Jackson and the dog were unhurt, though first responders said Jackson may need psychiatric attention. Jackson faces misdemeanor inducing panic charges as well as the more-serious count of inducing lyrics to a country song.
As always, you can find me on Twitter or via email at email@example.com. Both of those are also great for sending me news tips or pitches offering 1,000 Twitter followers for just $10.
Hey all! The luxurious CityBeat HQ is getting an update on its swank factor at the moment (read: we’re getting new carpet) so I’m hanging out around the house today eating cookies and checking out the news. Here’s what I’ve got:
We told you about the rumors last week, and now it’s official: Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is running for U.S. Senate. Sittenfeld is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican incumbent Rob Portman in 2016. Portman’s looking for a second term and is gearing up with millions of dollars and an already established campaign machine to keep his seat. What’s more, Sittenfeld, 30, will need to navigate a primary season full of potential challengers, including former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland as well as U.S. Rep Tim Ryan and former Rep. Betty Sutton. But Sittenfeld thinks voters are ready for “a new generation of leaders” and says he’s the right guy for the job. Democrats think the seat may be vulnerable — Portman faces a likely primary challenge and has alienated some in his party by supporting same-sex marriage. They hope that increased voter turnout in the presidential election, which tends to skew Democratic, will put their candidate — perhaps Sittenfeld — over the top.
• Norwood Mayor Thomas Williams sent a recent letter to the city's police department blasting "race baiting black leaders and cowardly elected officials" and pledging seemingly unconditional support for the police force in the midst of racially charged questions around police use of force around the country after the police related deaths of unarmed black men and children such as Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Tamir Rice and others. Williams warns police in Norwood to be extra careful and stick together, telling them that, "God forbid, something controversial would happen, I WILL NOT ABANDON YOU." But what if something controversial happens because, god forbid, one of the officers messes up?
• The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has ruled the death of Brandon Carl, the worker killed in the I-75 off-ramp collapse, a preventable workplace accident. But officials say they still aren’t confident about what caused the collapse and that an investigation could take six months. The collapse happened in three phases over the course of a few seconds. The middle of the overpass, which was being demolished, fell last, sending heavy construction equipment toppling onto Carl and killing him.
• Cincinnati is in the top 10 cities in the country for bedbugs yet again, but before you pack everything you own into black plastic garbage bags and burn it all, there’s hope. The city fell two spots on the list to number seven, behind Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Columbus and Dallas. We’ve also fallen behind Cleveland this year, which officially makes us the second least bed-buggy big city in Ohio behind Dayton. Congrats Cincy! I still feel really itchy now, just slightly less so than last year when I read about the list.
• What does House Speaker John Boehner do after a long day sitting in the House making that Grinch face while the president is speechifying? (Note: Microsoft Word didn’t underline “speechifying,” meaning it’s officially a real word.) He goes home and watches golf reruns. Boehner revealed this lifestyle tip, along with his reactions to Obama’s Tuesday night State of the Union Address, in an interview with The Enquirer yesterday. He called many of Obama’s proposals, including the suggestion of two years of free community college education for some students, “ludicrous,” but did say he saw four areas where the GOP can work with the president. Those include fast tracking certain trade agreements with other countries, passing a new plan for funding the nation’s infrastructure, including highway funding, military intervention against terrorists and increasing the nation’s cybersecurity. Boehner also admitted he was a little rattled by the recent threat against his life by his old bartender, saying he would have never have ordered so many of those difficult-to-prepare mojitos if he knew the guy wanted to kill him and all.
• So I just want to alert you all to an upcoming holiday of sorts: Meat Week. It’s a national… err… thing… that happens every year from Jan. 25 to Feb. 1 where folks are encouraged (probably by some meat industry-related advocacy organization) to eat as much of the stuff as possible. It’s been going on since 2005, and one heroic soul in Cincinnati named Justin Tabas has taken it upon himself to organize a list of places from which to get said meat (mostly BBQ places like Eli’s and Walt’s). So yeah. Meet me at the meat places. Also, I apologize to all my wonderful vegetarian friends.
Hello all. I hope you’re not too hung over this morning from playing State of the Union Address drinking games, and that you found something worthwhile in the speech to either applaud or decry on social media for an adequate number of likes/retweets/whathaveyous. I’ll get back to the speech in a moment, but first let’s talk about what’s going on around Cincy.
Cincinnati City Council could vote tomorrow on a plan to consolidate the Cincinnati Police Department’s investigations units and court properties at a single location in the West End. Under the plan, the city would buy the former Kaplan College building at 801 Linn Street and move the units there from the building on Broadway the departments currently share with the Hamilton County Board of Elections. Officials say the move will save the city money — it currently pays well over half a million dollars a month for space in the Broadway building. It may also be the last straw, however, for plans to move city and county crime investigation operations to a centralized site at the former Mercy Hospital building in Mount Airy. Those plans were to include the county’s critically-outdated crime lab and hinge on county commissioners finding millions of dollars to retrofit that building.
• Southbound I-75 near Hopple Street is open again after the old Hopple Street off ramp collapsed Monday evening. The collapse killed a construction worker and injured a semi-truck driver, shutting down the highway all day yesterday. Experts believe improper demolition procedures caused the collapse, though the full cause is still under investigation.
• Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter was in court again today as prosecutors sought to retry her on eight felony charges connected to her time as judge. Hamilton County Judge Patrick Dinkelacker today set Hunter’s retrial on those counts for June 1. Hunter was accused of forging documents, misusing a court credit card and other alleged misconduct. Hunter’s supporters say she’s a victim of politics. Hunter campaigned on a promise to reform the county’s juvenile justice system. Hunter was convicted last year on one felony count of having unlawful interest in a public contract. Hunter allegedly helped her brother, who was a juvenile court employee charged with striking an underage inmate, obtain documents illegally. Hunter has appealed that conviction, saying that some jurors changed their verdicts after the case was decided.
• Two iconic buildings in Cincinnati may be up for historic designation from the city. Council could vote tomorrow on designating as local landmarks the 1920s era Baldwin Piano Company Building on Gilbert Avenue in Walnut Hills and the Union Central Life Annex Building on Vine Street downtown. That building is a 1927 expansion to the iconic 4th and Vine Tower, often called PNC Tower, built in 1913. The Baldwin building was recently purchased by Neyer Properties, which is seeking state historic preservation tax credits as it moves toward developing luxury apartments in the building, an effort that historic designation could boost.
• Finally, about that State of the Union Address. It was long, 6,500 words long. And as State of the Union Addresses tend to do, it attracted a lot of think-pieces, moral outrage from the other side of the aisle and applause from fellow Democrats. It was also a great opportunity to see how much grey hair the commander in chief has accumulated since last year. But… what did the president actually say, beyond touting an improving economy and that moment where he bragged about winning two elections? And are any of his policy ideas remotely politically feasible with Republicans controlling both chambers of the legislative branch? Probably not. But here’s a handy list of all the policy proposals Obama put forward last night anyway.
Obama had already talked some about the big ones: a massive effort to extend two years of community college to American students, a move to require employers provide sick days and maternity leave for workers and another call to raise the minimum wage. Obama also touched ever-so-briefly on reforming the tax code to be friendlier to the middle class and tougher on corporations and financial institutions, preserving voting rights, demilitarizing the police and other hot-button issues. One particularly interesting proposal called for fast-tracking trade agreements with other countries through Congress, an idea that is unpopular with several progressive Democrats including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ohio’s Sen. Sherrod Brown. Brown shot back with a statement during the address comparing Obama’s idea to NAFTA, a controversial trade agreement with Mexico and Canada signed by President Bill Clinton that is often blamed for shipping American jobs to those countries. Brown suggested focusing on creating jobs in the U.S. first before rushing into more foreign trade agreements.
As I mentioned yesterday, Republicans began balking at the president’s suggestions well before the speech, and of course, shot back with plenty of rebuttals immediately afterward. The whole thing is a little like an argument between your family at Thanksgiving dinner while you sit at the kids table just trying to make it through to the pumpkin pie.
Welp, here’s the thing. You may well be reading this on your smartphone as you sit motionless in traffic on the interstate. And if that’s the case, you probably already know about what I’m going to say next. I offer my sympathies.
The big news this morning is that a large section of the old Hopple Street off ramp from I-75 collapsed last night. Tragically, a construction worker died after he was pinned under the rubble. A semi-truck driver was also injured when he collided with the fallen concrete on the highway. Crews had been preparing for the ramp’s demolition before the incident, which city officials are calling a “catastrophic pancake collapse." It’s unclear what caused the failure, but that didn’t stop some national news folks from jumping on Twitter and immediately calling it a sign that infrastructure spending is woefully inadequate. I mean, I agree, but you gotta realize they built a brand-new off ramp right up the highway. That’s little solace for those whose commute takes them down I-75 south. Officials say it could take up to 48 hours to clear the thousands of tons of concrete and metal from the highway. The section is closed until work is finished. So yeah, maybe take an alternate route. So glad I bike to work.
• Another Cincinnati neighborhood is getting a brewery. Nine Giant Brewery has announced plans to open in Pleasant Ridge’s central business district on the corner of Montgomery and Ridge Roads. The brewery is part of a larger planned development for the corner that aims to take advantage of the area’s Community Entertainment District designation, which it received in 2010. That designation allows for up to five new liquor licenses in the neighborhood.
• Oof. How do you steal from Big Boy? That guy is huge and terrifying.
Officials with Walnut-Hills based restaurant Frisch’s suspect one of the
company’s executives named Michael Hudson, a quiet guy who spent 35
years with the company working his way up through the accounting
department, stole millions from the company over the years.
Hudson told company attorneys he gambled that money away, though an
investigation is ongoing into whether Hudson has stashed some of it. Hudson abruptly shut off his computer and walked out of his job
after a routine audit discovered discrepancies in the company’s
financials pointing to his thefts. The company alleges Hudson reworked
payment software to kick him hundreds of thousands of extra dollars a
• Who knew Rep. John Boehner was a Taylor Swift fan? The House Speaker (or more precisely, his communications staff) has taken to using gifs of the pop star to snipe at President Barack Obama’s recently announced proposal that would provide two years of community college education to eligible Americans. Obama hasn’t released many details of the plan just yet, but is expected to soon. Swift… errr, Boehner… is up in arms about the plans’ costs (or is just trying really, really hard to be cool and connect with the young folks and convince them that free college is somehow not in their best interest). A caption under one of the gifs points to a counter-proposal of sorts, or at least five vague talking points about lowering taxes. Basically, this is just like when your uncle asked you if you like the new Miley Cirrus video at Christmas dinner.
• Tonight is President Obama’s State of the Union Address, and it’s sure to cause all kinds of cheers from Democrats about all the things he won’t be able to accomplish as a lame-duck president and jeers from Republicans who believe he is some kind of socialist bent on destroying the United States. In other words: grade-A television drama. Tune in and try to survive one of the following drinking games I've devised: take a shot every time Boehner rolls his eyes, or take one every time Obama mentions something he’d like to achieve that is completely politically impossible given the current makeup of the House and Senate. Fun!
Hello all! Happy Monday. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and there are a number of things going on around the city in commemoration of the civil rights leader, including a march from The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to Fountain Square at 10 a.m. and a ceremony at Music Hall at noon. This is the 40th year Cincinnati has celebrated MLK Day, so if you’re not stuck at work like I am, maybe head out and take part. More news:
Cincinnati’s City Prosecutor Charlie Rubenstein retired Friday. Recently, Rubenstein has been the center of controversy around alleged prosecutorial overreach stemming from a case over the summer where a suspect was accused of stealing $200 worth of candy from a convenience store and putting it in his pants. A security camera was running at the time of the incident and the suspect’s public defender was able to get a copy of the tape. The prosecutor’s office, however, waited too long to request a copy and the store’s owner erased it. After the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office refused to release its copy, Rubenstein had a judge issue a warrant allowing him to search the entire public defender’s office, which of course was not well received. Head public defender Ray Faller fired off a letter to city officials in October accusing Rubenstein of violating the rights of accused suspects.
Councilman Charlie Winburn in October called for a Department of Justice investigation into Rubenstein’s actions. It’s unclear if Rubenstein’s sudden retirement has anything to do with the controversy. He had held the job, which prosecutes misdemeanors in the city, since 2011. He’d worked for the city since 1979. The city has named Assistant City Solicitor Heidi Rosales as interim prosecutor until a permanent replacement can be hired.
• Two of Cincinnati’s conservative congressmen are taking heat for supporting fellow local guy House Speaker John Boehner. Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, both among the most conservative members of the House, have been getting an earful from tea party-affiliated constituents about their support of Boehner during his re-election for House Speaker, the top perch in the chamber.
If you’re not familiar with this plot point in the ongoing soap opera that is Republican politics of late, a brief synopsis: The tea party hates Boehner because he hasn’t done enough to roll back federal spending, Obamacare and the liberal agenda in general. Whatever that is. Anyway, a few conservatives in the House signaled they were backing tea party affiliated challengers who lined up to oppose Boehner in the election for speaker, but mostly at the last minute. The gestures had little affect, and Boehner still won easily. Chabot and Wenstrup both point out it would have done little good to vote against their fellow Ohioan, and besides, they say, his challengers came too late and didn’t signal they were serious.
• The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear arguments about gay marriage bans in Ohio and other states this spring, lining up what could be a precedent-setting legal battle over Ohio’s ban. In November, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati upheld those bans, though other circuit courts across the country have struck them down. That court’s logic was that any ban should be removed by democratic process, not by courts. Ohio voters approved a 2004 amendment to the state’s constitution banning gay marriage, though some public opinion experts say mainstream values have changed since that time. Opponents of this logic liken marriage equality to past advances on civil rights issues which took federal intervention and court decisions to bring about.
• Will Ohio tap more private prison companies in response to a possible prison overcrowding crisis? It’s a possibility, state officials say. The number of prisoners in the state’s prison system has begun growing again. The state had been seeing declines due to changes in the way those convicted of some crimes are sentenced. Beginning in 2009, Ohio eliminated more than 2,000 spots for inmates across the state. But a recent increase in the prison-bound, especially non-violent drug offenders, will once again stretch the state’s capacity to hold prisoners.
Prison officials say the state either needs to find new ways to house those prisoners or commit to community-based programs that can mitigate the need to house people in state penitentiaries. But those programs can take time to work. In the meantime, the state is looking at ways it can house more inmates, potentially through contracts with private companies like Corrections Corporation of America, which runs a private prison in Youngstown and elsewhere in the state. Audits have found the company does not always comply with state standards. The company also has a rocky history. CCA’s Youngstown prison shut down for a few years after a number of inmate deaths and injuries focused scrutiny on the facility. Efforts to meet state standards at the prison proved too costly, and it was shuttered. It reopened a few years later as a temporary prison for those awaiting federal trials.
• Speaking of Ohio and Republicans, here's just what we need: more national Republicans in our fair state. The GOP announced this weekend that it will hold its first debate between candidates for the party’s presidential nomination in the heart of it all. The debate will take place in August. No specific location has been set yet, but the announcement is yet another sign that Ohio will be a huge focus for the 2016 presidential election. The GOP is holding the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Democrats are mulling putting theirs in Columbus and the NAACP will hold its 2016 convention in Cincinnati.
• Finally, I saw the headline for this story from the Associated Press and thought “I wonder if that’s in Ohio.” My suspicions were confirmed. Turns out that back in December, a couple folks tried to smuggle heroin into the Hamilton County Justice Center via a bible. What kind of joke can I make about this that won’t be horribly offensive? Just going to leave it right there and walk away.
Heya! I’m gearing up to spend a couple days in Chicago, so no morning news tomorrow. However, I’m leaving ya with a bunch of crazy stuff today, so check it out.
First, something’s in the air here in Cincinnati lately. Yesterday I told you about Michael Hoyt, the West Chester bartender who threatened to kill House Speaker John Boehner, possibly during a bout of mental illness. Today, we learn about Chris Cornell. No, not the long haired, goateed grunge singer. Different guy. Christopher Lee Cornell was arrested yesterday morning after buying two semi-automatic weapons from a gun shop in Colerain Township. Cornell had been on the Internet for months talking about a violent Jihad, it seems, and had even met up with a person who turned out to be a government informant a couple times here in Cincinnati. The plan Cornell reportedly hatched involved pipe bombs and a shooting spree at the U.S. Capitol building. When he and the informant made concrete travel plans for D.C., the FBI swooped in. Here’s the criminal complaint filed against Cornell in federal district court.
• The tangled, confusing fight over renovations to Over-the-Rhine’s Emery Theater continues as nonprofit group the Requiem Project sues the University of Cincinnati over the historic venue. Let’s recap, in the simplest way possible. Since 1969, the University of Cincinnati has owned a historic, 1911 building on Central Parkway that was once home to the Ohio Mechanics’ Institute but now houses downtown’s Coffee Emporium location as well as some luxury apartments. Know the building? Of course you do. I see everyone and their mom at Coffee Emporium. Anyway, in 1999, UC signed a 40-year, $40 lease with a for-profit group called the Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership that allowed ECALP to renovate the building for use as 59 market-rate apartments. Still with me? Good. That group then spun the theater portion of the building over to the Emery Center Corporation, a non-profit charged specifically with renovating the theater. THAT group, ECC, in Sept. 2010 entered into a partnership with the Requiem Project, which was started by Tara Lindsey Gordon and Tina Manchise, who moved from New York to undertake the project. Flash forward a few years, and after some 35 fundraisers and some renovation, the Requiem Project was locked out of the building in August 2013. They were told UC would have to sign off on their contract with ECC, something that was not originally revealed to the nonprofit. A move by UC to sell the building to ECALP never materialized, and now Requiem is suing all parties involved for the rights to continue renovating, as well as $25,000 in damages. Phew.
• Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter will be in court again over the eight felony counts an earlier jury couldn’t agree upon last year. Hunter was convicted on a ninth count, having an unlawful interest in a public contract, but she has appealed that conviction and her six-month sentence has been suspended until that appeal goes through. The other eight counts that prosecutors will again try Hunter on involve misusing a court-issued credit card, tampering with court documents and other alleged misdeeds. Hunter and her attorney say she is a victim of politics and did not do anything wrong in her courtroom. The case has been incredibly controversial in Cincinnati. Hunter was the juvenile court’s first black and first female judge, and she came into office promising to reform the county’s juvenile justice system, which she says is racially biased. As Hunter's trial goes on, others have made similar accusations about the county. Recently, the Northern Kentucky-based Children’s Law Center sued the county over its treatment of juveniles. The Center alleges racial bias in the county’s juvenile justice system, including incidents where young people of color have been held without charge for weeks at a time.
• Good news for cigar aficionados, and an interesting moment in history for everyone: The United States has formally announced it is easing travel restrictions for folks wanting to go to Cuba. Many U.S. visitors will no longer need to apply for a special license from the Treasury to visit the island nation, will be allowed to use credit and debit cards, will not have restrictions on how much money they spend on the island, and will be allowed to bring back up to $400 in stuff, including $100 in alcohol and tobacco products. There are a number of other rules that have been loosened or done away with as well. The move is the government’s first practical step since President Barack Obama announced he was seeking to repair relations with the communist country, which the U.S. has embargoed since the 1950s. The important question is, will those cigars taste as good now that they’re not forbidden?
• Finally, say you’ve just been elected president. You’re about to be sworn in and start serving your four years at the most stressful but also most prestigious job in the world, and you just want to take some time, kick back and savor the moment. What’s an appropriate victory meal? If it’s this day in 1909 and you’re then President-elect William Howard Taft (the notorious WHT) visiting Atlanta, you sit down to a huge possum feast. Taft’s a giant in this town and his historic home is right down the road from my historic home (one of the two is a museum; you can probably guess which). I had no idea about this. Possum: for the good times.
Cincinnati City Council today changed a rule that stipulates which public employees must live within city limits. The move effectively exempts embattled Director of Water and Sewers Tony Parrott from having to move to the city after he was punished in June for misleading officials about his residency.
Under the new rules, only the city manager, assistant city manager, city solicitor and police chief will need to live in the city. The 6-2 decision came with some argument, however. Councilmen Kevin Flynn and Wendell Young voted against the rule change. Flynn said he felt it wasn’t fair to make concessions for someone who deliberately misled the city. Young had broader qualms with the change, saying he thinks all high-level city administration employees should have to live in the city from which they get their taxpayer-funded salaries.
“I have great difficulty with people who are in the higher part of the administration who help to create the rules and in many cases enforce the rules, and then are not subject to them,” Young said. “I don’t understand how the city of Cincinnati is good enough to work in, good enough to provide your income, but isn’t good enough to live in.”
Councilman Charlie Winburn, however, said the situation was actually the city’s fault. In 2012, the city-run sewer district merged with the water works department, which serves both the city as well as most of Hamilton County and parts of Butler and Warren Counties. Winburn says the residency requirements for Parrott’s job should have been updated at that time, since it is now effectively an agency that serves the greater region.
“Are we going to split Mr. Parrott in two now?” Winburn asked. “Do we have to get Solomon in on this thing?”
Other council members, including Councilwoman Yvette Simspon, voted for the change on legal grounds. Ohio law forbids residency requirements for some city employees, and there are questions about whether the city’s former rules complied with those laws. City solicitor Paula Boggs Muething said she believes council’s change today falls within the state’s laws.
Parrot, who has served as head of the Metropolitan Sewer District and Water Works, had listed his residence as a property on Westwood Avenue that turned out to be an empty lot he owned. Meanwhile, he was actually living in Butler County. City officials found out about the discrepancy in June and disciplined Parrott by docking him 40 hours of pay and requiring him to move into the city within 180 days. That time had elapsed and Parrott still hadn’t moved back. Parrott was granted a 45-day extension at the end of the six-month period as the city decided whether to fire him or change its rules.
Wound up in the questions about Parrott’s residency is the city’s court-ordered, $3.2 billion sewer project, a huge undertaking that will stretch into the next decade. The city was ordered to update its sewer system after a lawsuit by homeowners and environmental groups. Some council members say Parrott is integral to that ongoing process. Others, however, say that doesn’t excuse his actions.
“I understand the desire to keep this person in place,” Flynn said, acknowledging Parrott’s big role. “But I cannot support keeping someone who has been dishonest with the city and has continued to be dishonest with the city. I think that does a disservice to the rest of our city employees and to our citizens.”
Parrott has told City Manager Harry Black that he doesn’t want to live in the city for personal reasons but does want to remain at his job.
Morning Cincy. Let’s talk about the news.
• The big story today is that House Speaker John Boehner’s country club bartender has been indicted for threatening to kill the powerful West Chester Republican. Michael Robert Hoyt was fired from his job at the Wetherington Country Club in West Chester last year, after which he sent a rambling email to Boehner’s wife saying that if he had wanted to kill Boehner, he could have slipped something into his wine many times. Hoyt, who has a history of mental illness, later told authorities investigating his email that he was Jesus Christ and that he needed to kill Boehner. Hoyt indicated he had a pistol, which was later seized by authorities. Killing a dude doesn’t sound very Jesus-y, but I digress. Hoyt is currently being held in a federal mental health facility for evaluation.
• An audit commissioned by Hamilton County slams former Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr.’s handling of the department. The audit compared the sheriff’s office to something from the 1950s, and one of its authors, attorney Scott Greenwood, said the department was “held together with smoke, mirrors and absolute secrecy.”
Among the problems the audit found were unguarded evidence rooms, single deputies overseeing up to 100 inmates and a lack of computerized recording keeping at the county’s traffic and other departments. Former sheriff Leis has said the audit is politically motivated and that he stands by his record. Republican County Commissioner Greg Hartmann has also come to Leis’ defense, saying the sheriff did the best he could with the resources available to him. Hartmann says the report seems to be a push for funding increases for the sheriff’s office, something he and fellow Republican commissioner Chris Monzel say isn’t possible.
The audit was highly critical of several resource shortcomings within the department, an issue that is still at play in the political fight between current Sheriff Jim Neil and county commissioners.
• Cincinnati is one of 15 destinations across the world highlighted in Jetsetter Magazine’s list of places to go in 2015. Jetsetter highlighted downtown’s arts district, including the Aronoff Center for the Arts, the Contemporary Arts Center and 21C as well as the city’s upscale dining scene and forthcoming bike path expansions. If they think that stuff is neat, wait till they get a look at our really rad warehouse punk shows and our awesome chili. Or maybe they’re not as into that kind of stuff. Cuba, Taipei in Taiwan, Kauai in Hawaii and Bordeaux, France, also made the list.
• Speaking of lists, Cincinnati is the tenth-best city in the country for jobs in science, technology, engineering and math. A study by personal finance site Wallethub.com found Cincinnati among the top cities in the country for STEM jobs. The site measured job openings in STEM industries, wages for STEM workers, expected growth of related industries in coming years and other factors. Houston and Austin, Texas and Raleigh, North Carolina rounded out the top three. Columbus bested us by one spot, landing at number nine on the list.
• The Ohio Board of Education voted on a new president Monday, selecting Gov. John Kasich ally Tom Gunlock. Gunlock is one of eight at-large members on the 19-member board. While the other 11 members are elected to represent a district, Kasich appoints at-large members. The board looks to be the site of some serious fights this year over charter schools, common core, the 5 of 8 rule and other contentious issues. Though Democrats got battered in nearly every other state election, they came out with three more seats on the board in November. They’re still in the minority, however. Nearly all the Dems on the board backed Cincinnati’s Pat Bruns, a newly-elected board member, to head the board. Bruns and her fellow Democrats have promised push-back on charters, calling for more accountability for the private, state-funded schools. They’ve also signaled opposition to elimination of a rule that requires all schools to hire at least five out of eight kinds of specialists, including librarians and art teachers.
• The Obama administration is beginning to outline ambitious plans for the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Last week Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx previewed a thirty-year plan for his agency ahead of a comprehensive report on the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs due later this year. Foxx said the report will focus on the inter-reliance of America’s many interwoven transit systems. He highlighted big population growth in the South and West as drivers of a need to update the nation’s systems, as well as the increasing number of people moving back to urban centers. Foxx said seemingly small factors such as increased reliance on bikes and walking shouldn’t be overlooked in the planning process, suggesting the department may pay close attention to urban areas where those changes are slowly coming about.
“What people are viewing as this cute, cuddly bike and pedestrian movement could be a real game-changer,” Foxx said in a Friday talk in Washington, D.C. about the upcoming report.
Hit me up with news tips, marriage or business (or marriage business) proposals, or inquiries for booking my one-man singing hackey sack musical at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the twitters: @nswartsell.
Morning y’all. I know, I know. I skipped our news rundown yesterday, but I had a good excuse: I spent some time at City Hall finding out about poverty-related challenges facing Cincinnati in the new year and efforts to address those issues, which I’ll be reporting on in-depth soon. In the meantime, let’s play catch up.
There’s a new parking plan for Over-the-Rhine floating around, and while it will cost less than Mayor John Cranley’s initial proposal to enact the highest residential parking fees in the country, some folks still aren’t happy about the impact it could have on low-income residents in the neighborhood.
The earlier plan, which floated a yearly $300 fee to park in OTR, was aimed at funding streetcar operating costs. Now those costs have been accounted for, but parking in the neighborhood is still kind of a mess. So the city’s transportation department has a new plan: a $108 yearly permit for residents, who will be limited to one car per person and two permits per household. Residents living in low-cost subsidized housing would pay $16 a year for their permits. Four-hundred-two spaces would be made available to permit holders in the neighborhood. Another 646 would have parking meters and the remaining 199 would be up for grabs by anyone at any time, completely unregulated. Those spots are aimed at OTR workers who commute in every morning. Vice Mayor David Mann questioned whether those spaces would really go to workers in the neighborhood. Others, including OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer, raised concerns about low-income residents in the neighborhood. Messer pointed out that not all of the neighborhood’s residents who are low-income live in subsidized housing. The city is hoping to get the permitting program running by spring.
• Staying in Over-the-Rhine for a moment, let's talk about an international game design competition coming to the neighborhood later this month. Local startup ChoreMonster will host the Global Game Jam Jan. 23-25 at The Brandery headquarters in OTR. Past events have attracted game designers from 485 cities and 73 countries. Competitors are given 48 hours to design a game around a prompt given the opening day of the event. That game can run on any platform — mobile app, Mac, PC, or even the oldest-fashioned game platform of all — a kitchen table or dorm room floor. Yes, board and card games are allowed.
• Well, it happened, you already know about it, it was huge, etc., but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Ohio State University’s college football national title win last night. They upset Oregon, everyone in the state is wearing red and gray and so forth. And oh yeah, predictably, a bunch of people in Columbus set fire to a bunch of couches and stuff, knocked down goal posts at the OSU stadium, got arrested, etc. Here’s a handy AP style/word-usage note I’ve picked up from journalists covering the unrest: Apparently these kinds of things aren’t riots if they’re over football games. Instead, they’re “revelry.” Noted. Meanwhile, a furniture store that ran a promotion promising free furniture for customers if OSU won by more than seven points will pay more than $1.5 million in rebates after yesterday’s win, which maybe explains why people were burning all those old couches.
• So, will Ohio’s conservative Gov. John Kasich back a plan put forward by President Barack Obama to provide two years of free community college education for Americans? It’s too soon to say for sure, but the governor’s office released some cautiously almost-supportive language in response to the idea and said the gov is interested in the details. States will be footing a quarter of the bill for the plan and must opt-in for residents to be eligible for the proposed program. If conservative governors like Kasich were to support the plan, it would be a major bipartisan moment, since anything Obama does usually causes howls of socialism from the Republican party.
• Speaking of Kasich, he was sworn in yesterday for his second term as governor of Ohio. His 45-minute speech had few surprises, though he did kind of tear up a couple times (Ohio Republicans are an emotional lot, if Kasich and Rep. John Boehner are any indications) and took what seemed to be a passive-aggressive jab at the state’s legislature. He thanked the body, which is dominated by his fellow Republicans, for helping him expand Medicaid back in 2013. The joke is that the state legislature fought Kasich all the way to the end on the expansion. Perhaps it’s a sharp elbow from the governor as Ohio considers this year whether it will renew its acceptance of federal funds for the expansion.
• Finally, I’ve noted on this blog before that 90s throwback steez (my use of the word “steez” is proof of my late 90s slang savvy) is at an all-time high. We’re even going to have a repeat of that whole Y2K panic. It seems we’re all too fast for the planet and we’ve gotten ahead of the earth’s inconsistent rotation by about a second. That means we’ll need a so-called “leap second” this year. OK, no big deal, just count down to zero on New Year’s Eve 2015, right? Well, it’s a bit more complicated. Turns out computer software hates it when you just go tacking extra seconds onto reality. The last leap second in 2012 crashed Yelp, Reddit, Gawker and other big websites. That actually sounds like a wonderful way to start a new year. Software engineers have worked out a fix to the problem, but the question is whether that fix will be implemented across all the various programs that like, run the Internet. I just hope Tumblr is OK and Buzzfeed is not.
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