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by German Lopez 07.31.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Development, Stadiums at 08:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

More JobsOhio controversy, Council undoing cuts, stadium improvements to cost millions

Six of nine JobsOhio board members have direct financial ties to companies that have received tax credits and other help from the agency and state government, an investigation from Dayton Daily News discovered. The members are connected in various ways: Some are employed by the companies, others sit on their boards and a few just own stocks. The conflicts of interest that could undermine JobsOhio’s goals. The privatized development agency was established by Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators to replace the Ohio Department of Development. Republicans claim JobsOhio’s privatized nature allows it to move at “the speed of business” when luring companies to the state. But Democrats argue that the agency is unaccountable and draining state funds without any clear indication of where the money is going.

Meanwhile, JobsOhio gave financial aid to a company that simply shifted jobs from one city to another. The agency gave Timbertech a 50-percent credit to create 85 jobs in Wilmington, Ohio. The company is abiding, but it’s simultaneously closing down a Columbus factory at the loss of 58 jobs.

Cincinnati will end up not laying off any city employees after City Council undoes $4 million in budget cuts with leftover revenue from the previous budget year. The restorations will reverse some or all of this year’s cuts to human services, parks, the Health Department and other city programs. Council members called the higher-than-projected revenue evidence that Cincinnati’s economic strategy is working. But the reversals also raise questions about the city administration’s original claims: When the 2014 budget was first being considered, Mayor Mark Mallory and his administration said the city would have to lay off 344 workers, including many cops and firefighters, to balance the budget without the parking lease. But without any of the parking money allocated, the city managed to avert all layoffs and undo a bulk of cuts, largely by using better-than-expected revenues from the past budget year.

Fixing up the Great American Ball Park for the All-Star Game could cost county taxpayers $5 million. The All-Star costs are just one part of the $27 million taxpayers will pay to improve stadiums in Hamilton County over the next five years. Stadiums are often touted by local officials as a way to boost the economy, but economists and urban planners have found that publicly funded sports arenas don’t lead to sizable economic growth.

Ohio’s job growth is so slow that it will take nearly five years to recover all the jobs lost during the Great Recession.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is leading fundraising for this year’s Council campaigns.

The Cincinnati USA Chamber of Commerce is hosting two mayoral debates. This year’s candidates are Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, ex-Councilman John Cranley, Jim Berns and Sandra “Queen” Noble. Qualls and Cranley are considered the two frontrunners.

The Cincinnati Art Museum is calling on community contributions to finish the second half of its renovations. The museum has raised $2.7 million out of the $6 million it needs.

Red Squirrel, a local restaurant chain, is closing down three of five eateries.

Internet-based psychotherapy apparently works.

by German Lopez 08.12.2013
Posted In: News, Business, Education, Development at 09:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
cps offices

Morning News and Stuff

CPS gets national attention, city might take Emery Theatre, SoMoLend accused of fraud

New York City mayoral candidates see Cincinnati Public Schools’ (CPS) community learning centers as a model for their city’s schools. The centers bring members of the community, including dental clinics, mental health therapists and mentors from local banks and churches, to a school hub to keep students engaged after traditional classroom hours end. But an analysis from The New York Times also finds that progress has been fairly modest, with some schools in the district still struggling and graduation and attendance rates showing little sign of improvement. Still, CPS officials argue the initiative has helped mitigate the effects of poverty and hunger in the classroom. CityBeat covered CPS and its community learning centers back in October here.

The city of Cincinnati could take control of the Emery Theatre following a legal dispute between the Requiem Project, a nonprofit seeking to renovate the theater, and the University of Cincinnati, Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership and the Emery Center Corporation, the group of leasers and owners trying to push Requiem out of the building. Requiem stated in a letter Friday that it would approve of the city taking over the building, a possibility currently being analyzed by Cincinnati’s legal team. CityBeat first covered the Emery Theater situation in further detail here.

SoMoLend, the local startup and city partner that connects small businesses seeking loans and lenders, is being accused of fraud by the state of Ohio. The charges could force the high-profile business to shut down; for the time being, it’s not giving out any loans in the state. In December, the city of Cincinnati teamed up with SoMoLend in a partnership that was meant to land local small businesses and startups much-needed loans through crowdfunding.

Ohio will spend $6.2 million this fiscal year to combat gambling addictions. With casinos, racinos and gambling generally expanding in Ohio, the state government is directing more money to county mental health and addiction boards to ensure problem gamblers are treated.

The two officers who were on the clock when death row inmate Billy Slagle hung himself have been put on paid administrative leave while the Ohio prisons department investigates what happened. Slagle was convicted of murder and sentenced to death — a punishment the Ohio Parole Board and Gov. John Kasich upheld in July despite pleas from a county prosecutor — but he hung himself days before he was supposed to be executed. CityBeat covered Slagle’s case in further detail here.

Attorney General Mike DeWine is asking Ohioans to be cautious of unsolicited phone calls offering medical alert devices.

Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino accidentally awarded two $1 million prizes on Saturday night. It turns out the casino gave a $1 million check to the wrong Kevin Lewis, so it decided to keep course with the original check and give another $1 million to the Lewis the check was originally intended for.

Cursive might get kicked from the classroom.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is directing federal prosecutors to minimize the use of mandatory minimum drug sentences. The change will mostly benefit drug offenders with no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels and no history of violence.

Ohio gas prices dropped this week and remain below the national average.

Actual headline: “Video shows thief stealing cigarettes.”

Check out Kings Island’s new roller coaster: Banshee.

Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon and CNN’s medical respondent, is now down with marijuana.

by German Lopez 06.12.2013
Posted In: City Council, Development, News at 02:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Council Approves Downtown Grocery Store Project

Plan includes luxury apartment tower, garage

City Council unanimously approved a development deal today to build a grocery store, luxury apartment tower and garage at Fourth and Race streets downtown.

With council approval, construction could begin later this year, with developers hoping to finish the project in 2015.

The $80 million deal with Indianapolis-based development company Flaherty and Collins was approved following City Manager Milton Dohoney’s urging earlier today.

“If we wait any longer on the parking deal, we put this deal at risk. With the housing capacity issue downtown and decade-long cry for a grocery store, we must move forward,” Dohoney said in a statement.

The city’s share of the project will cost $12 million. As part of the deal, the city will provide the money through a five-year forgivable loan financed by urban renewal funds, which are generated through downtown taxes and can only be used for capital projects downtown. The funds can’t be used for operating budget expenses such as police and fire.

For more information on the project, read CityBeat’s original story on the Budget and Finance Committee hearing here.

by German Lopez 03.12.2013
Posted In: News, Health, Development at 01:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Quinlivan Pushes Review of Fire Ordinance

Friends, family of victims call for more safety rules

On New Year’s Day, a fire broke out in a residential home near the University of Cincinnati that led to the deaths of UC students Chad Kohls and Ellen Garner, and their friends and family say the deaths could have been prevented by a better fire ordinance code. Now, Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan is heeding their call.

Speaking in front of the Livable Communities Committee today, friends and family of Kohls and Garner asked City Council to pass changes to the fire ordinance, including more required fire exits, annual inspections, a mandatory fire drill at the beginning of each school semester and the removal of all exceptions in the code. They’re also asking the new ordinance be named in honor of Kohls and Garner.

Quinlivan says her office will work with the city administration to find possible changes that would help avert fire deaths, including a measure that would prevent air conditioning units from being placed on windows that are supposed to act as exits.

Quinlivan is also encouraging UC to restart a certified list of preferred rental locations around campus, which would only include housing properties that pass fire safety inspections.

“I am touched that those close to Ellen and Chad contacted me, so that we can work with our city administration to prevent similar tragedies in the future,” Quinlivan said in a statement.

Two weeks ago, City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that requires all rental properties be equipped with photoelectric smoke detectors that are better at detecting slow, smoldering fires, which have been linked to more fatalities than the flaming, fast-moving fires picked up by the more traditional ionization smoke detectors, according to the vice mayor’s office. CityBeat covered that legislation here.

by German Lopez 01.14.2013
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

More laws to curb human trafficking, feds stop fracking waste, Mallory tours with feds

Gov. John Kasich is ready to support further action on human trafficking. Members of the Ohio legislature have already committed to further action. The next few measures will address the statute of limitations for trafficking, parents who traffic their children and laws affecting children services and child welfare. Last session, the legislature passed a “safe harbor” law that changed the classification of children caught in prostitution from criminals to victims. A 2010 bill also increased penalties for human trafficking and related crimes.

A Texas-based company wants to ship thousands of barrels of fracking waste through river barges to Ohio. But the U.S. Coast Guard is halting the plan while it investigates whether the waste can be transported through water routes and the plan’s potential environmental impact. Critics are worried Ohio is becoming a dumping ground for fracking waste.

Mayor Mark Mallory took a tour with federal officials to show off developments going on in the city and the potential route for the streetcar. The tour was meant to show off projects that have gotten help from the federal government. After the bus tour, Mallory acknowledged the city has “a lot of work to do,” but he added, “There really is a buzz about Cincinnati around this country. It is true.”

A Cincinnati Children’s Hospital survey found one-third of teen girls report meeting with someone they’ve met online. Psychologist Jennie Noll says abused or neglected girls are more likely to present themselves in sexually provocative ways on the Internet and meet more people in real life. Noll warned the meetings can be dangerous for young girls. Apparently, the meetings seem to happen regardless of Internet filtering software, but high-quality parenting and monitoring can help.

Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority is planning housing development for Mount Healthy. The development is coming after a study found the need for more housing in the area.

A controversial luxury apartment complex has been approved in Blue Ash. The approval came despite neighbors complaining that the complex will be an eyesore for the community.

Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville in Cincinnati will hire 200 positions.

A recent rise in smuggling led a Conneaut, Ohio, councilman to send a letter to Gov. John Kasich asking for the state to intervene at Corrections Corporation of America’s Lake Erie Correctional Institution. But Col. John Born, superintendent at the Ohio State Highway Patrol, wrote in a response that criminal incidents have gone down at the CCA facility, even though drug smuggling has gone up. He also writes the state has deployed more cruisers, but he claims local law enforcement have better means and legal authority to deal with cases at the prison.

In other prison news, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) Director Gary Mohr wants to keep misbehaving inmates in prison longer. In the last legislative session, Mohr helped push laws that reduced sentences for low-crime offenders.

Looks like State Treasurer Josh Mandel is firing 10 percent of his staff. The press release for the announcement has great wording for the bad news: “Treasurer Mandel announces further payroll reductions and personnel consolidation.”

Ohio gas prices ticked up in response to hopes of a larger economic recovery.

The Cincinnati Zoo has another adorable animal: the Brazilian ocelot kitten.

Science says global warming won’t suck for everyone. Canadian killer whales tend to make gains, for example. Should humanity really risk making killer whales even stronger? They can already take down animals that are on solid surface.

by German Lopez 07.02.2013
Posted In: News, Development, Voting, Budget at 09:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Seelbach calls for Voting Rights Act rework, 3CDC upkeep criticized, politics in budget veto

Councilman Chris Seelbach and other local leaders are calling on Congress to rework the Voting Rights Act following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down key provisions. Supporters of the Voting Rights Act argue it’s necessary to prevent discrimination and protect people’s right to vote, while critics call it an outdated measure from the Jim Crow era that unfairly targeted some states with forgone histories of racism. “Within 24 hours of the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act, five states are already moving ahead with voter ID laws, some of which had previously been rejected by the Department of Justice as discriminatory,” Seelbach said in a statement. “The right to vote is one of the most sacred values in our nation and Congress should act immediately to protect it”.

Nonprofit developer 3CDC says it’s restructuring staff and guidelines to take better care of its vacant buildings following criticisms from residents and the local Board of Housing Appeals. The board has fined the 3CDC three times this year for failing to maintain Cincinnati’s minimum standards for vacant buildings, which require owners keep the buildings watertight and safe for emergency personnel to enter.

Gov. John Kasich said the funding allocation belonged in the capital budget — not the operating budget he signed into law — when he vetoed money going to State Treasurer Josh Mandel’s office, but The Columbus Dispatch reports it might have been revenge for Mandel’s opposition to the Medicaid expansion and an oil-and-gas severance tax. Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols says the allegation is “silly” and “absurd,” adding that Kasich said he would work with Mandel on allocating the money during the capital budget process. The state treasurer’s office says it needs the $10 million to upgrade computers against cyberattacks. Mandel was one of the first state Republicans to come out against the Medicaid expansion, which CityBeat covered here and here.

A series of mandatory across-the-board federal spending cuts was supposed to take $66 million from Ohio schools, but state officials say they’ll be able to soften the blow with $19 million in unspent federal aid. The federal cuts — also known as “sequestration” — were part of a debt deal package approved by Congress and President Barack Obama that kicked in March 1. Prior to its implementation, Obama asked Congress to rework sequestration to lessen its negative fiscal impact, but Republican legislators refused. CityBeat covered some of sequestration’s other statewide effects here.

The mayoral race officially dropped down to four candidates yesterday, with self-identified Republican Stacy Smith failing to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot.

Check out the Cincinnati Zoo’s latest expansion here.

Headline from The Cincinnati Enquirer: “Where does John Cranley live?”

It’s now legal to go 70 miles per hour in some state highways.

Cincinnati-based Kroger and Macy’s came in at No. 2 and No. 14 respectively in an annual list of the nation’s top 20 retailers from STORIES magazine.

The Tribune Co. is buying Local TV LLC in Newport for $2.7 billion to become the largest TV station operator in the nation.

Human head transplants may be closer than we think (and perhaps hope).

by German Lopez 12.18.2013
Posted In: News, Development, Infrastructure, City Council at 06:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
city hall

City Keeps Controversial MSD Contracting Rules

Democratic council members stand together against repeal of "responsible bidder" law

City Council on Wednesday dismissed legislation that would have repealed controversial contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects.

Council's decision could put Cincinnati and Hamilton County on a collision course over rules governing a federally mandated revamp of the city's sewer system. The city and county jointly manage MSD.

Democrats David Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young voted to move the repeal ordinance back to committee. Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn, Charterite Kevin Flynn and Independent Christopher Smitherman voted to keep the ordinance in front of council.

Hamilton County commissioners previously halted most of the $3.2 billion, 15-year sewer revamp in protest of the city's "responsible bidder" law. As long as the hold remains in place, the city and county risk violating a federal mandate to revamp Cincinnati's inadequate sewer system.

The city rules require contractors to follow stricter standards for apprenticeship programs, which unionized and nonunion businesses use to train workers in crafts, such as electrical work or plumbing. The rules also ask contractors to put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund that will help train newcomers in different crafts.

Supporters of the law claim it will foster local jobs and local job training. Opponents claim the law favors unions and places a costly burden on MSD contractors.

The city already gave various concessions to resolve its conflict with the county, including exemptions for small businesses and contracts worth less than $400,000. But the county has so far refused to budge.

Smitherman, who opposes the law, argued the issue will end up in court and the city will lose.

"What was passed on May 1 is not constitutional," he said.

But the city's law department says the law is legal and could be defended in court.

Seelbach, who spearheaded the law, said he's in talks with Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann to bring both parties into mediation and resolve the conflict.

"I'm asking for some more time," he said.

by German Lopez 01.21.2013

Morning News and Stuff

Local governments hopeful, Kasich state of state in Lima, Union Terminal needs repairs

It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On this day, it’s worth re-watching his I Have a Dream speech.

Local governments are hopeful they won’t see big budget cuts in Gov. John Kasich’s 2014-2015 budget. Townships, municipalities and counties were economically hit by big cuts in the last budget. The local government cuts added up to $1 billion on a state level, and Hamilton County shared $105 million — more than 10 percent — of the cuts, according to Cuts Hurt Ohio. Education saw $1.8 billion in cuts statewide, with Hamilton County taking $117 million of those cuts.

Gov. Kasich announced that his state of the state address will take place in Lima, Ohio. Kasich’s speech last year was labeled “bizarre” by outlets like The Hill. During the speech, Kasich imitated a person with severe Parkinson's disorder and called Californians “wackadoodles.”

Union Terminal is falling apart. Cincinnati Museum Center executives say they need nearly $180 million for repairs. The damages are largely due to how the building was constructed. Its design lets moisture get behind bricks, which then causes supporting steel beams to rust.

The judge in the Miami University rape flier case gave a deposition Jan. 15. The document outlines Judge Robert Lyons reasoning for letting the rape flier case go: “What I remember about him is that there was certainly concern about his, say, his mental health and there were grounds stated on the record for the necessity of sealing the record. It had to do with his — probably as I recall, more so mental well-being than anything else.”

Former governor Ted Strickland is tired of raising campaign money, but that didn’t stop him from joining City Council candidate Greg Landsman Friday. Landsman was Strickland’s field director for his congressional campaign, and when Strickland was governor, Landsman was director of the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Rumor has it the Carew Tower will be going residential, but the owners are denying it all. The denial letter, which assured current tenants they won’t be kicked out, makes reference to a “softness in the general downtown office market.”

The Greater Cincinnati Foundation made $1.3 million in grants. The grants will help a variety of businesses and groups. A $225,000 grant will go to Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator, which helps local businesses owned by minorities.

Garbage collection will be delayed by a day this week due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Will the first neanderthal in 30,000 years be given birth by a human mother? A Harvard geneticist says he’s close to making it possible.

by German Lopez 08.08.2013
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Council OKs development deals, racial disparity study advances, no MSD compromise yet

City Council met yesterday for the first time since June and passed various development deals that span six Cincinnati neighborhoods. The deals include a 15-year tax abatement for the second phase of The Banks, which will produce 305 apartments and 21,000 square feet of retail space; several other apartment projects; new Over-the-Rhine headquarters for Cintrifuse, a small business and startup incubator; the redevelopment of Emanuel Community Center; and a new homeless shelter for women in Mt. Auburn. The deals are expected to lead to 575 new apartments around the city, which could help meet the high demand for new residential space downtown.

City Council also approved a motion that asks the city administration to begin preparations for a disparity study that would gauge whether the city should change its contracting policies to favor minority- and women-owned businesses. The motion asks the administration to either use part of the upfront money from leasing the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority or find an alternative source of funding. The study is required because of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case, which declared that governments must prove there’s racial or gender-based disparity before changing policies to favor such groups. Since the city disbanded its last minority- and women-owned business program in 1999, contract participation rates have plummeted for minority-owned businesses and remained relatively flat for women-owned businesses.

Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials still have not reached a compromise on several local hiring and bidding policies for the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), which is owned by the county but run by the city. A moratorium on the controversial city policies expired on Aug. 1, prompting county commissioners to block an upcoming MSD project in a vote Wednesday. Councilman Chris Seelbach told WVXU that those working on a compromise just need a little more time, but he’s confident they’ll be able to reach an agreement. City Council passed hiring and bidding rules in May this year and June 2012 that require MSD contractors to meet certain job training requirements that council members say will lead to more local jobs, but county commissioners argue the standards are too strenuous and favor unions. CityBeat covered the dispute in further detail here.

State Reps. Connie Pillich and Denise Driehaus of Cincinnati will hold a press conference today asking Gov. John Kasich to launch an ethics investigation into JobsOhio, the privatized development agency. State Democrats have been particularly critical of JobsOhio since a Dayton Daily News report found six of nine JobsOhio board members have direct financial ties to companies that have taken state aid from the development agency. Republicans argue that JobsOhio’s secretive, privatized nature allows it to expedite deals that bring businesses and jobs to the state, but Democrats claim the set-up lacks transparency and fosters corruption.

Only one-third of Ohio school levies were approved in a special election Tuesday. Despite an increase in funding in the most recent two-year state budget, state funding to schools has been slashed since Gov. John Kasich took office.

The Charter Committee’s second round of endorsements for this year’s City Council elections went to Democrats Greg Landsman and David Mann and Republican Amy Murray. Previous endorsements went to Independents Kevin Flynn and Vanessa White and Democrat Yvette Simpson. The Charter Committee isnt generally seen as a traditional political party, but it holds a lot of sway in local politics.

The Cincinnati Horseshoe Casino’s monthly revenue for July was higher than it was in June but lower than March. For local and state officials, the trend up is a welcome sign as they hope to tap into the casino for tax revenue.

Cincinnati-based Kroger and Macy’s are facing a boycott for opposing legislation in Texas that would make it easier for women to sue over wage discrimination.

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is finding a niche with smaller airlines like Ultimate Air.

An app dubbed “lockout insurance” lets users scan keys then 3-D print them.

by Danny Cross 05.23.2012

Morning News and Stuff

We Are Ohio, the organization that helped repeal SB5 last year, says it will team up with nonpartisan Ohio Voters First to help put on the November ballot a constitutional amendment that would change the way legislative and congressional districts are drawn. The effort is in response to Republican-drawn redistricting maps that attempted to create 12 solidly GOP districts and four Democratic districts. The proposal calls for a nonpartisan commission to redraw legislative and congressional boundaries rather than letting politicians and anyone who gives them money do it.

The University of Cincinnati has released a study showing a considerable economic impact from construction of The Banks. Between construction contractors, new residents and visitors to the area's restaurants, the development reportedly will impact the local economy by more than $90 million a year.

The parent company of Cincinnati's Horseshoe Casino will host two informational sessions this week to offer local vendors information on how to bid on contracts for supplies and services the entertainment complex will need. The first takes place 6 p.m. tonight at Bell Events Centre near the casino site at 444 Reading Road, and the second is 9 a.m. Thursday at Great American Ball Park.

The Enquirer on Tuesday reported that the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University have agreed to move the Crosstown Shootout to U.S. Bank Arena for two years in response to last year's massive brawl. NBC Sports today reported that the presents of both universities issued a press release in response, stating that no final decision had been made.

The University of Cincinnati and Xavier University were both surprised to see today’s announcement concerning the future of the Crosstown Shootout. While both schools are committed to the future of the Crosstown rivalry, specific discussions are ongoing and no details have been finalized. We look forward to sharing our plans with the community at an appropriate time in the coming weeks.

If it does happen, The Enquirer's Bill Koch says it's reasonable, while Paul Daugherty says that's fine but kind of dumb.

President Obama is finding it rather difficult to even win primaries against nobodies in the South. Not that it's surprise or really matters, though.

Of course, there are reasons for these kinds of returns. Few Democrats are voting in these primaries where Obama faces only token opposition; only protest voters are truly motivated.

There's also the fact that Obama is an underdog to Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the states of Kentucky, Arkansas, and West Virginia; Obama lost all three in 2008 to John McCain.

Another potential factor: Race.

Just when you thought Sarah Palin was super reliable, she goes and backs a Utah Republican incumbent over a tea party supported candidate.

The John Edwards jury entered its fourth day of deliberations today because they need to see more prosecution exhibits.

A white supremacist was sentenced to 40 years in jail by a federal judge for a 2004 package bomb attack that injured a black city administrator in Arizona.

European researchers say they can figure out if Bigfoot really existed, if they can just get one of his hairs.

The film version of On the Road premiered at the Cannes Film Festival today, 55 years after Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation-defining novel was published. London's The Guardian says the “handsome shots and touching sadness don't compensate for the tedious air of self-congratulation in Walter Salles's road movie.”