CityBeat Blogs - News http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34.html <![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Hey y’all. Yesterday was a long one, but today’s my birthday and tomorrow is Thanksgiving. So yeah, that’s awesome.

The big news this morning is something you’ve probably already heard about, maybe from our coverage last night. Roughly 300 people yesterday gathered at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse on Fifth Street for a rally organized by the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network. City and state politicians, including State Rep. Alicia Reece and Mayor John Cranley spoke at the event. At some point, most of those gathered embarked on what would become a nearly three-hour march that shut down I-75 and led to 15 arrests. Organizers of the rally say the march wasn’t part of their plans, and not all those who marched went out onto the highway. Protesters started dispersing about 8:30 p.m. after the march ended at the Hamilton County Justice Center. Those arrested on the highway are being charged with violations like disorderly conduct and inducing panic, while those arrested elsewhere are charged with disobeying traffic signals, according to court records. UPDATE: at least some of those arrested have been bonded out.

• Tell us how you really feel. A speech by Mayor John Cranley given Nov. 20 at the Cincinnati Masonic Center had many moments of surprising candor, according to the Business Courier, even for a mayor known to be upfront with his thoughts. During the speech, which wasn’t announced to the press but was recorded by the group, Cranley compared the state of the region’s bus system to the Titanic, called on-street bike lanes “special treatment” and a “disruption,” and called rail projects like the streetcar “19th century technology.” While those comments are provocative, they align pretty well with past positions the mayor has taken. Cranley said the bus system’s finances are in bad shape and argued the city shouldn’t be subsidizing county bus riders. The fare for SORTA buses outside the city is higher, but that higher rate doesn’t pay for the extra cost of running the buses. Cranley also offered a fascinating idea at the meeting: that the Census’ estimate for the city’s population is too low. Cranley thinks the city may have 310,000 residents, more than the roughly 298,000 the Census estimates.

• A new Over-the-Rhine business incubator is opening up Friday for people with great ideas but fewer resources. Mortar, a so-called “urban idea laboratory” on Vine Street, will offer a 10-week business class and support for entrepreneurs, especially underprivileged potential business owners, looking to start a business in Cincinnati’s urban core.

• As we reported yesterday, Ricky Jackson came to Cincinnati yesterday to thank the Ohio Innocence Project. The University of Cincinnati program helped him prove his innocence after he was convicted of a murder he didn't commit in 1975, and, as he said during a triumphant event yesterday at UC, “saved my life.” Jackson, who was just released last Friday, spent 39 years in prison for the crime before being exonerated.

• A bill being considered in Ohio’s General Assembly would end the state’s 20-year statute of limitations on rape cases. But that bill is stalled due to controversy over potential far-reaching consequences. Some lawmakers are pushing for an amendment to the law that would only eliminate the expiration date for cases in which DNA evidence is present proving the identity of the offender. The state of Ohio currently has a backlog of rape kits, evidence collected from a victim after a sexual assault is reported. That’s made finding and prosecuting rapists in a timely manner difficult.

• Finally, this is interesting. Do you remember the Presidential Fitness Test? If you went to public school, you probably took the test, which measured your running ability and your capacity for push-ups, sit-ups and other exercises. When I had to take this test as a youngin, I always pictured a very angry Ronald Regan (I don’t know why I pictured him. Bill Clinton was president at the time) yelling at me to do more sit-ups so the communists wouldn’t win. Turns out, I wasn’t far off the mark, though I should have imagined an earlier president. President Kennedy pushed for youth fitness measures in 1960, decrying the nation’s “growing softness.” The actual test wasn’t instituted until 1966. It included a softball throw that was meant to simulate chucking grenades. Probably would have been more excited for the whole thing as a child if they’d kept that part in.

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<![CDATA[Ferguson Solidarity Rally in Cincinnati Draws Hundreds]]>

A rally in protest of recent police shootings of unarmed black men drew as many as 300 downtown Tuesday evening. The rally was followed by a nearly three-hour march that made its way through downtown, Over-the-Rhine and the West End before briefly shutting down I-75 as protesters streamed onto the highway.

The rally and march were in solidarity with Ferguson, Mo., where black 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot Aug. 9 by white Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Yesterday a grand jury in St. Louis County declined to indict Wilson, spurring civil unrest in the area and demonstrations in cities across the country. In Cincinnati, the march through downtown neighborhoods had echoes of the city’s past — civil unrest lasting days tore through the same communities in 2001 after unarmed black teenager Timothy Thomas was shot by white Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach in OTR.

Protesters briefly shut down I-75 during a rally remembering vicitms of police shootings Nov. 25.
Nick Swartsell

“Honestly, after the decision yesterday I was a bit numb,” said Curtis Webb, as he marched through downtown. “I even questioned whether I would come out tonight. I’m tired of hearing the talk. I’m more interested in seeing the walk about these situations. As a black man, I’m… I don’t know. I’m scared to be black. I don’t know how to say it. I’m always questioning, 'Am I doing the right thing? Do I look too dangerous? Are the police going to pull me over?' ”

Protester at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse Nov. 25.
Jesse Fox
Protesters march through West End Nov. 25.
Nick Swartsell

Cincinnati’s demonstrations started with a rally at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse on Fifth Street attended by State Senator-elect Cecil Thomas, State Rep. Alicia Reece, community organizer Rev. Damon Lynch III and Mayor John Cranley, among others.

At the initial gathering on the steps of the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse, Cranley highlighted the progress Cincinnati has made since 2001.

"Like all of you, I am deeply concerned about the loss of life and the events that are unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri," he said. "I can sympathize with all aspects of what the community is experiencing because Cincinnati has had similar tensions in the past. It wasn’t easy, and there were a lot of trial and errors, but we made progress."

Over shouts of “no justice, no peace,” and “hands up, don’t shoot,” the speakers there urged peace and calm, but some also expressed anger at the deaths of Brown and others killed in similar incidents closer to home. These include the Aug. 6 police shooting of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart and Tamir Rice, the Cleveland 12-year-old shot by police in a park in Cleveland last week. Both were carrying toy guns. Both were black.

Anger from some speakers focused on a failure by a grand jury to indict Crawford’s shooter, Beavercreek Police Officer Sean Williams.

“We are here today to say ‘No more business as usual,' ” Reece said, her voice rising to a shout. “We are here today to say ‘John Crawford, we will remember you. Mike Brown, we will remember you.’ ”

Reece said she’s pushing for a federal investigation of Crawford’s shooting and a state law named after him that will put new requirements on the appearance of toy guns to make them look less like real ones.
Protesters gather at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse Nov. 25
Jesse Fox

State Sen. Cecil Thomas speaks to the crowd gathered at the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse Nov. 25.
Nick Swartsell

“I spent 27-seven years in law enforcement, and not once did I fire my weapon to harm someone,” Cecil Thomas said. “And all of a sudden, we see so many officers so quick to pull their guns. How do you pull your gun on a 12-year-old when someone tells you it looks like he has a toy gun? We have to change the way we do our policing.”

Thomas was a peacemaker during the 2001 unrest, working with police, community groups and the city's Human Relations Commission to broker calm.

Many attendees at the initial rally joined in a meandering march that stopped traffic in many of the city’s major streets and passed just feet from the spot where Timothy Thomas was shot in 2001. However, the rally was much more peaceful than the days of unrest 13 years ago. About 20 police followed the march, blocking off streets and working to corral protesters. Organizers with the Cincinnati chapter of the National Action Network say the march was not part of their plans for the rally.

Police arrest a protester at a Nov. 25 march in memory of victims of police shootings
Nick Swartsell

Tensions rose when protesters, after making their way down Ezzard Charles Drive in the West End, split off onto a highway onramp, spilling over a berm and onto the north-bound lane of I-75. Police blocked off traffic temporarily, but drove protesters off the highway with the threat of arrest. A few protesters were arrested when they didn’t leave quickly enough. After leaving the highway, the march continued through the city for another hour, eventually dissipating at the Justice Center on Court and Main streets.

Joshua Davis, who helped lead the march, said the problems go beyond any specific case.

“I’m out here because I have nieces who are four, five, six years old and I want them to come up in a world where they don’t have to be afraid of the cops," he said. "There are many things cops can carry that don’t kill people. I’m out here not because I agree Mike Brown was innocent or guilty, or because the cop was guilty or innocent, but because black men are being killed daily.”

The march ended at the Hamilton County Justice Center at about 8:30 p.m. Fifteen were arrested during the march, according to police.

UPDATE: A hearing for those arrested was held Wednesday at 12:30, according to the county clerk. Court records show some of the protesters have posted bond.

Onlookers watch protesters march down Ezzard Charles Dr. Nov. 25
Nick Swartsell
A protester at a Nov. 25 rally remembering victims of police shootings
Jesse Fox

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<![CDATA[Man Wrongfully Imprisoned for 39 Years Thanks UC Program ]]>

Ricky Jackson was just 20 and fresh out of the Marines when he went to jail for murder in 1975. Authorities pinned the killing of Harold Franks, a fifty nine-year-old money order clerk in Cleveland, on Jackson and two of his friends, brothers Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman. The conviction came on the testimony of a single twelve-year-old boy with bad eyesight and a confused story.

He spent the next 39 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Jackson was released last Friday, the last of the trio to be freed after that witness, Eddie Vernon, admitted he made up his testimony under police pressure. Today, Jackson was in Cincinnati to thank those who worked tirelessly to help free him.

“I would have walked if it would have come to that,” Jackson said to a packed house on University of Cincinnati's campus. “I wanted to come meet the people instrumental in saving my life.”

The Ohio Innocence Project, which runs out of University of Cincinnati’s College of Law, has been working on Jackson's case since 2010, digging for years to get public records about the case.  A Cleveland Scene article in 2011 focused more attention on the story as well. Since those beginnings, OIP has played a huge role in getting Jackson exonerated.

OIP was founded in 2003 to investigate and litigate cases where prisoners have been wrongly convicted and imprisoned. The group is made up of UC Law professors and students who use DNA evidence, new witnesses, evidence of police misconduct, and other information to exonerate wrongfully convicted inmates. In just over a decade, they’ve helped free 18 inmates who were wrongfully convicted of murder and other charges. Jackson is the longest-serving inmate in Ohio to be exonerated.

Jackson’s codefendant Ronnie Bridgeman was paroled in 2010, but Jackson’s parole board continued to keep him in prison. Jackson says parole boards wanted him to admit guilt and express regret for the crime before they released him. The only problem was, he was innocent.

“I was on the cusp a lot of times,” he said of confessing. “It seemed like, to me, the only way I was going to get out was to admit guilt. But there was a lot more at stake than just me saying I committed the crime when I know I didn’t. That man’s family gets no justice, I get no justice… at the end of the day I just couldn’t lay down with that in my heart.”

He passed the time by staying fit and helping run the prison’s horticultural project. He ran a greenhouse, something he enjoyed immensely. Still, the time was wearing on him.

“After my last parole board hearing, I was really at an all time low,” he said. “I’m running out of time. I’m 57. How much time to do I really have left? I hate to use this cliché, but they came through like a knight in shining armor. When I was at my eleventh hour, didn’t know what direction I was going to take… these guys came.”

Mark Godsey, director of the Ohio Innocence Project, says Jackson was steadfast in his innocence. He recalls first meeting Jackson at a recent hearing on his request for a new trial in light of witness Vernon recanting his testimony. Prosecutors were offering Jackson a deal — once again, if he would say he was guilty, he could walk free.

“He just looked at us and said, ‘I don’t need anymore time to think about it. I will not take that deal,' ” Godsey recalls. Prosecutors soon conceded that without their only witness, they had no case. Jackson was free.

There are challenges ahead, to be sure. He spent many of his formative years — when most people go to college, start careers, and build families — behind bars.

The OIP is stepping in again with assistance. The group has raised nearly $43,000 to help Jackson get a new start. They’re also fighting the state of Ohio to get a settlement for him based on his wrongful conviction. That could be huge — $40,000 for every year he was imprisoned, plus lost wages and other damages. But it’s not guaranteed. Sometimes, prosecutors fight against these settlements. So far, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office has not officially acknowledged that Jackson is innocent or that they were wrongly imprisoned.

In the meantime, Jackson says he’s not sure just yet what he’ll do. But he says he’s up for the challenge of building a life.

“It’s not difficult at all," he said. "Compared to what I just came from, this is beautiful.”

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Your morning news today is gonna be a little grim and heavy. Sometimes that's how the news goes, folks.

A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Mike Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. The incident has been highly racially charged from the start and caused months of unrest between protesters and police in Ferguson and surrounding communities. Brown was black and Wilson is white. St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch delivered the grand jury’s decision in a highly unusual, and perhaps highly unwise, 9 p.m. press conference, despite the fact the grand jury reached its decision much earlier in the day. The rambling, 20-minute announcement lead with a strong condemnation of social media, the 24-four hour news cycle and other seemingly unrelated forces before getting to a strong defense of Wilson from the prosecutor. It’s exceedingly unusual for a grand jury to not hand down an indictment, unless that indictment is for a police officer who has killed someone in the line of duty.

The announcement was followed by waves of anger from already-gathered protesters, and civil unrest quickly spread through Ferguson. Police and National Guard troops on the scene began firing tear gas and smoke bombs shortly after the decision was read. Reports on the ground relayed some peaceful protesters as well as incidents of looting and vandalism. Several buildings and at least two police cruisers had gone up in flames by this morning, and St. Louis Police Chief Jon Belmar said he had heard at least 150 gunshots throughout the night. President Barack Obama sounded a skeptical note about the decision but called for peace in Ferguson. Brown’s family released a statement expressing their extreme disappointment with the verdict but also called for protesters to remain peaceful.

Calmer demonstrations have sprung up in many cities around the country, including Los Angeles, Seattle and New York. A peaceful demonstration organized by the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the National Action Network will be held in Cincinnati today at 5 p.m. at the U.S. District Courthouse downtown.

• Last week, Cleveland native Ricky Jackson was released from prison after spending 39 years there for a murder he didn’t commit. Today at noon, Jackson will be in Cincinnati appearing at UC’s School of Law to thank the school’s Ohio Innocence Project and others who helped free him. Jackson’s story was first unearthed by the Cleveland Scene and taken up by the Innocence Project shortly thereafter. He was convicted based on the sole testimony of a 12-year-old boy who later admitted he had made up his statements. Jackson is the 18th person freed by the program. 

• Over-the-Rhine's newest brewery and tap house is almost ready for guests. Taft's Ale House, which is on 15th and Race, received its fermenters and brewhouse yesterday. They were lowered in with a crane, which is pretty epic. The owners say they'd like to be open by Reds Opening Day next year.

• If someone offered you a free building, would you take it? Hamilton County commissioners aren’t sure they will. Mercy Hospital has offered to donate their former facility in Mount Airy to the county. A number of the county’s offices, including the county’s cramped coroner and crime lab, could move there, but the new location won’t be cheap. It could cost up to $100 million to retrofit the building for its new tenants, money commissioners say they don’t have, especially after their vote yesterday to approve a relatively skinny $201 million budget. Republican Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann have both indicated the county may not take the building after all. Democrat Commissioner Todd Portune is also skeptical about moving county services to Mount Airy, though for other reasons. He says the county’s board of elections, which was also proposed as a tenant at the site, should stay downtown.

• Finally, as if my faith in humanity needed more testing this week, there’s this story. Someone stole a Sasquatch statue out of a family’s yard in Delhi. The thing weighs 400 pounds, so it’s an impressive bit of thievery, though also pretty heartless.

“I want squashy back,” the statue’s owner told Channel 12 News. “We've got to dress him up for Christmas. We can't have Christmas without Squashy."

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Morning all. Let’s get right to the news, shall we?

It’s hardly a secret that arrest rates in communities across the country are often much higher for minorities. That’s certainly true for suburbs in the Cincinnati area, where authorities often arrest a much higher proportion of blacks than whites. In Sharonville, for instance, blacks are 12 times more likely to be arrested, and in Norwood, they’re seven times more likely. Law enforcement authorities in those communities say that the data controls for the lower population of blacks in those communities but doesn’t take into account the fact that not everyone committing crimes in those places lives there, which they say skews the numbers. Civil rights activists, however, say the data shows a clear racial disparity caused by a number of factors that need to be addressed. Many studies have made it clear that drug use, for instance, is just as high among whites as it is blacks, but law enforcement in many communities makes many more arrests in the latter.

• Are City Manager Harry Black and Mayor John Cranley trying to pre-empt a rail project right out of existence? It seems a little premature to say, but that’s the concern expressed by the city’s planning commission chair Caleb Faux and some advocates for a rail component of the proposed Wasson Way trail. The project looks to extend bike paths and eventually, possible commuter rail lanes through Evanston, Hyde Park and Mount Lookout. But on Thursday, Black removed from the city’s planning commission agenda legislation seeking to preserve the possibility of rail in the area by creating a transportation overlay district. The move has sparked worries that Black was acting on orders from Cranley, no friend of rail, in a bid to pre-emptively block a future rail project through the Wasson Way corridor. Cranley said he only wanted to give time for more public input before a vote on the overlay district was taken.

• In other City Hall news, Black announced his pick for the city’s director of trade and development today in a news release. Oscar Bedolla will be the city’s head of economic development. He previously worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration on infrastructure projects in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago and Denver.

• State Rep. Alicia Reece, who represents Cincinnati, is pushing for a law that would require greater aesthetic differences between fake guns and real ones in the wake of another police shooting Saturday night in Cleveland. A 12-year-old boy was shot and killed by police officers, who thought the toy gun he was carrying was a semi-automatic pistol. The incident has tragic echoes of the August shooting of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart. Crawford was carrying a pellet gun sold in the store when police shot him.

• As lawmakers in the Ohio General Assembly wrangle over how to fix the state’s unemployment compensation system, a new report on the fund reviews how slashes to taxes on employers put the state in debt to the federal government to the tune of $1.3 billion. It’s interesting reading, to say the least, and a primer in the problems that can arise from some lawmakers' "cut every possible tax to the bone” mentality.

• Finally, if you’re really serious about video games, I have a Kickstarter for you to check out. It’s for a company that wants to make a controller that extracts real blood from you every time you’re injured in a video game. “It’s stupidly simple,” the pitch starts. Well, that’s at least partially right. Yow. The device keeps track of how much blood it hass removed, however, so you don’t like, pass out or bleed to death because you’re terrible at "Call of Duty."

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Before news, let’s talk chili. Yesterday, true to my word, I checked out Cretan’s Grill in Carthage as part of my quest to discover the city’s smaller independent chili parlors. Excellent start. I paid five bucks for two coneys and a ton of fries. The chili was great — a little sweeter and meatier than say, Skyline. Where should I go next week?

Anyway, a lot of stuff happened yesterday. News stuff. So let’s get to it.

Republican Hamilton County Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann have agreed to pay $281,000 to keep open the possibility the county could acquire a former hospital in Mount Airy. The commissioners made the move in anticipation of possibly renovating the building to house several county offices, though they have made it clear those renovations will not happen in the coming year. County Administrator Christian Sigman originally proposed a 2015 budget with a .25 percent sales tax increase to pay for renovations so that the county coroner, crime lab and board of elections along with other offices could occupy the building. Monzel and Hartmann have signaled they will not support a sales tax increase, however, and want a long-term plan for how the former Mercy hospital might be used.

• As we reported last night, the Ohio Department of Health has renewed the Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center’s license, meaning Cincinnati’s last clinic providing abortions will stay open. Planned Parenthood had filed a lawsuit against the state after the clinic in Mount Auburn was cited for lacking a transfer agreement with an area hospital. The clinic had an agreement with UC Hospital, but lost it when a law forbidding state-funded hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with abortion providers was passed last year. The clinic applied 14 months ago for an exception to that rule because it has doctors on staff with individual admitting privileges with nearby hospitals.

• Cincinnati Red Bike may be expanding soon. The nonprofit bike sharing company that Cincinnati City Council boosted last year with $1 million in startup funds has been a big success, beating ridership projections in its opening weeks this summer. Currently, Red Bike has 30 stations in downtown, Over-the-Rhine, and uptown near UC. The company has been talking with Northern Kentucky officials about possibly putting additional stations in places like Covington and Newport. Red Bike is also considering putting new stations in places like Longworth Hall downtown and Burnet Woods in Clifton.

• More bad local media news. Scripps Networks Interactive, a Nashville-based entertainment company that produces HGTV, the Food Network and the Travel Channel, is closing its Cincinnati office and shedding the 150 positions based here. The company spun off from Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps in 2008 and employs about 2,000 people total.

• A bill that would ban abortions in Ohio once a fetus has a detectable heartbeat passed committee yesterday and will now make its way to a vote in the full Ohio House. The legislation, which could outlaw abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, would be one of the most restrictive in the country if passed. Bill cosponsors Reps. Christina Hagan, R-Alliance and Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon have said they see the legislation as a means for challenging Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court. If they want a legal battle over the bill, they’ll probably get it. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has threatened a lawsuit if the measure makes it into law, which has some conservatives, including Gov. John Kasich, wary of passing the bill. Federal courts have found similar bans in other states unconstitutional, and a lawsuit challenging the ban could also jeopardize other anti-abortion laws in the state, conservative lawmakers feel.

The measure barely made it through the House’s Health and Aging Committee. Several last-minute swaps of committee members were performed so that there would be enough committee members present and so that those supporting the bill would outnumber those opposed. The proposal passed 11-6 after three Republicans and one Democrat were swapped out of the committee. That’s… kinda sketchy.

• Finally, President Barack Obama announced yesterday evening he would take sweeping executive action to grant relief to millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. Up to five million immigrants could be shielded from deportation by the action, which directs immigration officials and law enforcement to focus on criminals instead of families. It’s a huge move, and one that has drawn a lot of attention. Conservatives have gone nuts over the announcement. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn predicted instances of “anarchy” and “violence” as a result of the move, and many other GOP officials have called Obama’s power play an illegal use of presidential power. Obama has countered that every president has used executive actions and that Congress should focus on passing legislation to fix America’s broken immigration system.

Send me news tips, chili tips, hate mail, suggestions for what I should buy myself for my birthday, fan mail, weird tweets, whatever: @nswartsell or nswartsell@citybeat.com Remember, even your hateful tweets boost my Klout score, so fire away.

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<![CDATA[Ohio Department of Health Renews Mount Auburn Clinic's License]]> The Ohio Department of Health has approved a variance request from Planned Parenthood's Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center in Mount Auburn and renewed its license as a surgical center.

Planned Parenthood recently filed a civil rights lawsuit against Ohio challenging the constitutionality of recent restrictions on clinics, saying they amounted to an undue burden on women seeking abortions.The clinic had been in danger of having to cease providing the procedure after being cited by the state for not having a transfer agreement with an area hospital in compliance with Ohio law.

The clinic had waited 14 months for the state to respond to its request for a variance to that law. The clinic employs physicians who have admitting privileges with area hospitals, allowing it to be exempted from the law.

“We are pleased that ODH has approved of the emergency plan we have in place for patients,” said Jerry Lawson, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio. “This ruling will ensure that women in Southwest Ohio continue to have access to safe and legal abortion.”



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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Before we get to news this morning, I have a query for readers. I want to venture away from the safe world of our ubiquitous chain Cincinnati chili restaurants for a day, lovely as they are, and try a smaller, more obscure chili parlor in town for lunch. Where should I go? I’m thinking about this place, but I’m open to suggestions. I’ll report back my findings tomorrow morning.

Ok, on to business. A bunch of stuff happened yesterday in City Council, but it was all stuff we sort of expected would happen, right? Council passed a streetcar operating agreement and funding mechanism, a bit of a landmark achievement for the project. After a couple years of fighting, hand-wringing and politicking, it seems like this thing is actually going to happen, funded by a roll back on property tax abatements in Over-the-Rhine, a parking meter increase there and of course rider fares.

“Three months ago, I didn’t know if we’d be here today with a revenue stream,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray, who chairs Council’s transportation committee, yesterday during the meeting. Murray was opposed to the project originally, but voted for the measure along with the rest of Council minus Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman. Smitherman said he still had serious concerns about the project’s financial prospects, saying no one is sure what ridership will be like.

• Who will be greeting those riders is still in question, though. A fight had been brewing over whether to employ SORTA’s unionized employees to run the streetcar or bid the work out to a private company. Consultants for the transit authority say a private company could save the city as much as $300,000 a year, though Democrats on council and representatives from SORTA’s union debate that number. Council sidestepped the argument for now by passing a resolution stating that SORTA should bid the job out to see what kind of offers it can get, but that the final decision on staffing will be voted on by council, which has so far leaned toward hiring SORTA employees. One possible arrangement: SORTA workers do the actual driving, so to speak, while a private company performs the managerial side of operating the streetcar.

• Council also voted to co-name Third Street downtown Carl H. Lindner, Jr. Way. The vote was unanimous, but not without its own bit of controversy. Councilman Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly-gay councilmember, said the vote required some deep soul-searching on his part. Lindner was a big funder of Citizens for Community Values, a group that pushed for Cincinnati’s harsh Article XII anti-gay charter amendment in the 1990s. Lindner also had some other dark moments during his career, though those didn’t enter into the street-naming conversation in Council.

“As a gay person, I don’t want to be judged solely on my sexual orientation,” Seelbach said. “There’s a lot to me besides my sexual orientation. And there’s a lot to Mr. Lindner besides his anti-gay history and positions. And a lot of that is really wonderful, from the jobs he created to the nonprofits he supported. Those things make me see him as a more whole person than just his anti-gay past.”

Despite Seelbach's yes vote, his comments drew an angry response from Councilman Charlie Winburn, who said Lindner was something of a mentor to him.

“I think it’s shameful of you to make a comment like that when a man has died and has given so much to Cincinnati.” Winburn said. Lindner passed away in 2011. “You should keep your vote. Your vote is not received."

• Well then. On a less awkward note, Council also approved a liquor license request for Nick and Drew Lachey’s Lachey’s Bar in Over-the-Rhine, which is hoping to open before Thanksgiving. So there’s that.

• A judge has turned down suspended Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s first two requests for a new trial. Hunter filed three motions asking for a new trial after jury members recanted their guilty verdicts. The jurors said they were pressured into their decisions. Those motions would have been heard in court today.

"Once a jury has returned a verdict, and that jury has been polled, a juror may not rescind their verdict," Judge Norbert Nadel wrote in his decision. Hunter was tried on nine felony counts last month, and convicted on one — a charge stemming from her allegedly passing on documents about her brother, a court employee accused of punching a juvenile inmate. The jury hung on the other counts. A judge will hear Hunter’s final motion for retrial Dec. 2.

• Business opportunity alert: did you know Mayday is for sale? For $285,000 you get the bar and all of its inventory. Not a bad deal. Owners Vanessa Barber and Kim Mauer are moving on to other opportunities after five years of running the bar, which was known as the Gypsy Hut prior to their tenure there. I have a lot of fond memories playing music and billiards there, as well as climbing onto the roof of that building under both its names, so I hope someone snatches it up. I’d buy it, but I’m just a little short on cash. About, oh, $284,000 short. No worries, though, the bar will stay open until a new owner comes along.

• Speaking of opportunities… if you’re a fellow scribe, heads up. The Cincinnati Enquirer is hiring in tons of positions, many of them reporters to replace those it lost during a Gannett-wide restructuring process.

• Finally, our most esteemed Twitter friend John Mattress is at it again. Bacon is expensive indeed.

For chili tips, or heck, even if you want to throw some news my way, hit me up on Twitter or at nswartsell@citybeat.com

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Hey all! Once again, I’m rushing toward a day of covering meetings and hearings, so let’s do this morning news thing in a “just the facts” fashion.

First, about those meetings:

Cincinnati City Council today is expected to pass the streetcar operating and funding plans after the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee gave it the thumbs up yesterday. That’s a big deal, considering the city had been working for months to figure out where the system’s $4 million yearly operating budget would come from. But the fighting isn’t over. Now there’s disagreement about whether Metro or a contractor should run the streetcar. It’s a classic private vs. public argument. Vice Mayor David Mann and a majority of council want the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority to do the work. Councilmembers Kevin Flynn and Amy Murray, on the other hand, would like to see SORTA take bids on operations from private companies to see what kind of savings contracting the work could yield. A consultant for the transit authority, TRA, has generated numbers saying that the city could save about $300,000 a year by going private. SORTA’s union has taken issue with those numbers, though, and say they could match a private company’s price. Council won’t consider Mann’s proposal until sometime after Thanksgiving, which means a couple more weeks for wrangling over the deal.

City Council will also vote on a motion to name Third Street after Carl H. Lindner Jr., one of Cincinnati’s most towering business figures. That’s prompted some questions about Lindner’s legacy, specifically around LGBT issues. He gave millions to various causes around the city, but also had a darker side. Some, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, would like to take some time to get more public input on the move before putting his name on a prominent downtown street.

• Hamilton County Commissioners are holding a public hearing over the county’s 2015 budget this morning. The budget has been controversial. The original proposal by County Administrator Christian Sigman called for a .25 cent tax increase to fund renovations of a former hospital in Mt. Airy, a boost Republican commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann batted down recently. The Mt. Airy site, donated to the county by Mercy Hospital, would hold a new, updated crime lab and coroner’s office, as well as the county board of elections and other offices. The coroner’s office and crime lab are in serious need of updates, officials say, and are running at less than full capacity. Without the tax boost, however, the budget will remain flat and many other offices, including the Sheriff’s Department, will face cuts. Monzel has said he’d like to have the budget passed before Thanksgiving, making this the last significant hearing on the issue.

• Procter & Gamble has officially stepped up to publicly support same-sex marriage, the company said yesterday. While the company has had domestic partner benefits since 2001, this is the first time it’s made a public statement about the divisive issue. Though the announcement comes in the wake of a recent federal court decision upholding Ohio’s same-sex marriage amendment, the company says the move isn’t political, but is about supporting its employees and attracting the best possible talent.

• Major Hollywood movies filming here in Cincinnati give the city an undeniable cool factor, but does that translate into an economic boon as well? A recent study by the UC Center for Economics Education & Research says yes. The state pitches big tax breaks to film production companies, but also get a big boost in the jobs and economic activity those films bring, the study says — 4,000 jobs and $46 million in economic activity in Cincinnati for $6.5 million in tax breaks. But the equation may be more complicated than that. According to this Business Courier blog post, when you take into account the state’s return on investment – how much of that $46 million is coming back in taxes — and alternative uses for the tax dollars spent. Interesting stuff and worth thinking about.

Ohio is about to free a prisoner wrongly convicted of murder almost 40 years ago. Ricky Jackson and two others were convicted of murdering a man in 1975 based on the eyewitness accounts of a single 12-year-old boy. That boy later recanted his testimony, saying he was "just trying to be helpful" to police by testifying. Jackson will be freed from jail Friday after a years-long legal battle aided by the Ohio Innocence Project. The Cleveland Scene first reported the story and drew attention the Jackson's plight.

• Finally, are we headed for another government shutdown? There’s a showdown brewing over President Barack Obama’s use of executive action to ease deportations of undocumented immigrants. Hardline conservative Republicans want to tuck measures preventing the president from doing this into spending bills integral to the budget process, forcing Obama to either sign them or veto them and halt Congress’ approval of funds that keep the federal government operating. GOP congressional leadership, including House Speaker John Boehner and probable Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have said last year’s shutdown was damaging for the party and that they will not abide by a repeat. But the GOP’s tea party-aligned right flank says they won’t rule out grinding the government to a halt again.

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<![CDATA[Council Might Name Third Street after Carl Lindner]]>

What do you do to remember a billionaire who created thousands of jobs in the city and spread millions of dollars around to various charities?

What if that same guy gave generously to a group that pushed the passage of one of the country’s harshest anti-gay ordinances, hung out with the folks responsible for the saving and loan crisis in the 1990s and once ran a company that hired brutal Colombian paramilitary groups to protect its crops?
 
Maybe name a street after him.

Mayor John Cranley has proposed naming Third Street in Cincinnati “Carl H. Lindner Way” and hopes to have it pass Cincinnati City Council on Wednesday. Some in the city, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, have asked for more time and public input before the decision is made. Seelbach praised Lindner, but also criticized his stances on LGBT issues.

“Carl Lindner absolutely has made our city a better place in many, many ways,” Seelbach said during a Nov. 18 transportation committee meeting, citing his economic and charitable impact. “The problem is that we were perhaps the most anti-gay city in the country because of Article XII. One of the people, if not the person, who orchestrated its passage was Carl Lindner. That’s unfortunate, and he’s not here to defend himself, and I understand that. But I have a problem elevating him to where we are now naming one of our most prominent streets after someone whose efforts caused us to be known as an intolerable place.”

Seelbach said he wasn’t sure how he would vote on the issue given more time, but felt that public input on renaming the downtown thoroughfare was needed. Other council members agreed, though the measure passed out of committee and will be voted on by the full City Council tomorrow.

Seelbach, along with Councilmembers Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young, abstained from voting on the measure in committee. Simpson said she wanted public input and more time to think about the vote. Young said he wasn’t aware of Lindner’s role in Article XII and wanted to find out more.

There’s no doubt Lindner’s legacy is intertwined with Cincinnati’s. His name is on buildings he financed all over the city. Lindner, who died in 2011 at the age of 92, rose from meager beginnings to become one of America’s richest men, creating thousands of jobs and giving millions to charities in the area. He grew up in Norwood and started United Dairy Farmers from his family’s dairy shop. From that, his empire blossomed to include American Financial Corp., international produce corporation Chiquita, The Cincinnati Enquirer for a stretch and even the Cincinnati Reds for a few years. In 2000, he traded to bring hometown hero Ken Griffey Jr. back to Cincinnati, picking him up at Lunken Airport in one of his signature Rolls Royces.

But his power had a dark side. Lindner gave big money to Citizens for Community Values, the conservative group that pushed for the city’s 1993 Article XII charter amendment. The amendment barred laws protecting LGBT residents and made Cincinnati one of the most anti-gay cities in the country until it was repealed in 2004. Lindner's son, Carl Lindner III, served on the group's advisory board . The law is now seen as a black mark on the city, an embarrassing chapter from which Cincinnati has only recently recovered.

Lindner was also far from above reproach when it came to business ethics. He was very close with fellow Cincinnati captain of industry Charles Keating, another CCVer and so-called “face of the U.S. savings and loan bust,” a financial crisis in the 1990s that cost tax payers more than $3 billion. Keating was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in the crisis, though he won an appeal on a technicality and was released after four. Before all that, though, Keating helped Lindner at American Financial, Lindner’s core business. The two were charged together in 1979 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for self-dealing from the company till. Lindner paid back more than $1 million, though he never admitted wrongdoing.

Lindner also oversaw other deeply troubling corporate practices, though he himself escaped implication in them. In 2007, Chiquita was fined $25 million by the federal government after it was discovered that unnamed upper-level executives there were making payments to Colombian paramilitary groups beginning in 1997, during Lindner’s tenure at the helm of the company. Those payments, to groups like AUC and FARC that terrorized Columbian citizens, were found to be in violation of U.S. anti-terrorism laws. AUC was especially violent, carrying out some of the country's largest massacres. The group was also engaged in the country's cocaine trade.

Many details about shady practices at Chiquita were revealed years earlier in 1997, when The Cincinnati Enquirer published a year-long investigation it had done on the company. Chiquita slapped the paper with an immediate lawsuit because a reporter there had illegally hacked into the company's phone messaging system. The Enquirer quickly retracted the story, ran front-page apologies and paid a $10 million-plus settlement to the company. Chiquita claimed the stories were fundamentally unbalanced, though reviews by The New York Times and other national news outlets found some of the story's revelations couldn't easily be explained away. But the charges of phone hacking got most of the attention and took the air out of the Enquirer stories, as the American Journalism Review noted in a 1998 piece that gives excellent background into the relations between Lindner and Cincinnati's daily paper of record.

"Chiquita has been quite successful at blunting the impact of the Enquirer series by focusing attention on the paper's reporting techniques," the publication said.

The recent Enquirer story about the renaming of Third Street doesn't mention any of the controversy around Lindner or Chiquita.

Cranley’s move to name a public street after Lindner isn’t unique. Last month, there was a half-serious suggestion by Norwood Mayor Tom Williams to rename the Norwood Lateral after the Cincinnati-born businessman. That suggestion was in response to State Sen. Eric Kerney’s proposal to name the lateral after Barack Obama, though Williams said ideally he’d leave the highway alone entirely and not rename it after anyone.

Correction: an earlier version of this post referred to Carl Lindner III as president of CCV. He served on the group's advisory board, not as president.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Hey all. The tide has turned. Nearly every morning, I stop into one of a few downtown spots to grab a donut and (lately decaf) iced coffee on my walk to work. In the summer, this was unremarkable, but as the weather has gotten colder, it’s become something cashiers laugh at me about. Thing is, I have very poor impulse control and can’t wait more than a couple minutes to start drinking and always burn the hell outta my mouth on hot drinks. Today, though, I actually got hot coffee. It’s that cold out. “Finally,” the cashier said.

So yeah, news. A federal judge has recused himself in Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Health over Ohio’s restrictions on clinics that provide abortions. Judge Timothy Black has sent the suit back for reassignment because he served on Planned Parenthood’s board 25 years ago. While he says he would follow legal precedent in deciding the suit, he wants to avoid any appearance of bias and is passing the case off to another judge.

• Former Mason mayor and outgoing Republican State Rep. Pete Beck has for months been facing charges that he committed investment fraud by luring investors into putting money into an insolvent company called Christopher Technologies. Beck was chief financial officer of the company. His case has yet to get underway as prosecutors continue to try and get documents with details about his investors. Beck was indicted 18 months ago. His attorneys say the state is taking too long and should drop the case, but attorneys for the AG’s office have said no way. Beck’s co-defendant Janet Combs, who runs Ark by the River Fellowship Ministries, has pleaded no contest to charges in connection with the case and will be testifying against Beck when his case goes to trial next year. Combs’ church, which judges have called “a cult,” has been ordered to pay $250,000 in restitution to victims of the investment scheme.

• Another local government has signaled support for efforts to make high-speed rail between Chicago and Cincinnati a reality. The city of Wyoming passed an ordinance yesterday requesting a feasibility study for the project from the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments. Hamilton County Commissioners have also backed the idea of a study to see how much such a project would cost. The effort is being led by non-profit All Aboard Ohio. The group has its quarterly public meeting tonight in Over-the-Rhine at 6 p.m.

• A bill passed yesterday by the Ohio House’s Education Committee would eliminate minimum salary requirements for teachers in the state. Supporters say the bill will make it possible to institute better merit pay for teachers. Opponents say it will just pit educators against each other. The bill should go up for a vote in the full House of Representatives sometime this week.

• Proposals for changing Ohio’s redistricting process for both congressional and state legislative districts are floating through the Ohio General Assembly. The plans, proposed by Republicans, would remove input from courts and the governor from the redistricting process. Instead, state legislators of both parties would vote on redistricting maps, and if they can’t agree, the maps will go on a ballot initiative for voters to decide. Conservatives call this method fairer, but some experts say it will only make Ohio’s already terribly lopsided redistricting process worse. Oh, great.

“It is the dominant party that holds the whip in its hand and can beat the opposing party, the minority, into subjection with it,” said Ohio State University law professor Dan Tokaji. “As a practical matter, the minority party has no real leverage under this proposal.”

• So, this is super-creepy. An Uber exec, frustrated about negative press coverage his company has been receiving, said the company should hire opposition researchers to dig up dirt on journalists who report negative stories about the company. Uber’s Senior Vice President of Business Emil Michael made the comments during a swank dinner hosted by a political consultant for the company and attended by VIPs like Ed Norton and Huffington Post publisher Arianna Huffington. Michael suggested Uber should spend a million dollars to fight back against journalists by digging into their “personal lives,” and their “families,” even throwing out a name or two of specific journalists they could target. Uber later said that the conversation was supposed to be off the record, and Michael said his comments were merely hypotheticals and don’t “reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.”

Oh, of course. Saying you want to dig up the personal lives of people who criticize you and then saying "just kidding!" isn't creepy at all. Carry on.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

I’m sure the big old lumps of snow are a bummer for those of you who drive to work, but it was super cool walking from Mount Auburn to CityBeat HQ this morning. Seeing the hillsides shrouded in white and downtown poking out of the mist on my way down reminded me how much I love this city. It also netted me a bunch of likes on Instagram, which is the main thing I’m excited about, of course.

Anyway, on to the news. Because ordering things from the Internet takes so, so long and just doesn’t have the wow factor it used to, Amazon has been considering using drones to deliver items to your door for about a year now. What’s more, the Greater Cincinnati area could be one of the first places to get that service if changes to aviation laws expected next year make it a possibility. The company is currently hiring drone pilots, engineers and other folks with relevant experience to help build its drone delivery program. Who wouldn’t want flying robots speeding toward your house with all that stuff you bought during your last stoned 2 a.m. shopping spree?

• It’s getting harder and harder to live on what you earn at jobs requiring few specialized skills, both in the area and in the country as a whole. That’s lead to a push in Greater Cincinnati to create new routes for workers who want to get high-skill jobs in the manufacturing and tech industries. Many companies offering these jobs can’t find enough qualified applicants, leading them to establish or support training and apprenticeship programs for low-skill workers and recent high school graduates.

• I learned a lot about sex trafficking doing our cover story a couple weeks ago on sex workers. The problem is real and huge. Here’s a terrifying story about captivity, sex trafficking and abuse at a house in Avondale, where as many as a dozen women were held by a Colerain man for an indeterminate amount of time. Christopher Hisle, who has been in trouble for running unlicensed sex-oriented businesses in the past, is charged with sex trafficking and faces up to 15 years in prison.

• If you’re looking to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act but are somewhat befuddled by the process, you’re in luck. An enrollment assistance center contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services is open in the city to help folks with navigating the healthcare exchanges. The center is at 4600 Wesley Ave. Suite C, Cincinnati OH 45212. You can give them a call as well at 513-802-8092, or visit them on Facebook and Twitter.

• Some conservative lawmakers in Ohio’s General Assembly are pushing a new bill that would make secret the details about those who supply lethal injection drugs to the state. Ohio hasn’t been able to find a source for lethal injection drugs because no companies want to be associated with supplying it. Making suppliers secret would solve this problem, Republican lawmakers say. Ohio has had to suspend executions due to the prolonged death of Dennis McGuire last January. McGuire was killed using a new combination of two drugs. Ohio has had to resort to such mixtures because the company that manufactures the original drug the state used has refused to sell it for use in executions. As McGuire died, witnesses say he was gasping for breath. The state says he was asleep and did not experience discomfort, but his 25-minute-long execution prompted a federal judge to issue a temporary stay on executions. The next scheduled lethal injection will take place Feb. 11 unless federal courts order more delays. In response to the drug dilemma, some lawmakers are calling for alternative execution methods, including returning to the electric chair, to be considered.

• Also in the State House, the House Education Committee is considering legislation today that would reduce the amount of time public school students spend taking standardized tests. House Bill 228 proposes limiting testing to four hours a year and has been greeted with enthusiasm by lawmakers, some school officials and education groups. 

• Finally, here's a pro tip: don't drive yourself to your driver's license test, then lead cops on a car chase when they ask why you're driving before you have your license. Or do, if you want a really epic story about why you walk to work every day. I just walk because I'm too lazy to find a parking space. This guy's excuse is way more interesting.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Hey all, here’s what’s happening this morning. I’ll be brief. It’s Friday, and we all have stuff to do if we want to get out of work early.

City Council committed to doubling human services funding in its meeting yesterday. The fund, which provides money to 54 organizations that fight poverty in the city, will go from $1.5 million to $3 million in the next city budget. That boost will bring the fund up to .84 percent of the city’s operating budget, with a goal of eventually raising it to 1.5 percent, a level the city hasn’t seen in ten years due to harsh cuts during that time.

• At their respective meetings this week, both City Council and Hamilton County Commissioners agreed unanimously to create a city-county cooperation task force. The task force would look for ways to share services between the two governmental bodies. Councilman Chris Seelbach said he’d like to see the group find ways to cooperate with the region’s other municipalities as well, including places like Norwood and Saint Bernard.

• Developers are looking to pour about $80 million into projects in Mount Auburn, one of the city’s more neglected neighborhoods. The area just north of Over-the-Rhine and just south of Clifton and Corryville could see new office space and apartment buildings, among other development projects.

• In a way, this is the flip-side of the shared services coin: the City of Sharonville is considering doing away with its health department in order to contract services through Hamilton County Public Health. That’s upset some members of the community there. Mayor Kevin Hardman has recommended the move, and Sharonville City Council will vote on it soon.

• Are you ready for a Rand Paul presidential run? The Kentucky Senator and tea party hero is about “95 percent” certain to be vying for the Republican nomination in 2016, according to this Politico story. Paul’s father, Ron Paul, is something of a libertarian folk hero who has pushed for auditing the Federal Reserve Bank, zeroing out entire departments in the federal government and other kinds of whacky ideas. The elder Paul made runs in the last two presidential elections as an independent, where he got a lot of attention but not much of the vote. Rand has combined many of his father’s libertarian ideals with a more palatable tone and connections to both establishment and tea party factions of the GOP. He’s also tried to make inroads on traditionally progressive issues, saying he wants to reform drug laws and pull back U.S. military involvement overseas. He’s gone to places where liberals are most likely to hang out— speaking at UC Berkeley and this summer’s Urban League conference in Cincinnati, for instance — in an attempt to make his case. Be prepared to see a lot more of that in the near future.

• Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the political spectrum, firebrand Senator Elizabeth Warren will join Democratic leadership in that chamber, a sign the party is seeking to bring the left-leaning part of its base in closer. Warren has crusaded against big banks and their role in the financial crisis and has big populist appeal among progressives. Some of her job in her new position will be reaching out to those groups and voters as well as advising the party as a whole on policy and messaging. Some progressives have pushed her name as an alternative to Hillary Clinton for the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2016, but so far, Warren has said she’s staying out of the race.

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<![CDATA[Council Commits to Doubling Human Services Fund]]>

City Council yesterday unanimously passed a motion committing $1.5 million more to the city’s Human Services fund in its next budget, doubling the fund’s size.

The increase is part of an ongoing rethinking of the city’s human services funding. But with that change in focus comes the potential that some of the 54 organizations that receive support from the fund could see some cuts in the next budget.

A working group headed by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson and Vice Mayor David Mann suggests focusing first and foremost on two major areas: increasing gainful employment and reducing homelessness, splitting the fund down the middle for those purposes. Along with those major focus areas, it also suggests the establishment of a collaborative between law enforcement and the community to curtail violence in Cincinnati when more funds are available.

The changes won’t take place for another six months, kicking in with the new fiscal year, giving organizations and the city time to adjust to the new budget priorities.

“Number one, we wanted to make sure to increase how much we put into human services each year,” said Mann, who helped draw up the proposal, “and secondly that we focus on a few significant areas and see if we can’t make progress there instead of trying to shotgun amongst many programs.”

The motion to adopt the suggestions by the human services working group is the next step in a months-long process to update the way the city funds anti-poverty programs. It’s also a step toward restoring funding for human services to 1.5 percent of the city’s operating budget, a long-term goal for the city and a level it hasn’t seen in a decade.

Currently, the city’s $1.5 million human services fund accounts for just .42 percent of the city’s $358 million budget. In the past, the city has made deep cuts to the fund. The boost would raise the fund’s proportion of the budget to .84 percent. Simpson and others, including Mann, say they hope to get back to 1.5 percent as more funding becomes available.

Simpson says the working group included advice from the United Way, which currently helps the city evaluate programs it is funding, as well as community members and various boards like the Human Services Advisory Committee and the Community Development Advisory Board, which oversees how federal Community Development Block Grants are spent.

The city hasn’t decided where the money for the increase will come from yet, a point of concern for some council members.

“Whenever we move to increase funding for something, I like to be able to identify the source of funds,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn. He noted there was still time to do that before the overall budget is passed.

Flynn also said he’d like to see human services funding go through the same process, something that has been a sore point among some council members lately.

“There’s a lot of money that we’ve approved in our general operating budget that hasn’t gone through the guidelines and process that we’ve established,” Flynn said. 



Councilman Seelbach expressed similar concerns, specifically about the way decisions are made on funding anti-poverty programs.

“All of us have agencies that we’re somewhat close to, and it’s not fair to pick them over others,” Seelbach said, a reference to recent moves that have shifted money from some nonprofits to others. “So if we can put them all in a fair, non-political process like the United Way, I think the city’s better for it.”

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Hey hey all. Hope your Thursday is going well. Tomorrow’s Friday! And that's our 20th anniversary party! You should come. You should also venture out into that bleak, unforgiving cold to pick up a copy of our 20th anniversary issue now. It’s got a lot of really fun looks back at the past two decades of CityBeat as well as a picture of a very young me holding a puppy. How can you resist?

After the absolute deluge of news yesterday, today is relatively quiet. Well, for the most part. The hearing in Hamilton County courts on former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s request to have her felony conviction thrown out is happening as you read. Hunter was convicted on one of nine counts she was facing last month on a variety of charges. The one that stuck: allegations she improperly intervened in disciplinary actions against her brother, a court employee accused of assaulting an inmate. There’s a big wrinkle in the case, however, as three jurors have recanted their guilty verdicts. It promises to be a very interesting day in court.

• U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell will be dropping by Cincinnati today to talk about health care coverage and enrollment in a health policy under the Affordable Care Act ahead of the Nov. 15 open enrollment period. She’ll be joined by Mayor John Cranley at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center at 12:45 p.m. Burwell will also be swinging through Columbus earlier in the day.

• It’s been a rough week, so I’m into this next thing. Today is World Kindness Day, it turns out. I’d never heard of that before, but I guess any excuse to be nice to people is a good one. If you mosey down to Fountain Square between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., you can pick a flower from a large flower wall being installed by KIND Healthy Snacks. The idea is you pass the flower along to a stranger or anyone else you see who could use a little pick-me-up. There will also be surprises for people who are nice or could use a little kindness throughout the day.

• This year is a big anniversary for another group. The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, which started in 1984, is celebrating 30 years working to end homelessness. The coalition has also been very active in asking big questions about development in Over-the-Rhine and other places where low-income folks live. They’re having a celebration Dec. 11.

• Ironically, there’s yet another big anniversary this year. The term “gentrification” was coined in 1964 by British sociologist Ruth Glass. Here’s a really fascinating and provocative history of the term published last week that’s worth reading.

• The debate over net neutrality has been on the front burner lately, thanks in part to new statements from President Barack Obama. That debate hasn’t just been about words and ideas, of course, because nothing in politics ever is. Cash has played a big role in the fight. Anti-net neutrality telecommunications companies, who want the right to create so-called “fast lanes” and treat certain kinds of internet content differently, have given more than $62 million to political action committees in the past 14 years. Compare that to big tech companies like Google and Facebook, which support net neutrality. They’ve given just $22 million. Part of that is that these companies haven’t been around or as powerful for as long. No matter what the cause, though, it’s clear that telecomm is pouring vast sums of money into the pockets of politicians to try and keep the federal government from making rules about net neutrality.

• Today, you get a crazy news two for one. First, a guy got arrested (in Florida, you guessed it) trying to steal a chainsaw by sticking it down his pants. That’s wonderful. Second, Philae, that unmanned European space probe you’ve probably already heard about, landed on a comet yesterday. That’s never been done before. The probe has been beaming back pictures and drilling samples out of the comet’s surface. It’s also been live-tweeting its trip, though most of its commentary has just been about the fact it’s really cold and boring in space and about how the comet doesn’t have as good of a jukebox or beer selection as The Comet.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Morning y’all. Here’s a brief news rundown before I head off to a day full of meetings and news conferences. Hope you’re having as much fun on your Wednesday as I will be.

Cincinnati is set to receive a score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, the group's highest possible rating. HRC will announce the score today at 10 a.m. at Memorial Hall. It’s a huge turnaround from just a decade ago, when the city finally overturned one of the most restrictive anti-LGBT rights ordinances in the country.

• Cincinnati’s last remaining facility providing abortions, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Mount Auburn, is suing the state in federal court over a law prohibiting state-funded hospitals from entering into emergency patient transfer agreements with clinics. The Planned Parenthood clinic had an agreement with nearby UC Hospital before the law went into effect, but the hospital was forced to end the agreement. Attorneys for the clinic say recent citations from the Ohio Department of Health for not having that agreement could shut it down, which would leave southwestern Ohio without access to an abortion provider. That, they say, violates a Supreme Court decision that ruled that states can’t put an undue burden on women seeking abortions. Cincinnati could become the largest metro area in the country without access to a clinic if the Planned Parenthood facility closes.

• Hamilton County’s prospective 2015 budget looks to have a lot of departments tightening their belts. County commissioners have indicated they're leaning toward something closer to a $200 million budget instead the more robust one put forth by county administrator Christian Sigman. Republicans Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann are both proposing plans closer to the alternate path mainly because it doesn’t rely on a recommended quarter-cent sales tax increase, which would have needed voter approval next year. Democrat Todd Portune supports a 5-year tax bump, but he looks to be outvoted. If the commissioners forgo offering the tax increase to voters, it could leave a number of services, including the county coroner office and crime lab, without badly needed upgrades for another year. The budget would cut three positions from the office and could risk its accreditation, according to a budget impact report authored by Hamilton County Budget Director John Bruggen. It might eliminate 41 positions at the sheriff’s office, cause cuts to the county’s juvenile justice court, public defender’s office and many other county services. Commissioners hope to have the budget finalized by Nov. 24. A public hearing on the various options will be held Nov. 19.

A fight is brewing over a proposal being considered by the Ohio Board of Education that could eliminate art, music and phys-ed instructors at some schools. Currently, Ohio has requirements that every public school in the state have at least five of eight specialized positions for each 1,000 students. Opponents of the standards change say it would allow schools to get rid of instructors for art, music, physical education and other subjects as well as librarians and other employees. These cuts, they say, would come most often at schools in low-income areas. Supporters say the change would give more power to local districts, allowing them to make staffing choices themselves. The standards have been in place since 1983. The 19-member board met yesterday in a public meeting to consider the idea, which a board committee has recommended for adoption. The meeting got testy when a 75-minute presentation about the standards was set before public comment could be heard. Four board members walked out of the meeting in protest, though they returned later. 

• Authorities are gearing up for another round of civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury's decision on whether to indict officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Mike Brown is expected sometime this month, possibly very soon. Indications seem to suggest the grand jury will choose not to indict Wilson, leaving officials in the St. Louis area on edge.

• Finally, this is what we’ve come to as a society — meta drones. This small unmanned aircraft just took off from another drone. The bigger one, shaped like an aircraft carrier that is, err, also an aircraft, is called the Helidrone. It can lift another, smaller drone into the air, where the smaller drone also takes off. This is useful because… well, it’s cool at least. Thanks science!

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Hello all. Hope you’re ready for some news, because I’ve got a bunch for ya.

First, happy Veterans Day! Here’s a timely bit of news: Cincinnati City Council members Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young announced an initiative yesterday to track the number of veterans employed by the city in an effort make Cincinnati the most welcoming city in the country for veterans. The initiative will require contractors working on city projects to report how many veterans are employed on those projects, as well as keeping track of how many the city itself employs.

“This data will show how your tax dollars help grow opportunities for our veterans and keep their families employed and growing in our region,” Seelbach said in a statement. After the data is collected, the city will work with contractors and veterans service agencies in the city to improve veteran employment opportunities. In the years after 9/11, unemployment for vets has remained stubbornly high, even as unemployment for the general population starts to fall.

• The Human Rights Campaign, one of the biggest LGBT rights advocacy groups in the country, has chosen Cincinnati as the place it will unveil its 2014 Municipal Equality Index, which measures how welcoming cities are to members of the LGBT community. They’ll release the results tomorrow at Memorial Hall. Check out our brief piece here for more details.

• Mayor John Cranley and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune want to explore the possibility of the city and county sharing certain services in an effort to boost efficiency for both. You can read more in our blog post from yesterday, but here’s the short take: It’s not a new idea, and there are a lot of political hoops to jump through that have kept shared services from happening in the past. But there’s also a lot of interest in the idea, and Cranley and Portune say their proposal will work. They’ll be asking City Council and county commissioners tomorrow to approve the creation of a task force that will meet regularly to oversee city-county cooperation.

• Downtown’s Horseshoe Casino last month had its lowest-grossing month since opening in March 2013, taking in just under $14 million. A crowded field of gambling options in the region, including neighboring Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, Indiana has contributed to the low earnings.

• While we’re talking about Indiana: Will the default of a major tollway in that state make financing the Brent Spence Bridge replacement more difficult? It’s a possibility, some investment experts say. A company contracted to manage the $3.85 billion Indiana Toll Road went bankrupt this fall, which could have ripple effects for a similar Brent Spence project, spooking investors who might otherwise be interested in it. Another interesting wrinkle in this story is that the Indiana project fell behind financially because of declining traffic on the Indiana toll road, a result of fewer folks using cars to get from point A to point B.

• Ohio’s charter schools are some of the lowest-performing in the country, a recent study found. The Stanford University research shows that after a year in an average Ohio charter school, students lag behind public school pupils in reading and math. Ohio’s schools were the fourth-lowest out of 26 states studied in terms of performance. An analysis by the Akron Beacon Journal suggests that for-profit charter schools are the reason for much of the performance disparity, with 14 of the state’s 16 lowest-performing charters run by for-profit companies. Eight of the top 12 charter schools, meanwhile, are run by non-profits. The analysis notes there are some exceptions to the rule, however, including three suburban Columbus charters run by New York-based company Mosaica Education. You can read the whole report here.

• Days after the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati upheld the region’s same-sex marriage bans, the Supreme Court has put a temporary delay on removal of a similar ban in Kansas. After a district court there struck down the state’s ban, Kansas requested the Supreme Court put that decision on hold. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked for response from same-sex marriage advocates to the state’s request, and in the meantime has temporarily delayed the removal of the state’s ban on gay marriage. The district court’s ruling was set to go into effect at 6 p.m. today, allowing same-sex couples in the state to wed. The ruling is just a temporary delay, however, and doesn’t signal whether the Supreme Court will ultimately rule in favor of the state.

• President Obama has made some of the most definitive statements of his presidency lately in regard to his support for net neutrality, saying yesterday that measures to ensure that Internet service providers treat online content equally is "a big priority of mine." The statement seemed like a bit of surprise to FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, a former telecom executive appointed by Obama. He's responded that the FCC is an independent agency and will do what it sees fit. The question, of course, is why Obama nominated a telecom exec to be FCC chair in the first place, but yeah. The battle over net neutrality was already raging well before Obama took office but has intensified in recent years as telecom companies seek to create what opponents describe as "fast lanes" that give faster service to some kinds of content over others. Obama is pushing to reclassify ISPs as utilities instead of communications companies, which would give the federal government more power to regulate them and enforce rules about equal treatment of data flowing through ISPs' networks.

• A Deer Park man claiming he was Jesus has been taken into custody for mental evaluation, police there say. The man apparently made threats to a locally based, national-level politician and authorities are assessing what kind of risk he poses to others. Mental health is a serious issue, of course, but I really have to point out the epic one-liner this guy got off during a 911 call about his condition.

"I'm messed up," the man said to a 911 operator. "Can you tell my father I'm OK?"

"OK, where is your father at?" the operator asked.

"Uh, everywhere," the man claiming to be Jesus responded. Zing.

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<![CDATA[Cranley, Portune Propose City-County Shared Services Taskforce]]>

Mayor John Cranley and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune are proposing a task force that could help the city and county governments share services. The idea has been proposed in the past with little progress, however, due to politics and an unwillingness to cut departments. But Portune and Cranley point to city-county cooperation on The Banks riverfront development project as proof the two governments can coordinate.

Portune acknowledged that the idea has been floated many times in the past. The Democrat commissioner sent a proposal to former Mayor Mark Mallory about the idea in 2011. Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann also discussed shared services many times with city officials, but again nothing ever came of the talks. 

Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel has also expressed interest in shared services, pointing out situations where the city relies on the state, such as hospital inspections, as possible places where the city and county could work together. He says the county could do those inspections.

Hartmann has said coordinating services between the two bodies is a matter of political will, not necessarily further study. He’s on the fence about supporting the effort.

Past failures don’t mean cooperation isn’t possible or necessary, Portune said. He said The Banks project, which is finally seeing fruition after more than a decade of work, is a great example of what the city and county can do together.

“Just go about 12 blocks south of here and you look at the magnificent things that are happening on the city and the county’s central riverfront,” Portune said. “All of the new development at The Banks, all of that was planned and envisioned and decided through a joint city and county effort.”

He said a similar arrangement could work on a more permanent basis, helping both the city and county save valuable resources.

“In this day and age of lower revenues and resources, of squeezed budgets, of the state and federal government giving greater unfunded mandates on local governments,” Portune said, “we have to do more and more with less and less annually.”

Cranley and Portune will introduce matching proposals at Cincinnati City Council and board of commissioners meetings Wednesdays asking both bodies to create a group that would study ways the city and county could share some services for greater efficiency. The group would meet at least quarterly with commissioners and council members.

“We have to try all things,” Cranley said. He said dwindling resources and looming changes in state business taxes could take a bite out of local government funds. Cranley has been a vocal opponent of such changes by the state but said he sees shared services as a good idea either way. “Just because we think it’s fair and right that the state government stop attacking local government doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue shared services.”

Under the shared services arrangement, some departments in both governments, such as the county’s permitting departments or the city’s Environmental Services Office, could eventually see reductions as two offices are folded into one.

Cranley said a few areas spring to mind as possible places for sharing services, including the city prosecutor’s office. But he said that doesn’t mean the office will close up shop.

“I think the city is going to maintain a prosecutorial function,” Cranley said, noting that he thinks the city is better suited to pursue some cases, such as negligent property owners. “I think our efforts will be ramped up in some cases, not reduced.”

But Cranley also said that some prosecutions are duplicated by the two courts and that some criminal cases could be better handled by the county.

Portune said the effort could lead to wider cooperation among local governments. There is great interest in pooling resources and sharing services among the area’s 48 municipalities and other jurisdictions, he said.

“This effort should not be limited to just the city and the county,” he said. “It’s going to start out this way. But ... there’s a tremendous appetite with the other 48 local jurisdictions. Some of that has happened, but there’s an awful lot more that could and should.”

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<![CDATA[Human Rights Campaign Taps Cincinnati for Equality Index Announcement]]>

National LGBT rights group Human Rights Campaign will make a trip to Cincinnati Wednesday to announce its Municipal Equality Index.

The index scores how welcoming cities are to members of the LGBT community. HRC researched every state capital, the country's 200 biggest cities by population, the four largest cities in every state, the city with every state's largest public university and 75 of the country's mid-sized cities with the highest proportion of same-sex couples.

The scores take into account municipal laws, whether cities offer employees domestic partner benefits and law enforcement and city officials' relationships with the LGBT community. A perfect score is 100, which indicates "an exemplary commitment to full equality for all its residents and workers," HRC said in a news release.

Cincinnati has been in the spotlight recently for LGBT rights issues. The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in the city, heard cases over the summer seeking to strike down same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. Last week the court upheld those bans, likely setting off a Supreme Court challenge to the laws.

HRC will announce Cincinnati's equality index score, a perfect 100, as well as overall national scores at Memorial Hall Wednesday at 10 a.m. Mayor John Cranley, Councilman Chris Seelbach, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson and noted LGBT advocates will also speak at the event.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Morning all. There is a busy weekend’s worth of news to recap, but before we get to that, I just gotta say this: I went to something called Mustard Club Saturday, and it changed my life. While I haven’t been quite as up on the German heritage tip as a lot of folks in the city are, this monthly event in Corryville may change that. Here’s a little hint: all you can eat pretzels, mashed potatoes, German desserts and, of course, various meat products. Oh, and lots of German beer if you’re into that.

Anyway, down to business.

• Tonight at Xavier, a woman whose father saved 669 Jewish children during the Holocaust will meet one of those survivors. Barbara Winton is the daughter of British stockbroker Nicholas Winton, who in 1938 took steps to find foster parents for Czechoslovakian Jewish children caught up in the horrors of Nazi genocidal programs. She’s written a book about his life, called If It’s Not Impossible, and tonight at the Cintas Center she’ll meet with Renata Laxova, who at 8 years old left Prague for the safety of Britain thanks to Winton’s efforts. Laxova, who became a geneticist, is 83 today and lives in Madison. Wis. She was among the last children Winton was able to rescue. Amazingly, Nicholas Winton is still alive today, but at 105, he’s not able to make the ceremony, which is part of Xavier’s “Touching History” series.

• Over-the-Rhine is already a brewing hub, but soon the neighborhood will be host to a distillery for gin, whiskey and bourbon for the first time in a long time. Owners of local pet store PetWants recently purchased a 17,000-square-foot warehouse on Central Parkway and hope to be distilling there by next year. They’re also looking to turn the spot into an event space, as well as running some operations for the pet store from the warehouse.

• Mayor John Cranley today announced that he and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune are requesting the city and county create a shared services task force that will find ways the two governments can work together for the region. Cranley and Portune will discuss their ideas further at a news conference later this morning.

• The city is considering turning two major one-way arteries in East Walnut Hills into two way streets. East McMillan Street and William Howard Taft Road will probably be converted to boost traffic and business in the neighborhood. Other parts of the streets were converted into two-way corridors in 2012. A neighborhood hearing on the proposals is scheduled for Nov. 18.

• A riverbank park in Lower Price Hill and Riverside is a lot closer to reality. River West, the group planning the park, will receive a $16,000 grant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and a $30,000 grant from nonprofit Interact for Health for the project. The group has been pushing for the park for the last seven years, when it successfully fought plans to turn the area into a landing spot for barges. The group worked with the city, which rezoned the land. The 16-acre park, which will be called Price Landing, is still in the early stages, with community input and design phases expected to begin next year. One feature on the table is an extension of the Ohio River Trail.

• If you’re curious about what Hamilton County’s GOP and Democratic party chairmen thought of local and state elections this year, you’re in luck. They shared some candid thoughts Friday at a post-election luncheon for the city’s political bigwigs.

Dem chairman Tim Burke bemoaned the county’s 45 percent voter turnout rate, which he said was the lowest since 1978. He also said he saw Democrat gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald as a good candidate but a long shot to topple Kasich, at least until it was revealed that FitzGerald hadn’t had a driver’s license for 10 years. Burke says FitzGerald told him “I’m a procrastinator” as an explanation for the gaffe that tainted his campaign.

GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou had his own insights and revelations about the election. He acknowledged that the trend for the GOP in the county, like in many urban places, is anything but promising long term, but promised that the party would continue to field good candidates. Triantafilou also had some nuanced thoughts about Gov. Kasich’s reelection, saying the incumbent took a more centrist tack this time around after big backlash over the effort to repeal collective bargaining rights for state employees he undertook after voters elected him the first time. That hasn’t endeared him to the state’s tea party faction, Triantafilou said, but won him enough support to take the election by a large margin.

• In state news, Ohio earned a C grade on a new report for its legislative efforts to stop human trafficking. Fourteen other states also received the middling grade from nonprofit Shared Hope, which gave Ohio a score of 78 out of 100, a five point bump from last year. The report said Ohio has made some positive steps in terms of creating specific crimes for those who engage in the sex trafficking of children but has more work to do in terms of trying to limit demand for such services.

• Conservative groups are already pushing for likely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass legislation defunding or repealing Obamacare. The rifts in the GOP that were very evident in the last budget fight have reappeared, with tea party-aligned groups like Senate Conservatives Fund and Heritage Action signaling that they’ll push senators and representatives to pursue strategies for repealing the health care law. But it will be tough for McConnell to lead a repeal of the law. Republicans still don’t have 60 votes in the Senate to override a filibuster from Democrats and wouldn’t be able to get past a presidential veto even if they could get legislation out of the Senate.

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