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

Hey all! It’s Friday. I have work to do. Let’s keep this brief, shall we, while avoiding a stupid debate about the color of any pictures of women’s wear that might be floating around the Internet. (I see both blue and black and white and gold depending on when I look. Yes, I am special).

Paging Michel Foucault: Is it a good idea to put your county’s jail on a reality TV show? We’ll find out, I suppose. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil agreed several months ago to let MSNBC film an episode of its reality show Lockup in the Hamilton County Justice Center. It hasn’t aired yet, but a trailer for the episode shows inmates cussing at people, thousands of dollars in smuggled bootleg cigarettes and loose tobacco, some guy bragging about stabbing someone else with pencils and another dude describing his situation as “some ho-ass shit.” All of which sounds like a party I went to a couple Saturdays ago.

The bloody post-fight scenes look less like a party, however, and it’s pretty clear a big part of the show is the voyeuristic thrill of watching human suffering. Gross. But I digress. County officials told Sheriff Neil that having the reality show feature the county’s jail was probably not a good idea, but Neil went ahead with the program after producers approached him about it. I’m torn on this. On the one hand, it’s important to show people what really goes on in our justice system. On the other, this kind of reality TV-style sensationalism seems pretty exploitative of the folks behind bars, does it not?

Neil’s office says the show is a fair representation of life at the justice center, so there’s that. Lockup: Cincinnati airs Saturday at 10 p.m. in case you want to watch it or, you know, maybe do something more positive with your time than watch people in cages get blood dabbed off their faces.

• Oh, good. According a newly released report by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, the Ohio River received more than 23 million pounds of toxic material in 2013, the latest year for which data has been analyzed. That’s the most of any river in the country for the seventh year in a row, the commission says. The report cautions that despite the alarmingly large number, the river’s volume is also very large and the dilutive properties of all that water must be taken into account. But for comparison, the river receiving the next highest level of pollutants is the Mississippi, which saw more than 10 million pounds of toxins released into it last year. Much of the pollution in the Ohio River comes from nitrates, which are highly toxic to humans. Seventy-one percent of the pollution, according to the report, doesn’t enter the river until well downstream from Cincinnati at an AK Steel facility in Rockport, Indiana. So, uh, at least there’s that.

• A rally is planned tomorrow at 2 p.m. on Fountain Square for transgender murder victims killed in the last year. Among those victims was Tiffany Edwards, murdered last year in Walnut Hills. We first told you about Edwards during a long story we did on sex workers in Cincinnati and revisited her story last month in a piece on the challenges facing transgender individuals. Her alleged killer is currently on trial for her death. Tomorrow’s die-in will also memorialize seven other transgender individuals who have been murdered recently as a result of their transgender status.

• Ohio’s Senate race got a shout out in one of the nation’s premier news outlets. The Christian Science Monitor started off its preview of the 2016 Senate race with a long exploration of the brewing fight between former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Rob Portman. Also featuring prominently in the coverage was Cincinnati’s own Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who has raised more than $500,000 for his own bid for the Democratic nomination. The Monitor posits that the high-profile Senate race will make Ohio even more important in the 2016 election, a presidential race in which the state already has a vital role. The Republican National Convention will be in Cleveland and the NAACP National Convention will take place in Cincinnati next year, guaranteeing Ohio a place in the center of national politics.

• As I noted yesterday in a morning news blog update (yes, I sometimes update the post throughout the day, so you know, keep your eyes on the blog), the Federal Communications Commission yesterday passed new rules keeping Internet companies from developing dedicated fast lanes for certain content providers while throttling others with slower speeds. The rules basically treat the Internet as a utility, which means service providers must treat all legal content equally. That way, Buzzfeed isn’t able to kick Internet providers a milli to put some insipid post about whether a dress is one color or another on a faster track than a long-form video doc about problems with the death penalty. The FCC also struck down some laws in certain states prohibiting municipalities from establishing their own Internet service providers to supplement the slim pickings found in many areas. That’s also good news.

That’s it for me. Tweet (@nswartsell) or e-mail me (nswartsell@citybeat.com) with any news tips, observations about Hamilton County's own reality TV panopticon, or what kind of guitar amp I should buy. I’m daydreaming about new music gear.

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

Hey all! Here’s the news today.

A well-known former attorney has filed a federal lawsuit against the Kentucky Bar Association to get his license back after it was suspended. Eric Deters has served three suspensions over his career for making false statements in court, failing to return a fee to a client and other infractions. The latest suspension was handed down by the Kentucky Supreme Court in April. The court has an agreement with the high court in Ohio, keeping Deters from practicing here as well. Now Deters says he’s served his suspensions and wants to go back to practicing law, and says the Kentucky Supreme Court should reinstate him. Deters retired rather than seek reinstatement in Kentucky and Ohio, and indicated at the time he had no interest in practicing law again in either state. He’s acting as his own attorney, which has led to this pretty amazing complaint:

"Deters is no saint," he writes of himself in his complaint. "He is a sinner. But Deters is fit to practice law. Lawyers are not a choral of angels." Choir? Corral? Whatever. Deters is too tough for the haters. “What Deters incurred, lesser men would have have crumbled long ago," he says of the emotional and physical toll his suspension has caused. He blames an infection that nearly took his arm on the stress and strife his suspension has inflicted on him.

• You can never ban the devil’s weed too early or too often. At least, that’s the prevailing wisdom on Hamilton’s City Council, which banned sale of the drug in the city limits yesterday in a 5-1 vote. Though marijuana is already illegal in Ohio, council members wanted to have a municipal ordinance in place just in case a potential ballot initiative legalizing the measure passes in November and all hell breaks loose. ResponsibleOhio, the group filing the initiative, still needs to collect 300,000 signatures by July to even get the measure on the ballot, but better safe than sorry, Hamilton officials say.

“It's just being prepared for what happens if anything happens whether it be legislature or amendment, it's just being prepared for the next step," Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller said.

• The Kentucky House passed a bill yesterday allowing the state to participate in public-private partnerships, clearing another hurdle for a toll-based Brent Spence Bridge replacement. However, several key changes were made to the bill to make it more friendly to Kentucky residents and lawmakers who may oppose tolls. These include requiring any tolls levied as part of a public-private partnership to expire once debt on the project is paid off, requiring analysis of any public-private partnership to make sure it’s the best way to do a project and requiring a majority of lawmakers on project oversight commissions be from the county where the project is happening. Next, the bill goes to the Kentucky Senate, where it will face opposition from GOP senators who are staunchly opposed to tolls on the Brent Spence project.

• Here’s another tidbit from Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State address earlier this week. Kasich devoted part of his speech to education in Ohio, defending his public school funding scheme and also his support of the state’s embattled charter school system. Kasich defended putting more money into that system despite low performance by many charter schools and questions about some schools’ integrity. He agreed that the system should have more oversight in the wake of allegations of wrongdoing at some schools across the state, but also defended schools that have simply been low-performing. Here, he made a pretty stunning statement:

“Let’s not judge someone as not doing their job because they’ve inherited a group of students who are just struggling,” he said.

Here’s the thing: This is the same (I’d say very fair and correct) logic many have used to defend struggling public schools the charter system was meant to compete with and do better than. That is more or less the whole reason charter schools exist, according to their creators and supporters. Sooo… blame public schools for their inability to educate students who struggle under the weight of very real massive systemic problems that make it difficult for them to learn, but don’t blame charter schools that take money from those schools and make their jobs even more difficult for the same thing. Got it.

• Speaking of Kasich, he’s finally getting some national attention as he steps up his efforts to run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. Maybe it’s not always the attention he wants — this story calls him out on his efforts to create a Rondald Reagan-inspired balanced budget amendment to the U.S. constitution — but on the other hand, if you’re a Republican governor looking to run for president, perhaps a piece in liberal Mother Jones magazine about how lame your policy ideas are means you’ve finally arrived. So, uh, congrats on the milestone, governor!

• Let’s talk about a former governor for a minute, specifically Democrat Ted Strickland, who just jumped into the 2016 U.S. Senate race. As we’ve already discussed, Strickland’s announcement earlier this week caused a big stir, and now he’s already getting hit by GOPers and concerned editorial writers across the state. Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges mocked Strickland’s entrance into the race on Twitter today, saying, “same old @ohdems. Can’t get their act together” in response to an article about Strickland possibly having to face Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in a primary. There are worries that a very contentious primary could sabotage Democrat’s chances at picking up incumbent Sen. Rob Portman’s seat, which is dearly needed if Democrats want to take back control of the Senate in 2016. On the other hand, having two strong candidates could be seen as an encouraging sign for the party, and the early level of mockery from Republicans shows they’re taking the threat from Strickland seriously. It’s already clear this isn’t last year’s governor’s race, where Kasich straight-up didn’t acknowledge Dem opponent Ed Fitzgerald during a debate because he didn’t have to.

• Finally, the Federal Communications Commission is voting on net neutrality today. This is a huge day for the Internet. If you don't know what's up, uh, start reading.

Update: the FCC voted 3-2 to require internet providers to operate as neutral gateways through which internet service flows. That ruling prohibits providers from making so-called "fastlanes" that would provide higher-speed connections for some companies and content. Also today, the FCC struck down state laws prohibiting cities from establishing their own internet services, allowing municipalities to create their own internet services in places that may only have one (or no) reliable internet service provider.

That’s it for me. You know the drill. Tweet at me. Email me (nswartsell@citybeat.com). Messenger pigeon me. Whatever you gotta do to get those news tips and whatever else you want to talk about. 

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

Morning y’all. Let’s talk about the news real quick. I think winter is getting to me, because this update got pretty opinionated pretty quickly.

Can you think of anything useful, even vital, on which the county could spend $7.5 million? Maybe chipping in a bit more toward the Union Terminal renovation, or giving a bit to the effort to shape up Music Hall? Maybe addiction treatment or some other human services funding? More sheriff’s deputies on the streets? Or, you know, maybe they could put that cash toward a new crime lab and morgue, both of which are critically crowded and out of date. Or etc. I ask because $7.5 million is the recently-announced amount county taxpayers will pay for new Bengals scoreboards as part of some $12 million overall the county will cough up from its sales tax fund for stadium improvements. Is there any estimate on return on investment for the county on this? Will the new high-definition scoreboards create at least $7.5 million in sales taxes for the county somehow? In return for this outpouring of county largess tied to the 15-year-old albatross of a stadium deal, the Bengals made an exception for projects at The Banks to a provision in their lease that stipulates the height of buildings around the stadium. That’s nice of them. These are all things I will receive exactly zero benefit from in my lifetime.

• Anyway. Speaking of the county, it has settled with the families of three women whose corpses were abused by a former morgue employee from the 1970s to the 1990s. The county will pay $800,000 to the families to end a lawsuit centered around the behavior of Kenneth Douglass, who is believed to have abused more than 100 bodies in the years he worked for the morgue.

• This is pretty cool, I think. The University of Cincinnati will redevelop the old Sears building on Reading Road and Lincoln Avenue in Corryville into an innovation hub for UC-related startups. The university will spend about $16 million to turn the 130,000-square-foot structure, which has a distinct Art Deco vibe, into a business and tech incubator. The building was the first Sears store in the city when it was built in 1929. I’ve always really liked this building, and recently, with the fencing that has surrounded it, I’ve been afraid they would tear it down. UC bought the building in 1981 and it housed the university’s campus services until last year. When I was an Americorps member a few years ago, the UC-affiliated nonprofit I worked for had storage space in the building. I know its creepy, dimly-lit hallways well and I’m excited to see it restored.

• It’s official. Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has entered the 2016 Senate race. Strickland, who will be 75 by that time, could face off against Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, creating a high-profile battle between two of the biggest names in state politics. Portman is popular, with millions in the bank for his next campaign, but Strickland is a formidable opponent and perhaps Democrats’ best shot. However, at the moment, Strickland’s got some competition for the Democratic nomination in the form of Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. Sittenfeld, 30, announced his intentions to run last month and has raised $500,000 for his campaign thus far. He’s a dynamic young candidate who has done a great deal in a short time and looks to still be on the rise. Some within the party believe he’ll bow out to the higher-profile and more experienced Strickland, but some of Sittenfeld’s own funders have indicated they’re backing him no matter who else is in the game. Will P.G. keep running, or will the state party convince him to sit this one out?

• Speaking of state politics, Gov. John Kasich gave his State of the State address last night. During the hour-and-a-quarter long speech, Kasich tacked rightward, mostly emphasizing his plan to cut income taxes as a way to encourage economic growth. The speech is an important moment for Kasich as he seeks a larger spotlight. Kasich’s been traveling and fundraising in connection with his bid for the Republican Party nomination for the 2016 presidential election. Kasich’s recent budget proposals, which he again touted in his speech, suggest he’s trying to balance the demands of the Republican party’s right wing — cut taxes to the bone, ease regulations on businesses — with a need to stay viable in a general election by appearing to be a compassionate conservative who cares about the plight of the poor, education funding and so forth. It makes sense that Kasich would emphasize the more conservative elements of his plan in his address last night — the yearly oratory is traditionally aimed at the state legislature, which is dominated by rightward-leaning Republicans. Those lawmakers don’t seem super-enthused by Kasich’s plans, however, balking at tax increases on cigarettes and oil drilling, for instance.  One last note on Kasich’s big speech — he awarded the Governor’s Courage Award to Cincinnatian Lauren Hill, the Mt. Saint Joseph student and basketball player who is fighting an inoperable brain tumor.

• Finally, I generally like the New York Times. They often do fantastic work. But this piece today about downtown Cincinnati’s resurgence following the 2001 civil unrest is mystifying to me. First, there are about a million things that made Cincinnati sluggish and grim before and after the unrest, including many systemic issues that haunted and continue to haunt the city specifically and others endemic to a lot of other urban areas. There are about a million other things that have happened since the unrest that have made the city’s center, and many other downtowns, take off. Tying the two things together while saying that memories of the unrest are “fading” (probably not true) seems to miss a number of things. The article doesn’t mention the city’s pervasive poverty problem, the fact we’re at the bottom of the list in America for infant mortality, the fact that its police force (30 percent black) still doesn’t match the demographics of the city (which is 45 percent black). It barely glances at the issue of gentrification, a problem many say is accelerating in the urban core and a subject that has been hugely divisive over the past decade. Anyway. That’s my media criticism for the day.

Tweet at me (@nswartsell) or give me an e-mail (nswartsell@citybeat.com) if I bummed you out hating on the Bengals, or if you feel the way I do about the team's blinging new big screens.

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

Hey all, here’s the news this morning.

Have you ever thought there should be more bars downtown? I hadn’t really thought about it before, but then I’m not a huge bar person. 3CDC, on the other hand, has and would like the city to take steps to increase the number of liquor licenses in two specific areas downtown. One, which would be called the Downtown West Community Entertainment District, would be near the convention center and Fountain Square, and another, called Downtown East, would  encompass the rest of downtown. Designating an area a community entertainment district makes it eligible for more liquor licenses from the state.

Currently, Cincinnati is maxed out, but the proposed scheme would add up to 21 new licenses in the two districts. Ten other neighborhoods in the city have this designation, including Over-the-Rhine, Price Hill and CUF. 3CDC would control all liquor licenses granted to the western district under the plan, which has the support of a majority of council and Mayor John Cranley. Supporters of the plan say it will attract more residents to the districts as well as increase tax revenue. Council looks to vote on the measure soon.

• A local man has filed a lawsuit against LA Fitness after he claims he was prohibited from praying in the locker room of the chain’s Oakley location. Mohamed Fall, a Muslim, worked out at the gym on a regular basis for more than a year. After his workouts, he would stand with his eyes closed in an empty corner of the locker room and pray without speaking.  Recently, three LA Fitness employees approached him while he was praying and told him he had to stop and that he should not pray in the locker room again. Fall says he was afraid he would be kicked out if he did not comply.

• Hamilton County Commissioners have officially signaled they will not be pursuing a plan to move the Hamilton County morgue and crime lab to a currently vacant hospital in Mount Airy that Mercy Health offered to donate to the county. While the building would be cost-free, the build out necessary to move the morgue, crime lab and other offices there is cost-prohibitive, commissioners have said. They’ve estimated it could cost as much as $100 million to retrofit the building. The decision comes as the county’s morgue and crime lab continue to sound alarms about their current cramped and outdated workspace.

• Legislation that would move the embattled Brent Spence Bridge replacement project another step toward reality is expected to pass in the Kentucky State House today. The bill would allow the state to use a public-private partnership to fund the project, specifically through tolling on the bridge. Officials in both states have struggled to find the necessary $2.6 billion to fund the bridge replacement project. Opponents of the current plan proposed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear say the project doesn’t need to cost that much, and that tolling will represent a huge burden on businesses and workers in both states. Northern Kentucky politicians and activists have been especially adamant about preventing tolling on the bridge.

• A petition drive to get legal weed on the November ballot in Ohio suffered a blow yesterday when Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected summary language for the petition. DeWine had several quibbles with the details, and lack thereof, in a summary of the proposed ballot language filed with his office by ResponsibleOhio. That group wants to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would create 10 marijuana grow sites in the state controlled by the group’s investors. The proposal would make marijuana legal to sell with a license, and anyone over the age of 21 could purchase it. Ohioans would also be allowed to grow a small amount of the drug at home, a change in position from the group’s original proposal. The group has until July to collect 300,000 signatures and file the petition with the secretary of state. DeWine and other statewide Republican officials have been vocal opponents of the idea, saying that it will increase drug use and that it constitutes a state-run monopoly. Ohio voters passed a similar constitutional amendment allowing four casinos in the state in 2009.

• On a somewhat related note, recreational weed became legal in Alaska today. I used to think I would never move to Alaska because IT GETS BELOW ZERO there, but, well... It’s also legal in Colorado and Washington state and will become legal in Oregon in July and in Washington D.C. later this week. 

• Veterans Affairs head and former P&G president Bob McDonald is drawing some criticism after he made a claim that he  once served in special forces. McDonald is a veteran who attained the rank of captain in the U.S. Army and attended Ranger training school. But he did not actually serve with the elite force. He told a homeless veteran in L.A. during a point-in-time count of that city's homeless population last month that he did serve in the special forces, however, a claim that has caused controversy. McDonald has apologized for the statement, saying it was a mistake.

That does it for your news wrap-up today. Tweet at your boy (@nswartsell) or send me a good old fashioned email at nswartsell@citybeat.com. Things I'm keen to get your thoughts on this week: news tips (of course), interesting parts of the city for an urban photography buff (me) and recommendations on cool sneakers (I'm due for a new pair).

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

Good morning y’all. I’m fresh off my epic, hour-long alpine adventure, also known as my walk to work. Did you wonder what happened to all the snow that had been on the roadways as you were driving leisurely to work this morning? It's now piled in mountains on the sidewalk by city snowplows. Thanks guys. I do have to say a city worker in a Bobcat drove by yesterday while I was digging my lady friend’s car out of the snow. He looped back around and with three or four quick maneuvers did what would have taken me 20 minutes with a shovel. Driving one of those things is an art, and I have met its Picasso.

Enough grumbling. It’s news time. Mayor John Cranley is, as the kids say, stacking cash (note: kids these days don’t actually say that). Cranley collected more than $250,000 at a Feb. 17 fundraiser for his re-election campaign. That may be the biggest haul ever for a city candidate, according to Cranley’s campaign, which is all the more impressive because Cranley doesn’t face reelection for almost two years. A ton of big names were in attendance at the event, and it seems like the city’s movers and shakers are backing the mayor.

Reds owner Bob Castellini was a host. So were Western and Southern CEO John Barrett, two members of the Lindner family and PACs from Kroger and Procter & Gamble. Cranley’s already got his eye on the election, having hired his campaign manager and setting a fundraising goal of $2 million. That’s a huge sum of money, some of which could go to help out allies in their City Council campaigns, though Cranley has said he won’t be doing that, focusing the cash on his own bid. Another possibility: Is Cranley setting such ambitious goals as a demonstration of his fundraising abilities so he can set up a bid for a higher office down the road?

• The federal government has said it will give $110 million to build a new facility in Cincinnati for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown has been instrumental in securing the funding for the building, which will replace two aging facilities in the city, the Robert A. Taft Laboratory in the East End and the Alice Hamilton Laboratory in Pleasant Ridge. The new facility will consolidate them, making work easier for the federal employees there.

The Center for Disease Control oversees NIOSH. The agency researches ways to prevent injury and illness caused by occupational hazards, making recommendations to other federal agencies. The Cincinnati labs employ about 550 people. It’s not clear where the new labs will be located, but the Uptown Consortium, which represents major businesses and institutions in the Clifton, CUF, Corryville and Avondale neighborhoods including UC and several hospitals, is making a big pull to get the 14-acre site in that area. Other neighborhoods looking to get the facility include Bond Hill.

• Cincinnati anti-abortion activist Dr. John Wilke has died. He was 89. Wilke founded Greater Cincinnati Right to Life and Ohio Right to Life in the 1970s with his wife Barbara as debate swirled about a woman’s right to choose. The two groups have been incredibly active in the decades since as the issue has continued to be one of the country’s most intense and divisive. Wilke also served as head of national and international pro-life groups. Among Wilke’s more controversial assertions: that the stress caused by rape made it very unlikely a woman being raped would become pregnant. Other doctors and experts have since challenged that assertion, calling it bunk science and a cruel perspective on a terrible experience. Last month, Wilke released an autobiography about his time as a pro-life activist.

• A lawsuit over decades-old corpse abuse at the Hamilton County Morgue is in court today. The case involves the behavior of former morgue employee Kenneth Douglass, who was convicted six years ago of sexually abusing three bodies while he worked at the morgue. The families of the women whose corpses were abused have sued the county, charging that it should have known Douglass was engaging in illegal behavior at the facility and fired him. County officials and the estates of the former county coroner and supervisor, who the family also named in the suit and who have both since died, say they couldn’t have known Douglass would engage in behavior so abnormal and unpredictable.

• Has Kentucky held the wrong man in prison for 27 years? Some evidence suggests that might be the case. The Kentucky Innocence Project has been working on the case of William Virgil, who was convicted for the 1987 killing of psychiatric nurse Retha Welch in Newport. Virgil was convicted based on witness testimony, though some of those witnesses have since been discredited. Meanwhile, DNA evidence tested since the trial suggests Virgil may not have committed the crime. His DNA wasn’t found at the crime scene, Virgil’s advocates point out, and hers was not found on his clothing. The state is waiting for more tests to be done, but the Kentucky Innocence Project holds that there isn’t enough evidence against Virgil to hold him in prison.

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

Hey all! Here’s a quick morning news rundown.

In the wake of last month’s infamous pickup truck incident (wherein a disgruntled man tried to ram his vehicle into our seat of city government), City Hall might be getting metal detectors. Council voted yesterday to find out how much the security measure will cost. The city has already stationed another guard in the City Hall lobby and instituted a requirement that visitors to the mayor or council members be escorted. The extra security measures also come as a response to death threats received by Mayor John Cranley and Councilwoman Amy Murray. Cranley has declined a body guard but has said that the recent events have left him a bit shaken.

• Oxford could be on the path to getting its first train service in half a century. Officials in Butler County are discussing an application for a federal TIGER grant that would fund a stop in the city for trains heading to Chicago. Miami University hosts many students from the Chicago area, officials with the school say, and there is great demand for easy and affordable transit to the Windy City. Last month, officials with the school, the city and the county asked Amtrak to do a feasibility study on picking up passengers there. Currently, Amtrak’s Cardinal Line runs from Cincinnati to Chicago, but only in the middle of the night and only a few times a week. There are efforts underway to expand that service led by transit advocacy group All Aboard Ohio.

• Gov. John Kasich’s proposal to make some Medicaid recipients pay premiums could block access to health care for low-income folks, a new study finds. The report by liberal-leaning Policy Matters Ohio says the proposed premiums, which would start at $15 to $20 a month, would prove a significant hardship for low-income people making just above the federal poverty line (about $12,000 for a single person). The study looks at past efforts in other states to require low-income people to pay premiums on government-subsidized health care. In examples from many states over the past decade, health care costs went up as a result of low-income people having less access to preventative health care, causing them to develop serious conditions for which they seek emergency treatment.
Policy Matters’ study suggests the same could happen in Ohio should Kasich’s proposal be adopted.

• There’s actually a raft of news about Kasich, now that we’re talking about the gov, so I’ll just briefly run through the rest of it here. First, an analysis of his budget proposal finds that it would funnel more money into Ohio’s controversial charter school program, bringing the funding devoted to charter schools by the state to nearly $1 billion a year. Charters in the state have come under criticism over the past year due to sometimes-poor performance and lack of accountability. Ohio’s system takes money from public school districts and gives it to privately run schools that are held to a lower standard by the state. Some of these schools have excelled, delivering better student performance at a lower cost, but a number of others haven’t been nearly so successful. What’s more, several schools have been rocked by allegations of financial and other improprieties. There is movement at the state House to hold the schools to higher standards, but so far no legislation has been passed. You can read our in-depth story on the state’s charter schools here for more on that. Critics of Kasich’s plan to provide more funding for charters say it’s time to reform Ohio’s charter system entirely.

• Speaking of education, Kasich and his budget proposal, Ohio state legislators are going to change Kasich’s proposal for pubic school funding, Republican lawmakers have revealed. Though it’s unclear just what they’ll do when the get under the hood of Kasich’s funding changes, they’ve already chosen Rep. Bob Cupp, R-Lima, to take the lead. Kasich’s public school funding proposal, which seeks to shift some state aid away from wealthy districts toward lower-income ones, left many scratching their heads earlier this month. Kasich’s complex proposed funding formula left some low-income districts with cuts while giving big percentage increases to wealthy districts like Indian Hill, which would get 21 percent more state aid under the model. There are reasons for that and other counter-intuitive increases, as we explored in our story on the proposal a couple weeks ago, but it still doesn’t sit right with many folks. Cupp has said there seem to be some “anomalies” in the formula, but that he won’t know exactly how everything is working until he and other lawmakers dive in and look at everything piece by piece.

Annnnnnd. I’m out. Happy Friday y’all. Tweet news tips, your favorite winter beer recommendations or Parks and Rec finale sadness/spoilers to me over the weekend: @nswartsell. Or you can e-mail me with all of that: nswartsell@citybeat.com.

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

Hey all! Here’s a quick rundown of what’s going on today in the news.

Cincinnati Enquirer Publisher Margaret Buchanan will retire from her position, making way for former Enquirer reporter and editor Rick Green to take the helm of the paper. Green is currently the publisher of the Des Moines Register, where he was previously head editor. The move comes as Enquirer parent company Gannett undertakes a drastic restructuring of its newsroom, changing job descriptions and eliminating positions as it seeks to create what it calls “the newsroom of the future.” The changes haven’t been well-received: A dozen long-time newsroom staff left the paper rather than reapply for their jobs late last year.

• Will the railway company that owns tracks next to the proposed Oasis bike trail put a halt to the 17-mile long project between downtown and Milford? This Cincinnati Business Courier article takes a look at the ins and outs of the situation. Genesee & Wyoming Inc., the parent company of the Indiana and Ohio Railway Company, sent a letter to Mayor John Cranley last week outlining its business and safety concerns about the project. The company cites accidents that have occurred when people trespass too close to rail lines as among its worries, but it also claims it may want to use the tracks the bike lane would pave over. It doesn’t own that set of tracks — the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority controls them — but the company says it has the right to use them. That, however, is a matter of legal debate, one that looks likely to play out if the bike trail is to go forward.

Clarification: the stretch of track in question is four miles long. The entire project is 17.


• If you didn’t already know, the Cincinnati Bearcats lost to Xavier in last night’s Crosstown Shootout err, “Classic.” It was the first time in three years the game was held on either team’s arena (the ‘Cats got home court advantage) as the result of a big brawl after the 2012 game. I’ve been watching the game since I was but a wee lad even though I’m not much of a sports fan. I pull for UC every year. And just about every year, no matter how good they are, they lose. That’s about all I’m going to say about the entire unfortunate situation. Next year.

• Here’s an interesting bit of data: According to personal finance site WalletHub.com, Ohio cities rank pretty low in terms of economic diversity. That is to say, the state’s major cities have big wealth gaps, or a large divide between highest and lowest earners with a high concentration of wealth in relatively few hands. In a ranking of 350 cities compiled by the site, Ohio doesn’t even make an appearance until we get to Columbus, which is the 208th most economic diverse city in the country. Cincinnati comes in at 262, followed by Cleveland at 341, Akron at 345, Dayton at 346 and Toledo at 349. Ouch.  Carrolton, Texas had the most economic diversity, followed by Orange, Calif. Flint, Mich., was 350th on the list.

• Today is Ohio’s 212th birthday. We officially became a state Feb. 19, 1803 and were the 17th state to join the U.S., meaning we got in on this whole statehood bandwagon way before it was cool to do so. Happy birthday, you old geezer. You don’t look a day over 200.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich visited South Carolina yesterday as he does the delicate dance that is running for president before you’ve formally acknowledged that you’re running for president. Such trips are usually two-fold: to court potential supporters and fundraisers and to try out campaigning to see if a run looks promising. Kasich spoke to a crowd of GOPers at the South Carolina House Caucus, trying to thread the needle that is appealing to the party’s ultra-conservative southern base, which he’ll probably need if he wants the party’s nomination, while preserving the compassionate conservative mantle he’s tried to don in a bid for general election viability. We’ll see how that goes.

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

Morning y’all. I won’t be making any comments about the snow and the cold today, other than to tell you the low tomorrow is expected to be -15 degrees. Let’s compare that with past places we’ve lived or could have lived (it will be 70 degrees tomorrow in Texas, for example) and take a moment to think about how our life choices got us into this situation. And… OK. Let’s learn from our mistakes without dwelling on them, shall we, and move on to the news. Everything is happening at once today and I’m gonna tell you about it.

A weed legalization effort is making room for home growers. ResponsibleOhio, which has mounted a petition drive to put legalized marijuana on the November ballot, is adjusting its pitch to Ohio voters. Previously, the group proposed a measure that would have created 10 legal growing sites around the state run by ResponsibleOhio’s investors. Those sites would be the only places in the state allowed to grow marijuana. Now the group says it is amending the language of its ballot issue to allow home growth, so long as growers don’t exceed a certain amount and don’t sell their crops. The adjustment comes after many decried the original plan, which was patterned after Ohio’s casino amendment, as a state-run monopoly on weed.

• Cincinnati City Council Budget and Finance Committee voted yesterday not to declare Mahogany’s restaurant owner Liz Rogers in default on her $300,000 loan from the city. Mahogany’s opened at The Banks in 2012 after city officials recruited Rogers to try and boost diversity among business owners at the riverfront development. Rogers eventually fell behind on the loan, and the restaurant closed last October. Rogers said the business didn’t succeed because promised amenities that would have drawn more customers to The Banks, including a major hotel, did not materialize in time. But Rogers’ critics say she simply did not run a tight ship. Councilman Kevin Flynn proposed the default declaration, but other council members yesterday voted against it, citing other businesses who have yet to pay back city loans who have not been declared in default.

• The city of Beavercreek has responded to a lawsuit by the family of John Crawford III, who was shot Aug. 5 by police officers in a Walmart there. The city is asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, which charges that officers behaved recklessly when confronting Crawford over the toy gun he had grabbed off the Walmart shelves. The city says the officers responded correctly and that Crawford did not respond to repeated requests by officers to drop the weapon. Officials also claim Crawford turned toward the officers aggressively. A security video of the incident shows Crawford with the toy weapon slung over his shoulder while he faced store shelves talking on his cellphone. A grand jury last fall found the officers actions were justified, but the Crawford family says their son’s civil rights were violated.

• A railroad company that owns lines along the proposed Oasis Bike Trail says the project is a bad idea. The Indiana and Ohio Railway Company yesterday released a statement opposing the project, saying it could cause deadly accidents.

"Pedestrians and freight trains do not mix,” the release from the railroad said. “The proposed Oasis trail would have pedestrians less than eight feet from active railroad tracks. The railroad's own rulebook requires its employees – who are trained railroad professionals – to keep at least 30 feet from moving trains at all times. Safety is the railroad's first priority, which is why we strongly object to placing pedestrians in such potentially tragic proximity to freight trains."

The proposed bike trail would run from downtown all the way east to Milford. Boosters of the project would like to see another set of tracks run by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Administration converted into a bike lane. Those tracks run next to the lines owned by Indiana and Ohio Railway.

• The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that municipalities don't have the power to block fracking with zoning or land use ordinances yesterday. The finding comes as the result of a four-year-old lawsuit between the city of Munroe Falls and Beck Energy Corp., which sought to drill for oil using the controversial technique in the city. Munroe Falls refused, citing its zoning laws, even though the company had already gotten a permit from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the city doesn't have the power to overrule state decisions on fracking. You can read more in our story here.

• Rand Paul is expected to announce he’s officially running to be the GOP nominee for president in early April, the New York Times reports. Paul has picked April 7, sources close to the Kentucky senator say, as the date to make his announcement. That will more than likely put Paul ahead of his potential opponents in the GOP primary time-wise, giving him more opportunity to fundraise. Paul has been actively working to raise his profile over the past couple years, traveling around the country and engaging issues that aren’t typically seen as GOP strong points like drug policy and justice system reform. Paul has a tricky road to travel, however — he must continue to tend to his tea party base, with which he has been very popular, while courting more mainstream, establishment Republicans as well. Also a double-edged sword is the legacy of his father Ron Paul, who ran for president in the 1988, 2008 and 2012 elections. The elder Paul had a committed following from self-described libertarians, something Rand Paul has sought to capitalize on. Rand Paul must find a way to juggle these three distinct groups as he makes his case he’s the best pick for the GOP nomination. It will be a tall order given the GOP’s schizophrenia of late.

• Finally, if you’re feeling heroic about your morning commute, here’s an epic story to humble you. It’s about a 600-mile dogsled trip across Alaska to deliver medicine to a dying city in the days before GPS, Gore-Tex gloves or unmanned drones. So, you know, things could always be worse.

Snowed in somewhere and bored? Tweet at me with your news tips, bad jokes or just to say hey. No pics of snow, though. I have enough of those on my feed already, thanks. You can also e-mail me at nswartsell@citybeat.com if you're old-school.

]]>
<![CDATA[Ohio Supreme Court: No Local Power to Block Fracking]]>

The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday struck a hard blow against local municipalities’ abilities to control fracking, handing down a 4-3 ruling stating that local zoning and land-use ordnances cannot be used to prohibit the controversial drilling technique if state law allows it.

The decision comes in response to a lawsuit by the city of Munroe Falls, a suburb outside of Akron, which has been trying to prohibit drilling by Beck Energy Corp. Beck sought to begin drilling on private property in Munroe Falls in 2011. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources  issued the company a permit, but the city sued to block drilling, citing a clause in the state constitution that provides for so-called “home rule.”

The court has ruled that clause does not apply to drilling activities, which a 2004 law made explicitly the domain of the state. That law was passed in an attempt to bring some consistency to the state’s oil and gas regulations, lawmakers said at the time. When state laws and local laws conflict, state laws win out, the court said.

"We have consistently held that a municipal-licensing ordinance conflicts with a state-licensing scheme if the 'local ordinance restricts an activity which a state license permits,’ " Justice Judith French wrote in the majority opinion.

Justice Terrance O’Donnell ruled with the majority, but issued his own more limited opinion on the case. The scope of lawmakers’ intentions when they passed the 2004 legislation isn’t immediately clear, he wrote in his opinion. O’Donnell says it’s uncertain whether the law is meant to usurp all local zoning and land-use ordinances when it comes to drilling.  

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, breaks up subterranean layers of rock to access hard-to-reach oil deposits. The practice has caused controversy over concerns that it can pollute groundwater and even cause small earthquakes.

Three justices dissented, citing concerns about local control over fracking. Justice William O’Neil called the decision a victory for big oil, which has lobbied for laxer regulations in the past decade.

“What the drilling industry has bought and paid for in campaign contributions they shall receive,” O’Neil wrote in his dissent. “The oil and gas industry has gotten its way, and local control of drilling-location decisions has been unceremoniously taken away from the citizens of Ohio."

Justice Judith Lanzinger dissented on the grounds that state law and local home rule ordinances don’t necessarily have to be in conflict. Both Lanzinger and Justice Paul Pfifer, the third dissenter, argued that the 2004 law leaves more room for local control than the majority ruling grants.

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

Hey all. I made the treacherous arctic trek into the CityBeat office this morning just to bring you the morning news. It’s a bit of a slow day, probably because all the newsmakers and shakers in the world are hunkered down doing whatever it is powerful people do on their snow days. I picture them sitting in front of a several fireplaces smoking multiple cigars while watching a whole wall of big-screen TVs and double-fisting mimosas, mostly because that’s what I would do if I had money and power. Anyway, here are a few things happening around the city and beyond today.

Let’s start off with grilled cheese. Cincinnati-based Tom and Chee restaurants just signed a franchise deal for its first location in Nashville. The brand has also planned other expansions in Tennessee as well as Texas, Nebraska, Missouri and other states. The rapidly growing chain started just five years ago and got a boost from a 2013 appearance on the ABC investment show Sharktank. It has since expanded to 22 locations, with plans to have 50 open by the end of this year. The brand has received more than 25,000 franchise requests from around the world since its appearance on the show.

• A former Northern Kentucky University employee who is currently serving jail time for embezzling money from the school was also the subject of an earlier sexual harassment complaint and court settlement, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. The university settled with former associate athletic director Chrissy Soards for $200,000 in 2013 after Soards complained that her boss, Scott Eaton, had sexually harassed her. Eaton was soon after fired for other ethics violations, including inappropriate sexual relationships with coworkers and an adult NKU student. After his dismissal, NKU discovered he had embezzled some $300,000 from the school, a crime for which he is currently serving 10 years in prison.

• Here’s more evidence former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland could jump into the 2016 U.S. Senate race against Sen. Rob Portman. In an interview with the Enquirer yesterday, Strickland said he’s “evaluating whether or not I am the person who is best positioned to do this and to win. I think I am, but I’m taking this very seriously.” That sounds pretty affirmative to me. Should he chose to run, Strickland’s candidacy could spell a major challenge for Democrat Senate hopeful and current Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. Sittenfeld announced his candidacy a few weeks ago and has already begun fundraising. But he’ll have a challenge on his hands if one of the state’s best-known Democrats jumps into the race.

• Hey, this is terrifying. A CSX train full of oil from North Dakota derailed in West Virginia yesterday evening, causing the evacuation of two nearby towns and setting cars and a house afire. The oil was en route to coastal Virginia. No one was injured in the accident, but it’s the second oil related accident in this year. The other took place just 200 miles away in Virginia, where another train derailed and caught fire. Another accident involving a train carrying oil also happened last week in Canada when a train derailed and caught fire in Northern Ontario. The accidents and others like them have focused new questions on oil rail shipping safety standards.

• Yesterday, I told you about the budget hubbub currently going on between Republicans in the House and Democrats. The GOP Is steamed about President Barack Obama’s executive order halting deportations for up to 5 million undocumented immigrants. They’re so steamed that they’ve passed a bill that makes funding for the Department of Homeland Security contingent on eliminating Obama’s orders.

Anyway, that’s yesterday. Obama’s executive orders prohibiting deportations are currently under attack from another source as well. A federal judge in Texas has put a stay on the actions, saying halting deportations could cause irreparable harm to states on the border, including Texas. The decision is in response to complaints from a group of conservative, mostly Southern states who say the executive action constitutes an overreach of power by Obama. They say halting deportations will result in more law enforcement expenses and other burdens associated with processing applications for deferred deportation. How not deporting people is more expensive than the millions we spend rounding up, holding and shipping people back across the border I don’t’ know, but that’s the logic the states are arguing. 

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

Good morning Cincy. Remember last weekend when the high was 59 degrees? No, no, I don’t either. Let’s just not talk about the fact that winter is apparently going to last forever and get on with the news, shall we?

A major Cincinnati fundraiser for the Democratic Party has put his backing behind current City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in his run for the U.S. Senate. Cincinnati businessman Allan Berliant raised as much as $500,000 for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012 through his network of donors both here in Cincinnati and around the country. He expects many of those donors could chip in for Sittenfeld in his upcoming race.

"I have been very pleased almost to the point of being surprised at the breadth, width and depth and passion of support, both politically and financially, that I've seen here in the last three weeks,” Berliant told the Cincinnati Business Courier about Sittenfeld’s campaign. “I'm a fairly seasoned political fundraiser. I will tell you there is a lot of excitement surrounding this campaign and that is off to a great start."

The 30-year-old councilman has a big task ahead, as Democratic favorite and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has made noises about entering the race for the seat. And should Sittenfeld best Strickland and the other experienced Democrats eying the seat, he’ll have to take on sitting Sen. Rob Portman, who has already raised $6 million ahead of the election. Sources say Sittenfeld has raised about $500,000 since he announced his campaign a few weeks ago.

• Officials with Columbus-based Kokosing construction company apologized Friday for the fatal collapse of the Hopple Street off ramp last month. The collapse, which investigators believe was at least in part caused by last-minute changes to demolition plans, killed construction foreman Brandon Carl. Officials with the company have said a review shows key details missing from the plans, including stipulations about how to remove the road surface on the ramp.

"I am very sorry, and all of us are deeply troubled by these findings," CEO Brian Burgett said in a statement about the accident. The company will institute new safety policies as a result of the accident, having an independent engineering firm produce plans for bridge demolitions along with Kokosing’s in-house engineers. Demolition won’t proceed unless both plans match.

• So this is cool: A proposed tribute to Crosley Field, the Cincinnati Reds’ former home in Queensgate, is making headway. Designs have been drawn up for replica foul poles, a mural depicting the field near where it stood at Findlay Street and Western Avenue, a pocket park with information about the Crosley and other historical features. Crosley was the home of the Reds from 1912 to 1970, when the team moved to Riverfront Stadium. It was demolished in 1972. Boosters are aiming to have the tribute done in time for the 2015 MLB All Star game, which will take place in Cincinnati July 14.

• House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP members of the House are playing budget hardball again, this time over immigration. Republicans are risking shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security over several executive orders President Barack Obama has issued over the past two years. Boehner has signaled he won’t back down on a bill the House passed to keep the Department of Homeland Security funded for the next year. The department’s current funding ends Feb. 27. The GOP funding bill rolls back Obama’s 2012 and 2014 executive orders that have kept the federal government from deporting millions of undocumented immigrants. The GOP bill stands no chance with Democrats in the Senate and President Barack Obama has threatened to veto it, putting the Department of Homeland Security’s funding in a precarious position. Boehner says the House has done its job and passed a bill to fund the department and that it’s up to Senate Democrats and the president to follow through. Democrats, on the other hand, are saying that the bill is an obvious no-go and that far-right members of the House are once again playing political brinksmanship.

• Low-earning salaried positions could become eligible for overtime pay if a plan by the Obama administration comes to fruition. Under current rules, companies can declare some low-paid workers making as little as $23,600 “exempt" employees, meaning they’re not eligible for overtime. Labor advocates say that arrangement allows employers to take advantage of workers by forcing them to work long hours with no extra compensation, eroding the traditional 40 hour work week. The Department of Labor has discussed a plan would raise the floor for those who can be considered exempt to somewhere between $42,000 and $52,000 a year. Anyone under that salary range would have to be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week. Liberal think tank Economic Policy Institute says the increase could affect between 3 and 6 million workers in the U.S. The Department of Labor is expected to roll out its proposal sometime in February or March.

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

Hey Cincy! It’s Friday, and Valentine's Eve, so I’ll be brief so we can all get to our weekends quickly.

The former School for Creative and Performing Arts on Sycamore Street in Pendleton is one step closer to becoming a 148-unit luxury apartment building. The Pendleton Community Council has approved a parking plan that will create almost 200 parking spaces for the development while still preserving green space next to the building. The units will range from $700 for an efficiency to $1,500 for a two-bed, two bath apartment. Work gutting the building has already begun, and Indianapolis-based developer Core Redevelopment says they expect to be finished with the building by spring of next year. The forward motion on the building comes as big changes take place across the small neighborhood bordering downtown and Over-the-Rhine. A number of other developments are planned for the historically low-income area, which sits near the Horseshoe Casino. There has been some controversy about the shift, though groups like Over-the-Rhine Community Housing have worked to preserve affordable housing in the neighborhood.

• Are the 100,000 Medicaid recipients who might have to pay premiums for the service under a new proposal by Gov. John Kasich cool with that? Yes, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Well, actually, two the three folks the Enquirer quotes say they’re kind of OK with it. Actually, it sounds a bit more like, “we’ll pay it if we have to,” which is sort of an obvious conclusion to reach when the alternative is paying hundreds of dollars a month for private insurance.

“I just barely get by. I wouldn't have to give up anything, but it would be tight," 53-year-old Dawn Smith of Westwood told the paper. Smith relies on Medicaid for diabetes medication. "If I have to pay $15 to $20, I have to pay it, because I have to have my medicine to live."

The rationale, according to Kasich, is that making people pay premiums while they’re on Medicaid now will prepare them for paying premiums when they start making enough to be ineligible for the program. Kasich’s office says that will help people be more financially secure in the long term. Kasich’s proposal would charge premiums to those making above the federal poverty level, which is currently just under $12,000 for a single person. Premiums would start at about $20 a month. That’s about a 2 percent hit to someone on the high end of the low-income qualification, which doesn’t sound like a lot but could be a stretch for folks trying to make every dollar count. I did Americorps for a couple years making that amount of money and it was brutal. I didn’t have $20 a month to spare, but that’s anecdotal and not really a good way to measure the impact of a policy that will effect more than 100,000 Ohioans, right?

• More crumbling concrete: A big chunk fell off the roof of Lytle Tunnel last night and was hit by a truck, causing the left southbound lane of I-71 to close for more than an hour. Investigators are still trying to figure out what caused the concrete to fall. The incident comes as local and national conversations continue about the state of America's infrastructure, including the obsolete Brent Spence Bridge and Western Hills Viaduct here in town. No word if this incident is representative of more local infrastructure that needs better care, but file it away and we'll come back to it if so.

• The Ohio House has passed a bill that would keep students from being held back because of their results on Common Core tests this year. Some critics of the Common Core standards say they’re an intrusion by the federal government on states’ abilities to set their own educational agenda, while others decry the increased difficulty level of some of the standardized tests used to measure whether students have learned the new standards. Supporters of the standards say they are a way to ensure that all students get an education that will allow them to be competitive in the global workplace. House Bill 7, which was sponsored by Republican State Rep. Jim Buchy, keeps students this year from being held accountable for their test results as the standards are phased in. Supporters in the state House say it’s just the first in a series of efforts to change or reverse the standards. The bill will next to go the Ohio Senate. If it passes there, it would still need to be signed by Gov. John Kasich, who supports Common Core.

Weird things are happening in Oregon. In what is one of the more fascinating political dramas to play out in the past few years, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is resigning. Or he isn’t. No one is really sure at the moment. Equally unclear are the governor’s whereabouts, at least publicly. Kitzhaber, a Democrat, is caught up in a blooming controversy and court case around some improper payments his fiancée may have received and attendant accusations of corruption. State Democratic Party leaders met with the governor earlier this week to encourage him to step down. He seemed to indicate he would, then said he wouldn’t, then receded from public view.

• Finally, was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (aka the Notorious RBG) a little tipsy at this year’s State of the Union Address? Yes, she says. Just a little. Those watching the address may remember a little hubbub about Ginsburg falling asleep during President Barack Obama’s big speech. She recently said she and the other justices had enjoyed a bottle of nice wine before the event.

“The audience for the most part is awake, because they’re bobbing up and down, and we sit there, stone-faced, sober judges. But we’re not, at least I wasn’t, 100 percent sober,” Ginsburg said last night while giving a talk at George Washington University in D.C. Cheers to you, Ms. Ginsburg.

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

Hey all, let’s do a quick news update today.

Normally, I like to lead with local stuff first, but the big news today is that the 2016 Democratic National Convention will not take place in Columbus, it seems. The city was one of three finalists for the event, at which Democrats will formally nominate their presidential candidate. The Columbus Dispatch reports that Dems chose Philadelphia instead. Womp womp. Ohio is still getting two other major conventions that year, however: the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the NAACP National Convention in Cincinnati.

• OK. On to local stuff. A new brewery has announced it will debut on Reds Opening Day. Taft Ale House is currently working on its three-level brewery and restaurant near Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine and aims to be open for business on April 6, just in time to welcome the Opening Day parade. The brewery, bar and restaurant had aimed to be open in late 2014 but ran into complications with the old church building it has been renovating on Race Street. The building was originally scheduled to be torn down before plans for the Ale House materialized. But now, after developer 3CDC spent tens of thousands of dollars shoring up floors and making other structural adjustments, it’s on track for the big day.

Bonus news in case you missed it yesterday: This year, none other than famous 1990 World Series-winning Reds relief pitching crew the Nasty Boys, aka Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Meyers, are marshaling the parade.

• More good news for the city’s iconic public buildings. A local foundation has kicked in another $1 million for efforts to renovate Memorial Hall, bringing the project much closer to being completely funded. The Annie W. and Elizabeth Anderson Foundation put up the contribution toward the $8 million project, which will improve the building’s acoustics, replace seating and air conditioning, build a catering kitchen and renovate the building’s bathrooms. Hamilton County has pledged another $1.5 million to the project.

• State officials for the first time yesterday acknowledged that the Hopple Street offramp collapse might have been caused by faulty demolition plans. The collapse killed construction foreman Brandon Carl, sparking possible lawsuits from his family. It occurred while Columbus-based Kokosing Construction worked on a $91 million contract to remove the offramp that passed over I-75. Some experts have said it appears last-minute changes to the demolition plans might have played a role in the collapse. Ohio Department of Transportation officials say they haven’t finished their analysis of the collapse but acknowledge the plans used failed. Kokosing has also said it is still investigating what went wrong with the demolition.

• Gov. John Kasich looks to be ramping up a possible presidential bid. He’s visiting early primary state South Carolina next week as part of a national tour touting his balanced budget plans. Kasich polls fairly strong among GOP voters in Ohio, but he’s a virtual unknown outside the state. The trip could help boost his stature among GOP presidential nominee hopefuls and draw big-money donors to his campaign.

• Speaking of Ohioans on the national stage, Cincinnatian and Department of Veterans Affairs head Bob McDonald had a pretty public dustup yesterday with Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman during a budget hearing in Washington, D.C. Coffman criticized McDonald for not doing enough during his first six months leading the V.A., pinning the blame for the agency’s continued dysfunction on its new leader.

But McDonald wasn’t having it. He got a couple zingers off, including pointing out he’s run one of the country’s largest companies, before pointedly asking Coffman what he’s done lately. And while pointing to your last job when you're being criticized about your current one is maybe not the strongest argument, the former P&G head seemed to be holding his own. McDonald, who is also a Republican, was probably drawing fire from the congressman because he was appointed by President Barack Obama, though the official complaint was that his actions thus far have amounted to nothing more than public relations and have not enacted substantive reforms on the V.A., which has been rocked by record-keeping and patient treatment scandals in the past year.

• Finally, if you’re like me, you do most of your news reading on a smartphone or, failing that, your laptop. But even if you’ve never touched a printed newspaper in your life, this piece about how the New York Times kicks it old-school and gets the paper out every day is pretty amazing. For something seemingly so low-tech, pumping out hundreds of thousands of newspapers each day is actually a mind-bending feat of engineering and coordination.

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

Good morning! This week is going crazy slow but it’s half over now, so that’s awesome. But the news isn’t going slow, and it’s never half-over. It’s always hurtling forward. Always changing. Growing. Watching. Ok. Maybe not watching. But those other things. Sorry. I didn’t get much sleep last night.

Let’s get to it. Gov. John Kasich yesterday came to Cincinnati to detail his plans for reforming the state’s welfare program to leaders from a number of county social service agencies. Kasich says his plan will simplify welfare services in Ohio, which can currently sometimes be a complicated array of various service providers clients must navigate to get help. Kasich would like to gather as many services as possible under a single roof, saving the state money. Those agencies that don’t go along with the plan could lose state funding. But some providers are wary of too much consolidation, as various agencies in different counties often serve very different populations. Kasich called those concerns “turf battles,” though some providers see the issue differently. Kasich has yet to release all the details of his proposed changes.

• The debate over what to do about Hamilton County’s morgue and crime lab is turning into something of a shouting match. Republican Hamilton County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann clearly hit a nerve last week when he called Hamilton County’s crime lab “a luxury item.” Now Democrats are firing back at the assertion. Yesterday, Hamilton County Democrat Chairman Tim Burke berated Hartmann in a letter suggesting the commissioner is playing politics with the crime lab and morgue, which have been at the center of a county budget debate. Both offices, which share a building on University of Cincinnati’s medical campus, are in need of extensive upgrades.

“I’m sorry, but the need for a modern morgue and crime lab is so clear that I can only conclude that your failure to fulfill the Commissioner’s duty to provide that must be due to the fact that our County Coroner is a Democrat who you don’t want to see succeed,” Burke said in the letter.

All parties agree the lab needs updating. Republican Commissioners Hartmann and Chris Monzel, however, say retrofitting a former hospital in Mount Airy donated to the county will be too expensive at $100 million. They’re suggesting the possibility of partnering with neighboring governments to create a regional lab. Conditions in the current building are so cramped that neither the crime lab nor the morgue has room for the extra employees it needs to process the increasing amount of work it must undertake. Other issues include an outdated electrical grid that won’t allow all the lab’s equipment to be plugged in at the same time and an insufficient plumbing system beneath the building that causes the build up of autopsy debris.

• Sticking with news about the county for another beat, 100 Hamilton County poll workers have been dismissed from their jobs for not voting in the last election. Officials with the Hamilton County Board of Elections have said they want to encourage voting, and if their employees aren’t doing it, it sends the wrong message. I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s kind of like wearing American Apparel when you work there or tweeting your articles when you’re a reporter — probably a good idea, but mandatory? Seems a little harsh.

• A quick bit of gossip and speculation: is Miley Cyrus planning a benefit concert in memory of Leelah Alcorn? Could be. Recent social media posts by Cyrus show rehearsals for an upcoming project and a notebook that says “Leelah set list,” the Columbus Dispatch reports. Alcorn, a transgender teen, died Dec. 28 after throwing herself in front of a truck on I-71. She left a suicide note on social media explaining the isolation she felt when her family did not support her transgender status.

• Three people were killed this morning in Chapel Hill, North Carolina after a gunman entered their home and shot each in the head. The alleged gunman, forty six-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, turned himself in immediately following the shooting deaths of Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, all local university students. Though no official motive has been determined, the killings may have involved the fact the three were Muslim. Hicks, an outspoken atheist, had recently put photos of guns on social media as well as writing anti-religious posts.

• Finally, a high-level campaign operative for potential presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush resigned today after racially and sexually charged comments he allegedly made online recently came to light. Ethan Czahor was chief technology officer for Bush’s Right to Rise political action committee. In Twitter posts before he was hired in January, Czahor made disparaging remarks about gay men and called women “sluts.” One grade-A post from 2009 reads, “new study confirms old belief: college female art majors are sluts, science majors are also sluts but uglier." Wow. Bush’s campaign initially called the tweets inappropriate but let Czahor stay on. He resigned yesterday after other racially insensitive statements attributed to him were found on a website for a radio show he worked on in 2008.

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

All right. Let’s do this news thing.

If its ballot initiative passes, three of the 10 marijuana cultivation farms proposed by ResponsibleOhio would be in Greater Cincinnati, including one in Hamilton County near Anderson Township. One other location would be in Butler County on land owned by Trenton-based Magnode Corporation and a third would be in Clermont County. The weed legalization group is working to put a constitutional amendment ballot initiative before voters in November, and the push has some big local funders. The downside: The state would only be able to have the 10 grow sites, and those sites would more than likely be owned by the group’s investors. ResponsibleOhio’s plan would also create a seven-member oversight board which could increase the number of growing locations in the future, though who would make up the board and how they would decide who can grow weed is unclear.

• The partner of the man who died during the Hopple Street offramp collapse has hired a big-name Cincinnati attorney. Kendra Blair, who had four children with 35-year-old construction foreman Brandon Carl, is looking into a possible lawsuit over Carl’s death last month and has hired attorney Mark Hayden to begin the process. No suit has been filed just yet and it’s unclear if the suit will be filed in federal or state court. Carl was killed when the offramp collapsed during demolition. Investigations into the collapse suggest Kokosing Construction, the company carrying out the $91 million contract on the demolition, may have changed demolition plans at the last minute and should have gone about tearing the bridge down in a different manner. The company denies that its plans were flawed.

• U.S. Small Business Administration head Maria Contreras-Sweet yesterday dropped by Over-the-Rhine to check out Cincinnati’s startup scene, meeting with small business owners and nonprofit leaders from Taste of Belgium, Mortar, the Brandery and others, as well as officials from some of the city’s biggest companies. She also touted several programs the administration is looking to expand, including one offering microloans under $50,000 to small businesses. U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, who chairs the House Committee on Small Business, helped arrange the visit. Contreras-Sweet praised OTR’s business scene. “I’m enjoying the ecosystem you have here,” she said, which is business-speak for “this place is rad.”

• Real estate blog Movoto has ranked Cincinnati one of the nation’s top 10 most creative cities. Cincy ranks eighth on the list, just behind Seattle and just ahead of Pittsburgh. San Francisco took the top spot. Big reasons for Cincinnati’s spot on the list include high number of colleges, galleries, art supply stores and live performance opportunities per capita.

• Cincinnati Metro is teaming up with the city’s Red Bike program to show some love for riders leading up to Valentine's Day. On Feb. 13, Metro will be giving out free one-day bus passes and 24 hour Red Bike passes on Fountain Square at 1 p.m. Metro is also running a contest on its Facebook page and will choose one participant to receive a free 30-day Metro pass, a year-long membership to Red Bike and two tickets to a Valentine's Weekend performance at the Cincinnati Ballet. That’s pretty sweet.

• In national news, Twitter today released its biannual transparency report about how many government requests for user information it gets from government law enforcement agencies. The letter they released is cartoonishly redacted, including some parts that have been whited out and handwritten over. One part seems to have been erased and then scrawled over with a sentence saying that government surveillance of the public on the site is "quite limited." So yeah. That’s kind of hilarious but also kind of terrifying if you’re concerned about government snooping on social media.

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

Hey all, I’m about to run out to cover a story, but here’s a quick little morning news reading list for ya. I’ll update as necessary a little later in the day.

Gov. John Kasich will come to Cincinnati tomorrow to talk about new standards for the state’s social service organizations he has proposed in his budget. Kasich says many agencies providing different services don’t coordinate well enough and don’t help clients move toward self-sufficiency. The specifics of the proposed new standards haven’t been released yet, but failing to meet them will be costly for organizations: Kasich has said the state could pull funding from various county agencies that don’t measure up.

• Is it fair to give valet parking services free parking, especially now that parking rates have risen in the city? Councilman Chris Seelbach says no, and he’s calling on the city to make Cincinnati’s parking arrangements with valet companies serving various restaurants downtown more fair to taxpayers. Currently, valet companies can reserve four spots near the businesses they serve using a permit and so-called “valet bags” that go over parking meters. Other cities charge for thousands for those permits, and even the bags, but Cincinnati gives them away.

• This is wild: A Northern Kentucky couple is in federal court on charges that their company, Valley Forge Composite Technology, sold $37 million in military-grade micro conductors to China. The United States has had a military trade embargo against China since 1990 as a result of what the U.S. government says is an ongoing arms buildup there. If convicted, Louis and Rosemary Brothers could face up to 45 years in prison and fines totaling more than $1.75 million.

• No matter what your feelings are about Cincinnati’s architecture, this opinion piece in the Enquirer is sure to start a conversation at your office or house or classroom or wherever you are right now. Read it aloud to friends and coworkers. Unless you’re in the Great American Tower or the Horseshoe Casino. Then lines like, “The new Horseshoe Casino looks like a temporary colonoscopy supply center with mall entrance” (LOL) will probably just result in really awkward silence. It's hilarious, though I'm not sure I totally agree.

• Speaking of architecture: as we get closer to Presidents Day, here’s a neat story about Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, a grand and eccentric mansion in Virginia that is one of America’s most famous landmarks. The current tourist destination, which today adorns the back of nickels, wasn’t always so revered. At one point, farmers herded cows into its basement and it sat basically derelict, in danger of crumbling completely. Yes, I know Jefferson isn’t one of the presidents whose birthday is commemorated by the national holiday (he was born in April) but he had a much cooler house than Abraham Lincoln, and Washington’s Mount Vernon estate is well, kinda vanilla.

]]>
<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Morning y’all. Here’s what’s going on in Cincy and the wider world today.

Is a county-level crime lab a luxury item? That’s a comment Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann made yesterday during the annual “state of the county” speech attended by many high-level county officials. Hartmann made the statement in response to a question about moving the county’s morgue and crime lab to a vacant hospital in Mount Airy. We checked out the alarming condition of the morgue and crime lab in December. Most, including county commissioners, agree that Hamilton County’s crime lab and morgue are outdated and that the county will soon need to find new options for both. But they say moving to the Mount Airy hospital would be prohibitively expensive, and they’ve paused the idea as they look for private partners to go in on the $100 million retrofitting project. Hartmann argues that a regional crime lab put together by several counties in the region would be a more efficient option. But his comments continue a long-running rift between conservative commissioners and Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco, who called the statement ridiculous.

“A luxury? As in maybe his fancy cars that are maybe a luxury?" Sammarco said. "Name one person in this county that thinks public safety is a luxury item. Public safety is not a luxury.”

• Did flaws in demolition plans for the old Hopple Street offramp over I-75 cause its collapse last month? Some experts think so, though Kokosing Construction, the company hired on a $91 million contract to carry out the demolition, contests that. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, last minute changes were made to the demolition efforts as detailed in
plans acquired through public information requests. Those changes, an independent expert says, could have caused the bridge failure that killed one construction worker, injured a truck driver and shut down southbound I-75 for hours. The expert says some calculations in the plan were flawed; Kokosing says they were checked by multiple experienced technicians. Experts have also criticized the wider method by which the bridge was being demolished, saying that the middle section should have been removed first.

• After a quarter century, will Pete Rose finally be eligible to enter the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame? New MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred may open a window for the 73-year-old to enter the hall after all. Rose, who was banned from baseball in 1989 after he was caught gambling, holds the all-time record for hits in the MLB with 4,256. Fans have actively campaigned for Rose to be reinstated, but outgoing commissioner Bud Selig was steadfast in his refusal to allow Rose back. Manfred, however, says he’ll be having conversations with Rose and his attorneys about the possibility.

• John Crawford, Jr., the father of the young man shot by police while holding a toy gun in a Beavercreek Walmart in August, is still struggling with the incident and the loss of his son, he says in an op-ed published in the Hamilton Journal-News today. John Crawford III lived in neighboring Fairfield. Crawford III, 22, was killed in the Walmart after another shopper called 911 to report him brandishing a weapon. It turned out to be a pellet gun sold in the store. Security footage doesn’t show Crawford handling the toy in a threatening manner, though officers said he was ordered to drop it several times. A grand jury declined to indict Officer Sean Williams, who shot Crawford.

“John lll was an amazing father, loving son and awesome friend,” Crawford, Jr. says in the piece. “He was just starting to discover who he was, what his passion was, what he wanted to pursue in life and now he’s gone. It makes no sense to me how a simple trip to Walmart ended in the death of my son. I was further shocked when a grand jury refused to indict the officer responsible for my son’s slaying. But now, six months after this horrific tragedy, we want the world to know just how much we love and miss him.”

Crawford, Jr. goes on to advocate for new laws that could prevent future tragedies, including new requirements for toy weapons in stores like Walmart. Crawford, who lives in Tennessee, has been active in seeking justice for his son, showing up at rallies, including a recent teach-in in Cincinnati, and filing a lawsuit against the Beavercreek Police Department.

• More about Kasich’s new budget proposal: Under the suggested two-year budget, funding for prison-based addiction services will double, and the state will spend $58 million more on community-based sentencing options that could keep some first time offenders out of prison. These reforms are designed to cut down on Ohio’s prison population and expenditures over time. Studies suggest up to 80 percent of Ohio’s prison population has a history of drug abuse. Currently, only 15 to 20 percent of Ohio inmates receive drug addiction treatment, however.

• Finally, the economy added more than 257,000 jobs last month, according to job reports released today. That marks the 11th straight month job growth has been above 200,000, a streak that hasn’t been seen in more than two decades. In a rare moment of agreement, both the White House (well, duh) and high-ranking GOP officials applauded the news. Of course, the Republican response came with the requisite grousing about how the job gains weren’t good enough.
 
“We're thankful to see that Americans were able to go back to work in January,” said GOP Chairman Reince Priebus. “But before the White House spikes the football, they need to come to terms with a troubling fact: There are millions of Americans who are struggling to find jobs.”

Going unmentioned in the politics is a big cause for concern: Despite growth in the number of jobs available, wages for workers have remained stagnant, meaning that the economic recovery is still tepid and incomplete for many across the country.
]]>
<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Good morning, Cincy. Here’s what’s up today:

The Cincinnati Police Department will pay a local man $25,000 to settle a federal false arrest and first amendment lawsuit. Forest Thorner III was arrested after police took exception to promotional strategies he used to get attention for a friend’s comedy act at the 2012 Party in the Park. Thorner worked the crowd at the event by asking if they wanted to “laugh at the crippled girl,” referring to his friend Ally Bruener. Bruener is in a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy and does a comedy act. Thorner would point to Bruener, who would tell a joke or two and then promote an upcoming performance. Someone with the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce overheard Thorner and complained to police, who forcibly removed him from the park. Thorner tried to film the arrest, only to have his camera taken and broken by officers. He was charged with disorderly conduct, but found not guilty after none of the witnesses to the incident corroborated the charges against him.

• Cincinnati City Council had a busy slate yesterday. Council gave its approval to 10 development projects seeking low-income housing tax credits from the state of Ohio, which can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those projects seek to build new affordable housing or rehab existing affordable housing in Walnut Hills, Avondale, Roselawn, College Hill, Over-the-Rhine, Evanston, Bond Hill, Hartwell and downtown. The projects collectively represent hundreds of potential additional units of affordable housing.

Which sounds great, right? Except for some controversy. Originally, Council was considering supporting 12 potential developments seeking the credits but paused giving its blessing to two as questions arose. One of the projects, a rehabilitation of the Chapel Street Apartments in Walnut Hills by Talbert House, has caused concerns among the 20 residents who live in the building currently. Talbert House, which recently purchased the property, would like to rehab the 24-unit property into 27 units of permanent supportive housing. That will require the current residents to be relocated, which doesn’t sit well with many of them. Talbert House has pledged to help them find new places to live, but some say they like where they are.

“I don’t want to move,” says Wayne Green, a current resident. “We’re all a family in that building. If they relocate us all, everyone will be spread out.”

Council tabled that project and another in Roselawn after several council members, including Wendell Young and Kevin Flynn, voiced concern over the process by which the projects engaged the surrounding communities. Council members will discuss them at Monday’s Health and Human Services Committee meeting (10 a.m.) and Neighborhoods committee meeting (2 p.m.). Council ’s nod in the form of a resolution gives each project an extra 10 points on the state’s system for rating project proposals. It’s a competitive system that awards points based on each project’s community collaboration, its economic characteristics, whether it targets extremely low-income residents for at least some of its units and other factors. About one-third of applicants receive the credits, and last year five developments in the Cincinnati area received them.

• Council also passed a resolution submitted by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson honoring Cincinnati Herald owner and publisher Marjorie Parham. Parham served as publisher and editor of the Herald, an award-winning weekly that covers Cincinnati’s black community, from 1963 until 1996, an astounding run in the rather brutal and thankless world of journalism. She did everything from write articles and take photos to sweep the floor, she says, in addition to running the business. The Herald, founded in 1955, celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

• So, wait. Is Gov. Kasich secretly a Robin Hood type-character? The public school funding proposal he’s tucked into his suggested two-year budget has raised eyebrows as it’s been rolled out over the past couple days. Under Kasich’s proposal, the way public school districts in Ohio get aid from the state would change dramatically. Kasich wants to shift some state funds to districts in areas with lower property and other local tax receipts from areas with higher tax receipts, who can make up the difference by raising their own property taxes.

It’s a way to make up for the disparity between high and low income area schools, Kasich says, and a soundly conservative way to make sure students have a fair shot at succeeding. The change would be capped so that no school lost a dramatic amount of funds. It sounds like a pretty good first step toward fixing the abysmal disparities between the state’s richest and poorest public schools. It also sounds like something Kasich will want to tout if he runs for president. You can expect a lot of blowback from conservative lawmakers in the state house, however, especially those whose districts lose money from the state.

• This gets its own little bullet point because it's important and hard to understand. A caveat: The amounts districts could lose/gain under Kasich's plan seems pretty wonky right now. Check out this chart, which lists which districts will gain and which will lose in Hamilton County, and see if something seems amiss. Yes, Cincinnati Public Schools will gain about 9 percent, or $17 million, under the plan, but that’s not as much as another fairly befuddling district with conceivably higher tax receipts per capita. With a median household income of more than $200,000 and a median home value of more than $900,000, does Indian Hill need a 21 percent-plus boost in state funds for education?

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

What’s up, all? That’s a rhetorical question. News is what’s up, and here it is.

Answers in Genesis, the Christian organization based in Northern Kentucky that is building a Noah’s Ark theme park in Grant County, has said it will sue the state of Kentucky over tax credits the state rescinded in December. The state took back the tourism-related credits after controversy over Answers’ hiring practices, which stipulate potential employees must sign a statement of faith and other religious measures. Those violate employment discrimination laws and preclude Answers from getting taxpayer money, state officials say. Answers, on the other hand, says they have a right to require their employees fit with their religious values. They’re suing Kentucky for infringing on their religious liberty. The group also says that because the tax credits are sales tax rebates that originally come from the pockets of visitors, they don’t involve taxpayers from the state as a whole. The group has released a video outlining their side of the debate, which you can watch here. Warning: It’s like, almost half an hour long and is mostly a dude in an ill-fitting blazer talking to a lawyer while both sit in folding chairs. The group looks to build a 500-foot long ark and surrounding theme park, which it says will attract more than a million visitors a year.

• Here’s your morning dose of creepy: Hamilton County lawyers would like to limit testimony about the sexual behavior of Kenneth Douglas, a former county morgue employee who is accused of sexually abusing more than 100 corpses at the morgue from the 1970s to the 1990s. Currently, a federal district court is hearing the case against the county brought by the families of three of the deceased whose bodies were abused. The families say the county was negligent in allowing the abuse to happen. The county is attempting to block some testimony about other instances of abuse, including information Douglas gave to law enforcement about the number of bodies he abused. The county’s lawyers say testimony beyond the three abuse cases in question could be confusing and misleading for the jury. The families suing the county for millions say the other incidents show a clear pattern of behavior Douglas’ supervisors should have known about.

• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has introduced an initiative to expand the city’s vacant properties registry. Currently, that registry keeps track of bank-owned properties that are currently empty and makes sure the banks aren’t letting them fall into disrepair. But there are loopholes in the system that Sittenfeld would like to close so the city can better hold property owners holding onto vacant buildings accountable. He’d also like to use some of the revenues from the program, which amounted to about $700,000 last year, for hazard abatement and stabilization work.

• Here’s more buzz, and some lack thereof, about a potential presidential bid for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found Kasich nearly even with prospective Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Ohio. Hillary took 44 percent of the poll. Kasich took 43 percent. The quintessential swing state, Ohio is shaping up to be very important for presidential hopefuls in 2016, as it has been in past elections. But how much of the above poll’s results are home field advantage, and how much does the poll say about Kasich’s primary chances? A lot and not much, it would seem. Another poll of GOPers in the state had Kasich with a lead over fellow Republicans, but not by much. Kasich led with 14 percent of the poll, followed by Scott Walker, who had 11 percent and Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul, who each had 10 percent. That lead isn’t much to go on at this point, but it’s still quite early and Kasich could consolidate some of other potential nominees’ support as the herd thins. More troubling for Kasich, however, is the fact that in other Quinnipiac polls around the country, he barely makes a blip. He finished 13th out of 13 candidates in Florida, for example, and tied for 9th in Pennsylvania, his native state. In contrast with other potential nominees in his party who have national stature for one reason or another — Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz — Kasich will need to significantly expand his visibility in the coming year if he hopes to compete for his party’s nomination.

• Finally, you may have already seen this story about the Detroit dude who walks 21 miles a day to get to work. I think his situation is infuriating and sad but find his attitude inspiring. As a fellow pedestrian commuter (note: my walk is only about a mile and a half, I make it by choice, and only on days when it’s too cold to ride a bike) I think James Robertson is something of a hero. I think the issues raised by Robertson's daily trek are especially pertinent in Cincinnati; a city with a serious love of cars and a hardworking but less-than-ideal transit system. I couldn't help thinking about folks who have appeared in some of our recent stories about the working poor when I read this. Seriously, check this story out if you haven’t already.

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

Hey all. Let’s talk about news for a minute.

Now that Union Terminal looks to be on its way to renovation and Music Hall has received significant contributions toward the cost of its own fix-up, some preservationists have focused again on Memorial Hall. The building, which sits next to Music Hall on the west side of Washington Park, was designed by renowned architect Samuel Hannaford and built in 1908. Its needs are not quite as large as its gargantuan neighbor: The total cost for renovations is expected to be about $8 million, mere chump change compared to the $120 million Music Hall renovations could run. Development group 3CDC is one of the main drivers of fundraising efforts. It asked Hamilton County Commissioners yesterday for a $1.5 million contribution from the county. Though commissioners wouldn’t commit to anything just yet, Commissioner Greg Hartmann has said some contribution is likely since the building is owned by the county.

• So I’m not a beer fan overall, but I love a good porter on a cold winter day. You know what else I love on a cold winter day (like today, for example)? Cincinnati chili. Having established those facts, let’s just say I’m intrigued by a new beer debuting soon. Blank Slate Brewing Co. has created the Cincy 3-way Porter, which has subtle notes of the spices that make Cincinnati chili famous (or infamous depending on your palate). Again: I like Cincy chili. I like a good porter. But can this possibly be good? Of course I’m going to try it and find out. One note to consider: According to this story in the Business Courier, the malt used to brew the beer is smoked with the distinctive spices — they don’t go in the beer itself. That hopefully means it doesn’t taste like sipping on a serving of Cincy’s favorite meat sauce that just happens to be 7 percent alcohol by volume. Though, hey, I might be open to that, too.

• Is there a way the $2.8 billion Brent Spence Bridge project might be funded without tolls? Don’t hold your breath just yet, but anti-toll groups hope so. Anti-toll group Northern Kentucky United is touting a plan proposed by Sens. Rand Paul and Barbara Boxer that would raise money for the federal Highway Trust Fund by giving U.S. corporations tax breaks to bring more of their estimated $2 trillion in foreign profits back to the U.S. If some of that money flows back here, prodded by a tax break, it could be taxed and the receipts used on infrastructure projects like the Brent Spence Bridge. At least, that’s what Northern Kentucky United hopes. The proposal is very similar to one that President Barack Obama has tucked into his budget, which he released yesterday. The anti-toll group says that’s a sign that things could be happening on the federal level and that a plan to use tolls to pay for the bridge’s replacement is premature.

“There are details yet to be worked out, but the similarities between what the president has suggested and the bipartisan proposal out of the Senate gives us good reason to be optimistic,” said Marisa McNee of Northern Kentucky United in a statement on the legislation. “There is simply no reason to continue a rush to toll the Brent Spence Bridge when the White House and Congress appear to be moving towards an agreement on the Highway Trust Fund,” McNee concluded.

Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Steve Beshear of Kentucky presented their plan last week for the bridge, which includes tolls as part of the funding equation. Kasich has cited the increasing costs for the project while it’s delayed — $7 million a month, by some estimates — as a reason officials should move quickly. He claims there’s little chance the federal government will be forthcoming with funds for the project. Currently, the Highway Trust Fund faces insolvency this summer if Congress doesn’t approve new sources of income for infrastructure.

• The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and Cincinnati’s Police Department don’t reflect the area’s demographic makeup, according to data released by both departments and reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer. Hamilton County’s department is 86 percent white and 12 percent black, though the county itself is 62 percent white and 26 percent black. A similar disparity exists in Cincinnati, which is 48 percent white and 45 percent black. Yet its police force is 67 percent white and 30 percent black. Both gaps match up with many other police forces around the country. A study by USA Today found that 80 departments out of 282 in cities with more than 100,000 people had greater than a 10 percentage-point gap between the proportion of black officers and black residents.

• Yesterday was a day for budgets. In addition to the release of President Obama’s budget proposal (more on that in a minute), Gov. John Kasich also released his financial proposals for Ohio’s next two years. Kasich looks to cut income taxes while raising sales taxes, among other moves, which could place more burden on the state’s low-income workers. Kasich has also suggested an increased tax exemption for some of those workers, but that exemption is small and may only account for two or three bucks more in a worker’s paycheck.

On the income tax side, Kasich seeks to cut the state’s rate by 23 percent over the next two years and end the state’s income tax for 900,000 business owners grossing less than $2 million a year. To pay for that, the state’s base sales tax rate will go up to 6.25 percent plus county and local sales taxes. In Hamilton County, the sales tax rate will go up to 7.5 percent. This continues a trend toward relying more on sales tax to fill the state's coffers, something progressive groups say has made the state's tax system more and more regressive over the last few years.

All told, the state will take in $500 million less over the next two years, a nice hefty tax cut Kasich can point to in order to rally the Republican base should he decide to run for president in 2016. You can read more about the finer points of Kasich’s budget in our story here.

• Finally, here’s a breakdown of President Obama’s wide-ranging, $4 trillion budget proposal. Obama looks to raise taxes on corporations and wealthy citizens and give middle class families tax breaks. He calls that plan “middle class economics,” though staunch conservative (and fellow Miami alum) House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has his own name for it: “envy economics.” Those two monikers may foreshadow another long, arduous budget process between Obama and a mostly Republican Congress.

Other points of Obama’s budget: He has proposed the aforementioned plan for paying for infrastructure, a pay raise for federal workers and military personnel and a number of other proposals you can peruse in the story above. Also worth checking out: this breakdown of the budget by federal departments. Let’s play a little game of “one of these things is not like the other.” That’s right: Discretionary spending at the Department of Defense is a mind-blowing $585 billion. That’s more than every other department combined. Obama’s budget increases the DOD’s budget by 4 percent. That’s $23 billion — enough to increase the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget by almost 50 percent. Just leaving that right there for you to chew on.

]]>