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

Good morning Cincy! It’s finally getting to be bike commuting weather again, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’ve missed showing up to work all sweaty and out of breath with terrible helmet hair, and I’m sure my coworkers have missed it as well. Anyway, enough about my transportation habits, which I seem to talk about a lot in the morning news blog. Let’s get on to the news.

Sweet. More streetcar politics ahead. Moving utility lines to make way for a streetcar extension will be twice as costly as it was for the track currently being laid between Over-the-Rhine and downtown, according to an estimate performed last year by Duke Energy. Duke says the task, which is necessary before tracks are put down, could cost up to $38 million. Boosters want to get started on the next step for the streetcar, which would extend it near the University of Cincinnati and several of the city’s hospitals uptown. Councilman Chris Seelbach last week introduced an ordinance asking the city to begin looking at plans for the extension. But Mayor John Cranley, an ardent opponent of the project, has dismissed calls for the next step of streetcar as “silly.” Those pushing the city to begin planning for the uptown leg of the streetcar say if plans aren’t in place, the city could lose out on millions in federal funds that could help pay for next steps.

• More than 20 residents at the King Towers apartments in Madisonville are wondering where they’ll be staying following the tragic fire that swept through the building last week. That fire claimed the life of Cincinnati Firefighter Daryl Gordon. Representatives for The Community Builders, the building’s owners, on Sunday told residents they needed to be out of their temporary hotel rooms by 11 a.m. Monday morning. That caused an outcry from the residents and others, including members of Madisonville Community Council. Boston-based The Community Builders has since extended residents’ hotel stays until Wednesday and has promised to help find a solution for temporary housing for the residents while the building undergoes clean up and investigation, a process that could take months.

• Ready to start paying for Union Terminal? The county’s sales tax boost kicks in Wednesday after voters approved it in November. You’ll pay an extra .25 cents on the dollar so the county can pay for much-needed renovations to one of Cincinnati’s most iconic landmarks. The rate is going from 6.75 percent to 7 percent.

• A Greater Cincinnati area school district is boosting anti-drug messages to its students in anticipation of a potential marijuana farm nearby. Monroe Schools says a marijuana farm that would be established should legalization group ResponsibleOhio get its way is unwelcome in the city and that it sends messages to students that cancel out years of anti-drug efforts. One of the group’s 10 proposed grow sites would be in Middletown, less than two miles from Monroe’s K-12 public school. In response, the school district, some community leaders and law enforcement officials have teamed up to redouble anti-drug messages to teens, because telling a teenager not to do something is obviously the best way to make it seem uncool and unappealing. Meanwhile, ResponsibleOhio has responded by pointing out their legalization effort is only for those 21 and over. They also claim that the drug is already readily available to many on the black market and that their proposal would limit or eliminate that market.

• Ohio prison officials want to get inmates job interviews. Ohio Prison Director Gary Mohr has discussed efforts to recruit businesses who are willing to employ former inmates and has proposed setting up some inmates with job interviews upon their release. The program aims to cut recidivism among inmates and keep the number of repeat offenders in Ohio’s prisons to a minimum. Studies suggest those who find jobs after being released from prison have a much lower rate of additional criminal activity.

• In national news, here’s an alarming number: Law enforcement agencies make no arrests in one-third of all murders in the United States. That’s up from just 10 percent of homicides in 1965. Though violent crime has gone down across the U.S. in recent years, so have the percentage of cases in which police even find a suspect. The number of murders solved by law enforcement is even lower, since the FBI’s “clearance rate” only measures arrests, not convictions. The bureau estimates some 200,000 murders have gone unsolved since the 1960s. Law enforcement officials often blame a so-called “no snitch” attitude found in many low-income communities, where they say a number of community members refuse to cooperate with the police and help them find suspects. But some experts point out that murders of law enforcement officers, which often take place in those same neighborhoods, have a very high clearance rate, suggesting a difference in priority for different kinds of murder cases.

That’s it for me. Tweet me. Email me. Comment. Have you gotten your bike out yet? What’s the best spring bike ride location in Cincy? Let me know.

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

Good morning y’all. It’s the end of the week and the sun is out. Those are both good enough reasons to keep this news update short, so just the facts for you today.

Starting on a somber note, officials continue to investigate the death of Cincinnati firefighter Daryl Gordon, who fell down an elevator shaft while responding to a fire at an apartment building in Madisonville yesterday. Gordon was a 30-year veteran of the department. Two other firefighters and four residents where hurt in the blaze, which broke out early yesterday morning. Investigators are still trying to piece together exactly what happened to Gordon.

• Will you be able to walk around The Banks with an open beer in time for the Major League Baseball All Star Game in July? It’s looking increasingly possible. The Ohio House passed a bill allowing the creation of so-called “open container districts” this week. The proposed law could allow cities to designate specific areas where people can drink a cold one right out on the sidewalk. But the timeline is tight for would-be All Star Game revelers. The bill still has to go to through the state Senate and get Gov. John Kasich’s autograph. After that, the city could rush through designations for specific districts but would have to wait 30 days for them to take effect. The race is on.

• Three men who have wrongfully spent the past 18 years in prison may soon walk free thanks to efforts by the Ohio Innocence Project, which is based at University of Cincinnati’s College of Law. The Innocence Project announced yesterday that a Cuyahoga County Judge has thrown out the convictions of Derrick Wheatt, Laurese Glover and Eugene Johnson based on new evidence. The three will be released on bond and get a new trial. Their incarceration stems from the 1995 murder of Clifton Hudson, Jr. in Cleveland. Wheatt, Glover and Johnson who were nearby, were eventually arrested for the crime and convicted on the testimony of a single 14-year-old eyewitness. That witness later recanted her testimony and other evidence surfaced casting doubt that the three had a role in the crime.

• Ever been in a situation where you have to spend extended amounts of time the same room with someone who is competing with you for the affections of your crush? That’s probably how former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld will feel tonight when both attend and speak at the Ohio Democratic Party’s annual dinner. The two are currently going head to head in the party’s primary for the chance to take on incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Rob Portman. Making things especially uncomfortable is the fact that Sittenfeld had signaled he wouldn’t continue with campaign if Strickland entered the race. But the city councilman gained some good fundraising momentum and has decided to stay in the contest. Most of the higher-ups in the Democratic party have backed his more experienced foe, but Sittenfeld has said he’s in it to win it. I really hope someone seated them at the same table. 

• I mentioned a couple days ago that the Ohio House was mulling a fetal heartbeat bill that would ban abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. That bill has now passed the House thanks in part to local state representatives Jonathan Dever of Madeira and Paul Zeltwanger of Mason, who both voted for the proposed law. The bill will now make its way to the state Senate, where it faces skepticism from some moderate Republicans. They say the bill wouldn't survive an inevitable legal challenge. Some supporters of the measure, however, say bring it on — they see the ensuing legal battle as a way to challenge the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision prohibiting abortion bans. 

• Let's jaunt next door to the great state of Indiana where Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed into law yesterday a measure that prohibits the government from restricting religious freedom unless absolutely necessary. Critics of that bill say it could allow businesses to refuse service to people, including LGBT individuals, based on the business owner's religious beliefs. Pence says the bill will do no such thing, but that hasn't stopped backlash from forming. A number of businesses, including the NCAA, and even some religious groups have expressed reservations about the law, which takes effect in July. OK, let's leave Indiana now.

• News is happening in national politics. So much news. Well, really, political quasi-news that probably doesn’t actually make a difference but that we should pay attention to anyway because politicians are technically our employees and they haven’t really done that great of a job lately. One of the more interesting, and probably meaningless, stories on that front right now is that powerful Republicans in key primary states are saying that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is so far the only presidential candidate to officially announce his campaign, has no chance of winning. A poll of 100 influential Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire found that not one thought Cruz had a chance at the nomination, let alone prevailing in the general election. That’s important because those states are big in the primary game. Winning them signals to other delegates and funders around the rest of the country that you’re a serious contender.

• The other big story in national politics is that the most powerful, and many would say infamous, Democrat in the Senate will retire after his current term. Sen. Harry Reid, who is currently the Senate minority leader, has been a thorn in the side of nearly every Republican in Congress. Reid is a bare-knuckle brawler of a legislator who pulled out just as many nasty tricks during his time as Senate majority leader as his counterpart in the House, Republican John Boehner has. Reid’s 10-year turn as majority leader ended last November when Republicans took control of the Senate, but he’s continued to be a force there. The 75-year-old’s term ends next year. Republicans are rejoicing, seeing a rare opportunity to take Reid’s seat as one of Nevada’s two Senators.

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

Morning all. Are you as disappointed with the soggy gray awfulness outside as I am? Over the past few days I’ve been tuning up my bike, getting ready for spring. My plan was to get it out today and ride to work instead of walking. But this morning has been more kayak commuting weather, and since I don’t own a kayak, I’m working from home. Bummer. Anyway, let’s move on to news. This is the weekly City Council update edition, where I tell you about all the zany stuff our council members got up to yesterday.

First, council passed a resolution supporting marriage equality in the state of Ohio authored by Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly gay elected official.

“The protection and equality we want is no different than what everyone wants," Seelbach said, highlighting the ways in which his life with his partner are the same as any married couple’s. Seelbach also drew attention to the continued court battles being waged by Cincinnatians against Ohio’s gay marriage ban. Among them is Jim Obergefell, whose case against Ohio’s gay marriage ban will be tried in the U.S. Supreme Court next month. Obergefell is seeking to be listed on his late husband John Arthur’s death certificate. The two were legally married in Maryland.

“Our city could have fought us, as our state continued to do, but instead our city stood on the side of love with a message that is resoundingly clear: We welcome, accept and love everyone,” Obergefell said in a written statement read by a representative from LGBT rights group Why Marriage Matters.

Six council members voted for the resolution, with Councilman Charlie Winburn voting against it and two, P.G. Sittenfeld and Amy Murray, absent from the meeting for unrelated reasons. Winburn applauded Seelbach’s advocacy for the issue, but said he didn’t agree with its premise. Winburn has been a vocal opponent of gay marriage. Cincinnati joins several other Ohio cities, including Dayton and Columbus, in supporting marriage equality.

• More council stuff: our esteemed deliberative body yesterday rejected another stab at a parking plan for Over-the-Rhine that would have created 400 permitted spots around the neighborhood. The plan would have cost residents in the area $109 a year, plus $5 each for guest permits. Some council members, including Seelbach, said the price is still a bit too high and probably not necessary to generate the revenue needed. “I think we’re close,” Seelbach said. “This is close to what we would support. But the annual permit at $109 is the highest in America.”

Vice Mayor David Mann said he expected the plan to pass.

“This continues to be a work in progress,” Mann said. “We’re very open to changes as we implement and see how it works … but I think it’s time to do something. It’s been in and out of committee for three months.”

• Council also named a whole block of Colerain Avenue in Camp Washington after John "Johnny" Johnson, who has been working at Camp Washington Chili in the neighborhood for a mind-boggling 64 years. That's pretty cool. The restaurant, which I have patronized many a late night after various shows, has received national accolades for its chili, which is awesome. Johnson's uncle started the restaurant in 1940, and he began working there in 1951after coming here from Greece.

• The road is long and difficult and every step is studded with obstacles. No, I’m not talking about an underdog team in the NCAA tournament, nor the plot of a Tolkien novel. I speak of the streetcar, which is facing yet another round of drama this week involving contracts for who will operate the transit system. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, tasked with finding employees to operate the streetcar, must choose between two types of bids: those from companies that will manage SORTA’s union employees and those that will hire their own. Democrats on council want SORTA to go the former route and consider only bids that rely on employees from the Amalgamated Transit Union, of which most of SORTA’s employees are members. A past effort by council to get more details about the bids in relation to this wish drew sharp rebuke from the Federal Transit Authority, however, which said that any attempt to change SORTA’s bid process could result in loss of federal funds for the streetcar. The feds provided more than $45 million for the nearly $150 million project.

"If confidentiality is not maintained,” wrote FTA attorney John Lynch in a Monday letter to SORTA, “that presents risks to the process and increases potential exposure to protests and legal action from the proposers. The council's proposed changes to the procurement process could be perceived as giving preferential treatment to one contractor over another."

Now a new motion proposed yesterday by most of council’s Democrats would direct SORTA to only consider bids in which SORTA employees are used to run the streetcar. That motion needs two more votes and isn’t binding — it’s asking, not telling, SORTA to hire ATU employees. That motion also leaves maintenance personnel out of the equation, which is important because that’s a sticking point in negotiations between SORTA and the ATU on what using union workers would look like. The two are tangling over a few specialized maintenance positions that require particular electrical engineering training. The ATU says whoever does those jobs should be union members; SORTA says it has the right to hire outside workers for those positions. Phew. So there you have it. Bids for operating the streetcar are due at the end of the month, and SORTA’s board will vote to award the contract in July.

• Here’s a completely unsubstantiated, unscientific observation: People named “Woody” seem much more apt to support legalization efforts for marijuana. First there was Woody Harrelson, and now we have Taft Broadcasting Co. Development Director Woody Taft. Taft and his brother Dudley are among the funders of an ongoing effort by ResponsibleOhio to get an Ohio constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana on the November ballot. The Tafts are just a couple of the big names in town who have invested in the legalization scheme, which would legalize production and sale of marijuana but limit commercial cultivation to 10 legal growers. That dimension of the provision has raised ire from other pot legalization advocates. ResponsibleOhio has modified its proposal to allow for home growth of small amounts of weed, but those growers would not be allowed to sell their products.

The Tafts would be part owners of a marijuana cultivation farm proposed in Butler County should the ballot initiative pass.

“Our current laws are archaic and cruel to the people in Ohio who need medical marijuana,” Woody Taft said in a statement sent out by the pro-marijuana group.

• Finally, eight protesters were arrested outside House Speaker John Boehner’s Washington office yesterday. No, they weren’t up in arms about his continued efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, or his moves to stymie Democrats’ immigration reform agenda. Nor were they there staging an intervention for Boehner’s all-too-evident tanning bed addiction.

Instead, they were all riled up about the fact that Boehner and other congressional Republicans haven’t moved fast enough on a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. The House was set to vote on the bill way back at the beginning of the year, but some moderate GOPers balked at the ban because it required a woman to report her rape or incest to law enforcement in order to qualify for an exception to the proposed law. Members of the Christian Defense Coalition, who were the protesters praying outside of Boehner’s office, say his failure to push that bill through is a “betrayal” of the pro-life cause. Boehner’s office shot back that he’s the most pro-life speaker in history, which seems a hard claim to fact-check considering abortion was illegal for much of our country’s history.

That’s it for me. Tweet me. Email me. You know the drill. 

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

Hey all, here’s the news today.

After some reconfiguration, 3CDC has announced it is moving ahead with its plans for development on the corner of 15th and Race Street. The development is set to include 27 affordable units of housing and 63 units total, along with more than 37,000 square feet of commercial space. It’s unclear what level of affordability the subsidized units will be, but 3CDC is applying for federal low-income housing tax credits and partnering with Model Group and Cornerstone Renter Equity on those units. The project will be 3CDC’s second-largest in OTR at 2.2 acres, just slightly smaller than Mercer Commons on Vine Street. The nonprofit developer had floated earlier plans that included a parking garage, but has nixed that idea after outcry from some neighborhood groups and historic preservation advocates. Instead, the project will include a surface lot behind buildings on Race Street.

• Suspended Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter was back in court today on a reprisal of sorts from her trial last  year, when she was tried on nine felony charges and convicted of one. She’s being tried again on charges that she misused a court credit card. The jury couldn’t consider that charge last time due to a legal technicality dealing with the language of the charge, then-Hamilton County Court Judge Norbert Nadel ruled. Hunter also faces retrial on the other charges in June after the last jury couldn’t reach a verdict. Hunter pleaded not guilty to the credit card charge. She faces a year in prison if convicted.

• If you attend City Council meetings as much as I do, you hear the name Jeff McElravy pretty often. He’s been a big part of the city’s Department of Trade and Development, a post the city recently announced he’ll be leaving next month. McElravy had been interim head of the department during the city’s negotiations to bring General Electric to The Banks before he was replaced by current permanent trade and development head Oscar Bedolla. McElravy currently serves as the city’s downtown development manager. He’ll leave that job, and working for the city, on April 20.

• Though I’m sometimes pretty critical of our hometown grocery giant, I’ll give Kroger this: They do pretty well when it comes to beer selection. Just last night I scored Rivertown Brewery’s Vanilla Espresso Porter there, one of my favorites. And apparently, it’s just going to get better. The grocery chain has announced it is increasing its stock of local craft beers by 30 percent, giving more shelf space to Cincinnati names like Rhinegiest, Madtree and Christian Moerlein. I usually prefer to hit up Party Source for my beer (worker owned, what’s up) because they carry some of the best crazy dark beers, but hey, I’ll go Krogering in an emergency.

• A proposed transportation budget the Ohio General Assembly is mulling includes a provision that could make it much harder for college students from out of state to vote. The provision requires residents to register their cars in Ohio, if they have one, and get an Ohio driver’s license in order to vote here. Conservatives who are pushing the measure say it’s designed to keep non-residents from voting in state elections. If you register to vote from a campus address, you have to re-register your car in Ohio, the new provision stipulates. If you don’t, your out-of-state license becomes invalid.

Some Democratic lawmakers have cried foul, saying it amounts to voter suppression and intimidation of college students, who tend to vote more progressively. Some Democrats have shot back with a counter-proposal. If students must register their cars to register to vote, it only makes sense they get in-state tuition as well, right? State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat from Portage County, is pushing that exact logic in response to the Republican voter registration idea. She says the fees associated with car registration and license changes would be a deterrent for students and amount to suppressing their votes. Clyde and other Democrats have signaled they may not vote for the transportation budget if the provision isn’t removed.

• In other State House news, another abortion restriction bill will be up for a floor vote today in the Ohio House of Representatives. The bill would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected. Republicans there say they have enough votes to get the bill on to the state Senate, but GOP leaders there are worried the law could cause federal court challenges that might undermine other abortion restrictions passed in Ohio.

That’s it for me. Hit me up on Twitter or email me with your news tips.

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

Hey all. News has happened. Here it is.

First, let’s get this out of the way. I don’t watch football. Ever. But that doesn’t mean YOU don’t watch football. Or maybe someone you know? And heck, maybe you want to watch games that take place in the stadium you are paying for as a Hamilton County resident from the comfort of your own couch or favorite bar without having to pay the high ticket prices to see the game in person. That’s a perfectly understandable ambition, given that about many millions of our tax dollars are paying for the Bengals’ home. The good news is that almost every NFL team owner voted recently to end, at least for the coming season, the league’s policy of not televising games that don’t sell out. In fact, the only owner who didn’t vote to end the blackout policy is Bengals owner Mike Brown. Now, Brown says he supports televising every Bengals home game. But he’s concerned about the way revenue is split between home and away teams under the new agreement, which basically stipulates the home team will have to pay the away team if the game doesn’t reach 85 percent capacity. That does sound like a raw deal for small markets like Cincy, but so does voting to keep fans from watching games in the stadium they paid for. Glad I don’t care about football.

• Cincinnati developer Model Group will renovate 13 historic buildings containing affordable housing in Covington’s Mainstrasse district. The group will work in partnership with Welcome House, a social service agency based in the city, and use $700,000 in federal low-income housing tax credits for the project’s first phase. The project could also be eligible for historic preservation tax credits. The renovations will reduce the number of units available in the buildings from 51 to 43 but will result in larger living spaces aimed at single parents who need affordable housing. The project is expected to be complete in 2016. One building, 801 Main St., is a commercial space and will remain so after renovations wrap up.

• Yes, yes, we all complain about how crazy Cincinnati’s weather patterns are. I thought this was a tic common to many areas of the country, with nearly everyone thinking they have the craziest weather around. Turns out, however, that we have some scientific, or at least quasi-scientific, backing for our whining. Nate Silver’s data journalism project Five Thirty Eight ran some climate data on cities across the country and came up with the top places in the country with unpredictable weather. Guess what? Cincinnati is number four on the list. The analysis takes into account temperature, precipitation and a number of other meteorological phenomena. So yeah, next time you want to complain about the fact that it was 70 degrees yesterday and will be snowing tomorrow, go for it. Math is on your side.

• I’m a little late on this one, but in case you missed it, the push to get daily rail between Cincinnati and Chicago has some new supporters. The city of Norwood has signaled it is supporting those efforts, which are led by pro-transit group All Aboard Ohio. Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from Indiana, has also pitched in on the cause in a way, telling state and federal agencies they should keep current rail lines open between cities in Indiana and Chicago so service can someday be expanded.

• Ohio Gov. John Kasich is in New Hampshire today in what is his most straightforward presidential campaign trip yet. Kasich hasn’t officially announced he’s running for the GOP nomination for president (only U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has made that commitment) but there is simply no other reason for Kasich’s trip. He’s testing the waters in important primary states now, trying to boost his stature among Republicans who will have to decide who to nominate next summer at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Recent polls show Kasich doing well in Ohio but drawing mostly a blank in other parts of the country. If the gov is able to make news in New Hampshire, or New York and Maine, where he travels next, it could boost his profile and put him in league with figures like Cruz and U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who have been in the national spotlight by virtue of their offices and high-profile stances (some would say antics) against Democrats and President Barack Obama. Kasich at times tacks more moderate (at least when it comes to things like Ohio’s Medicaid expansion and Common Core education standards) and has been active mainly in Ohio, so he has some catching up to do. But, heck, saying one crazy thing about how climate change isn’t real or about how we should abolish a couple federal agencies could get him some big attention.

• Hey, did you know that testing giant Pearson, which designs and administers the Common Core tests Ohio students are currently taking, collects student data — name, gender, race, scores — even though the state of Ohio, to which the company reports, doesn’t? And also, did you know that the company has been monitoring students’ social media profiles for leaked test questions? Well, now you know.

• Finally, oof. Reaction to “Race Together,” a new initiative in which two of the nation’s big corporations team up to “tackle the issue of race in America” has been predictably brutal, with many taking to Twitter to mock the idea. Starbucks and Gannett announced March 19 that they were partnering on the project, the first phase of which involved baristas writing #racetogether on customers’ cups and engaging them in conversations about our society’s race issues. Because that’s what baristas want to do first thing in the morning when they’re facing a line of grumpy, caffeine-starved customers.

Starbucks has also been distributing a special edition of USA Today featuring stories about race, which Gannett guarantees is mostly typo-free because race is a very important issue. A few critiques come to mind, one of which is that hashtags don’t work outside the Internet. Also, maybe when your leadership teams look like this and this, it’s better to listen, do some corporate self-reflection and seek feedback instead of trying to “tackle” an issue.

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

Hey all. Hope you had a good weekend and are recovering from whatever NCAA tournament festivities you may have attended. Yeah, yeah, Xavier won. UC lost. The Dayton Flyers pulled out an upset over Providence Friday only to lose to the Sooners last night. Depending on who you were rooting for, you’re probably either nursing some slight heartache, the waning throes of a post-celebratory hangover, or both.

Anyway. Here’s what’s up in the news today.

Cincinnati's Red Bike is heading south. The city of Covington announced it has found funding for up to six Red Bike stations and will be working with the nonprofit to bring bike sharing to Northern Kentucky. The city has said it’s looking at locations near the Roebling suspension bridge, in Mainstrasse Village and other key places. The stations cost about $50,000 each. Cincinnati has 30 throughout downtown and uptown, spurred by a $1 million grant approved by Cincinnati City Council last year.

• A one-time 3CDC mover and shaker will now work for another big developer in Cincinnati. Former 3CDC Executive Vice President Chad Munitz, who left the developer in December, will soon start work with Mount Adams-based Towne Properties. Munitz played a big role in a number of 3CDC’s signature projects over his nine-year tenure there, including the redevelopment of OTR’s Washington Park. He’ll work to help Towne Properties identify new development opportunities in Cincinnati and beyond.

• Did Mason’s City Council violate the city’s charter and Ohio law when it held a last-minute special session to approve a tax deal with P&G last week? Some residents there think so. Mason’s council called the last-minute session Tuesday to pass a $34 million dollar deal that put the finishing touches on a $300 million plan by the company to expand a business center there. The trouble is, council gave only a day’s notice and scheduled the meeting mid-day during working hours, which could violate Ohio’s open meetings laws. Those laws require that the public business is done in a public manner with ample notice beforehand. The notice sent out by council about the meeting also didn’t stipulate a reason or agenda. Council immediately went into private executive session when it convened, then came out and approved the P&G deal. Critics, including some Mason residents, say it all seems secretive and not very public. Seems like they have a good point.

• ResponsibleOhio’s effort to make marijuana legal in Ohio took another step forward as the Ohio Ballot Board approved the group’s language for a proposed law it hopes to put on the ballot in November. ResponsibleOhio’s proposal would allow anyone over 21 to purchase and smoke weed, but would limit commercial cultivation of marijuana to 10 state-sanctioned growers. That detail has caused controversy from other marijuana legalization advocates. The group still needs to collect more than 300,000 valid signatures from Ohio voters in 44 of the state’s 88 counties by July to get the amendment on the ballot.

• Ohio is the 47th worst state in terms of its tax structure’s fairness to low-income people, a study by personal finance website Wallethub.com says. The report found that low-income Ohioans making $25,000 a year or less pay nearly 11.5 percent of their income in taxes, compared to 9.5 percent for high-income earners. By the way, Ohio didn’t do so great when it came to those top-tier workers, either. The state ranks the 41st best place for people making $150,000 a year or more.

• Here's a pretty interesting study that says urban sprawl costs America more than $1 trillion a year. Wait, so are they saying building highways on top of highways and more McMansions a 45-minute drive from major urban employment centers was an inefficient use of resources? Say it ain't so. Anyway, ignore my editorializing and check out the study. This seems like such a difficult and huge thing to calculate, and I wonder if any readers see things they've missed or other ways to frame the question of how sprawl impacts our economy.

• Finally, I think we all knew this was coming. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas announced this morning he’s running for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. On Twitter. The simple tweet read, “I’m running for President and I hope to earn your support!” It also included a video of Cruz’s first campaign ad, a dramatic 30-second piece that shows people America-ing all over the place, riding motorcycles through the desert, welding things, playing baseball of course and generally holding small American flags in verdant parks the way we Americans are wont to do.

Notably missing: bald eagles dropping apple pies on our confused and cowering enemies. Otherwise, though, very American. Cruz is perhaps the most conservative of the many names that have been bandied about as a Republican nominee. The freshman Senator has been one of the most vocal opponents of President Barack Obama, especially the Affordable Care Act. Cruz played a big role in last October’s government shutdown when he engineered a bizarre faux-filibuster and other obstructive measures designed to block passage of a budget that allowed the ACA to remain funded. So he has that on his resume. He’s also a loud climate change denier, or at least skeptic, and generally opposes things that liberals and moderates are into.

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

Hey all, it’s news time on this glorious, if rainy, Friday. Let’s go.

It truly is Ohio against the world right now, at least when it comes to March Madness (which, if you’re anything like some of my friends, truly is your entire existence at this moment in time). The University of Cincinnati beat Purdue in a heart-stopper last night, Xavier bested Ole Miss and OSU beat Virginia Commonwealth University. Additionally, the Dayton Flyers pulled one out Wednesday against Boise State to make it into the tournament. They’ll be facing Providence College tonight. That’s great, but big challenges loom ahead: specifically, 8th-seed UC will have to face 1st-seed UK tomorrow. That’s going to be a tough game for the Bearcats. But let’s see what happens, right?

While we’re talking basketball, here’s an interesting look at which local programs are making money for their universities, and which are break-even propositions. UC, for instance, spends as much on its basketball program as its team brings in, while Xavier turns a handy profit — the Musketeers’ hoops squad brings in more than $6 million a year.

• Veterans Affairs Secretary and former P&G CEO Bob McDonald wants Cincinnati, along with other cities, to speed up the process of identifying and helping homeless veterans. McDonald visited local service agencies helping veterans yesterday and said he was impressed with the work those groups are doing, as well as the progress the city has made on veteran homelessness. But he also called for quicker turnaround when it comes to getting homeless veterans into housing, saying that the longer it takes to find them and get them on the right track, the less likely they will be to receive and utilize that aid at all. Mayor John Cranley, who joined McDonald on his tours of service agencies yesterday, is engaged in a national program to help vets, called the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. That initiative looks to end veteran homelessness across the country by the end of this year.

• The Cincinnati Zoo recently made a national list of top places to travel if you want to see cool animals. Family Fun magazine publishes its annual rankings on the best places to travel in a number of specific categories, and Cincinnati’s Zoo ranked number eight in the animal attractions category. It ranked just below Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which is pretty impressive. It’s one more accolade for the zoo, which is widely recognized as one of the best in the nation.

• U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, who represents Northern Kentucky, has a GREAT idea for fixing the nation’s highway funding dilemma: strip funding for all other transit projects from the National Highway Trust Fund. Massie says the federal government’s grants for streetcars and other alternate forms of transit cost billions that could go toward building and repairing highways and bridges. Hm. Right. Except each of those projects keeps cars off the road, lessens America’s dependence on oil, may create economic development in the communities they’re built in and provide ways to work and recreation for the millions of Americans who don’t own cars. Which, as of yesterday, includes me. It’s also worth noting that only a small percentage of the Highway Trust Fund goes to transit projects, so cutting that funding would be a drop in the bucket. An alternative measure would be to increase the nation’s gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since grunge rock was cool the first time (that’s 1993). 



• Former (and perhaps future) Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum was once again in the Greater Cincinnati area Thursday, fueling more speculation about his ambitions for the GOP presidential nomination. The former Pennsylvania senator stopped by a fundraiser in Montgomery hosted by the Northeast Hamilton County Republican Club. He avoided saying crazy stuff about religion (at least on the record) but did have some eyebrow-raising thoughts on the economy. Santorum is known to be a hardcore conservative when it comes to social issues, but there are signs he’s tacking moderate on the economy, a combination last tried by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee when he sought the GOP nomination in 2008. Santorum talked about how Republicans could capture the hearts and minds of America’s workers, backing policies that step away from the hardcore trickle down theories (tax cuts for the wealthy, decreased regulations) most recently advanced by the GOP. He revealed his presidential platform, should he run, would include supporting a small minimum wage increase — something few other Republicans seem willing to touch. He also committed something close to sacrilege for conservatives, saying the party needed to move on from Ronald Regan’s economic legacy and message. Santorum’s continued courting of the buckeye state (he was here visiting folks in Butler County a couple weeks ago for a religious freedom conference) comes ahead of his party’s national convention in Cleveland next year and is further evidence that the presidential race may be tightly focused on Ohio.

• While we’re talking presidential hopefuls, let’s cross the spectrum for a minute and talk about Democrats, specifically their frontrunner for the presidential nomination, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She’s been dominating the field on the Dem side, even though she hasn’t officially announced her candidacy. But that could be changing, according to a new poll from news organization Reuters. That poll shows Clinton’s support among Democrats has dipped by 15 points since mid-February, and that now about 45 percent of those identifying with the party say they’re sure they’ll vote for her. That’s still a bigger margin than any other potential candidate, of which there are very few, but the drop is alarming. Some of the dip may be explained by the recent high-profile flap over Clinton’s e-mail usage while secretary of state. After the New York Times reported earlier this month that Clinton used a personal account to conduct State Department business, she has been on the defensive explaining that move. Clinton has turned over tens of thousands of work related e-mails sent from her personal account, but also had other e-mails she claims were personal deleted. That’s led some to suggest she may be hiding information. Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail account appears to have fallen within State Department rules, which were changed after her tenure to require the Secretary of State to use a government account for accountability purposes.

And I’m out. Tweet me (@nswartsell), e-mail me (nswartsell@citybeat.com) or comment below. What do you think? Do you hold out any hope for UC against UK? Do you think we should raise the gas tax? Should I buy a car or wait for regional transit in Cincinnati to become so stellar I won’t need one?  (I'm not holding my breath on any of these).

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

Hey all! Working from home is usually great, unless you're working from home because you're waiting for the tow truck to come for your dear old car, which has finally given up the ghost. A moment of silence, please. Anyone selling a cheap, reliable BMW for someone on a journalist's salary? Thought not. Anyway, on to news.

Some City Council members are asking questions about a huge proposed highway project that could change the way people get to Cincinnati State. The I-74 exit onto Central Parkway near the community college is on the Ohio Department of Transportation’s chopping block. By 2018, the exit will be closed as the highway onramp comes down, part of a much larger revamping of the I-75 corridor through Hamilton County. ODOT has proposed a $42 million bridge over both highways from South Cumminsville to Central Parkway, but critics of that bridge, including some members of City Council, say that route would be just as troublesome to navigate as existing alternatives. Council member Kevin Flynn was skeptical, pointing out that the school is an entryway into college education for many seeking social mobility and that officials should be looking for ways to make it easier to get to, not more difficult. What’s more, it’s unclear how the city would pay for its half of the bridge. City Manager Harry Black, however, says the city supports the deal and will pay to study the project as it works to find funding sources for construction. The city will need to commit the funds by 2017. The bigger plan to revamp I-75 as it passes through Cincinnati has been in the works for years, according to ODOT and city officials.

• As a lover of Cincinnati and a lover of bikes, I’m sometimes befuddled by the controversies we get stuck on when it comes to cycling. The latest hubbub around the Central Parkway bike lane has to do with some plastic markers that separate the lane from the road, as well as the fact that some drivers are apparently not paying enough attention while they’re driving to notice when they’re in a lane where cars park.

The big deal, according to this "investigation" earlier this month? the fact that 300 of the 500 plastic bollards the city put in place when the bike lane was built last year are now broken. That apparently costs taxpayers money. Well, sort of. First, they’re $25 a piece, so it would cost about $7,500 to replace them all if the city hadn’t saved some for reuse. Keep in mind, for perspective, that the city spent $100,000 to reroute the lane after a single business owner complained about a couple street parking spots. What’s more, there’s already money in the grant that built the lane to fix them, so very little if any money will be coming out of taxpayers’ pockets.

That very minor problem aside, a couple business owners have also criticized the lane, complaining that motorists have been rear-ending or almost rear-ending cars that now park in a lane of Central Parkway to the left of the bike lane. How is that any different, from a drivers’ standpoint, than lanes all over the city that have parking during designated hours? Watch where you’re driving, pay attention to road signs and stop worrying about the bike lane. Problem solved, end of story.

• Does one of Cincinnati’s top public schools need to be restructured? That’s what an independent audit suggests. The School for Creative and Performing Arts is one of the city’s most prestigious K-12 schools — it requires auditions as part of a very selective enrollment process and once hosted an MTV reality series about its students striving toward careers in the arts. But the school has also seen some pretty rough turns, including the loss of half-a-million dollars by its private fundraising arm, Friends of SCPA, in a local pyramid scheme.

A report by consultants from the University of Maryland found that the school’s problems go beyond some lost fundraising money and include a need for greater accountability within the school’s administration. The report calls for the school to hire an executive director and a senior financial director to oversee the school’s money and an external affairs director to handle marketing and the school’s relationships with other organizations and the public. The report calls for those administrative changes to take place urgently — within the next six months — to put the school back on a sustainable path. 

• News from the State House: another day, another attempt to fight Common Core in Ohio. The tests are part of new federal standards that look to increase educational readiness among students. Critics say the tests amount to a federal takeover of state education and increase testing loads on students. The bill, authored by Republican State Rep. Andrew Brenner from Powell, is in committee now. Gov. John Kasich supports the standards and would be unlikely to sign legislation repealing them.

• President Barack Obama was in Cleveland yesterday bashing Republicans in the city that will host their national convention next year. Obama said the House GOP’s recently released budget proposal is a gimme for those who are already rich that ignores the middle class and low-income people in America. The GOP’s plan would cut taxes for big businesses and wealthy Americans, which they say will stimulate job growth. The plan will also cut money from Medicare and other social programs in an attempt to erase the federal government’s deficit over the next decade.

Obama called the plan “trickle down economics” that won’t work for the middle class. Obama’s plan is generally the opposite: decrease tax loopholes for large corporations, raise taxes on the wealthy, spend billions on infrastructure and a free community college program he proposed last month. His budget would also reverse cuts to defense and other spending under sequestration. Obama touted the economy’s recovery that has occurred since he took office, including slowly falling unemployment numbers. Republicans, including the office of House Speaker John Boehner, shot back against his criticisms, calling his speech to the Cleveland City Club a “political stunt.”

• Finally, let’s go back to alternative forms of transportation for a minute. Forget bikes or streetcars — they do it a bit differently in the South, apparently. This guy got pulled over on I-75 near downtown Atlanta for riding his horse down the highway. He also had another horse with him, which maybe means he should have been using the rideshare lane? I don’t know. Anyway, the Long Rider, has he calls himself, is heading our way. He says he’s trying to get to Indiana by June for his sister’s birthday. He also says he rides to “feed the children,” though it’s unclear what that means.

And I’m out. Comment, tweet (@nswartsell) or email (nswartsell@citybeat.com) news tips or the best place to buy a used horse with less than 75,000 miles on it.

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

Hey Cincy! It’s news time.

The city of Cincinnati will forgive all but $100,000 of the nearly $300,000 Mahogany’s owner Liz Rogers owes the city for her defunct restaurant, which closed its location at The Banks last September. City Manager Harry Black proposed the plan, which would require Rogers to make $800 monthly payments, in a memo to Mayor John Cranley and Cincinnati City Council yesterday. Meanwhile, Rogers announced today that she is planning two new ventures to help her make those payments: a gourmet ice cream business and a food truck. Rogers was given the loan in 2012 to bring her soul food restaurant to The Banks. She quickly fell behind on her loan payments, however, a fact she attributes to a lack of promised amenities, including a new hotel, at the riverfront development.

• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld could face a state investigation into his campaign finances after it was revealed he filed a report for his council campaign fund six months late. The report was due last July, but Sittenfeld didn’t file it until January. The Hamilton County Board of Elections is looking into the violation and could send it on to the Ohio Elections Commission. If the state commission finds Sittenfeld did violate campaign finance rules by turning in his report late, it could assess a fine of $100 for every day the report was late — which would mean Sittenfeld could owe as much as $18,000. Depending on the reasons for the delay, the commission could also decline to assess the fine or fine Sittenfeld a lower amount. The potential investigation could complicate the 30-year-old councilman’s bid for the Senate. Sittenfeld is currently in a primary race against 74-year-old former Ohio governor Ted Strickland for the Democratic nomination. The winner will go on to challenge sitting Republican Senator Rob Portman.

• Christopher Cornell, the Hamilton County man suspected of making plans to carry out terrorist acts in Washington D.C., will keep his access to a phone in the Boone County Jail where he is being held. Prosecutors have tried to keep him from having access to the phone, but a federal judge yesterday ruled that restricting Cornell’s access could keep him from planning his legal defense and also compromise his psychological health. Cornell is currently being held in isolation. So far, Cornell has only used the phone to call his lawyers, his family and, in one instance, the media. Cornell called FOX 19 and spoke to Tricia Macke for an hour, during which he claimed that if he hadn’t been arrested in January, he would have gone to Washington to carry out terrorist attacks. Recorded phone records show Cornell hasn’t used his phone access to attempt to reach out to others who might engage in terrorist acts.

• The Ohio Board of Education could vote soon on eliminating the so-called five of eight rule, which currently requires schools to have at least five of eight specialty staff members including art teachers and librarians. A legislative review board yesterday cleared the possible rule change, setting the board of education for a vote on eliminating the staffing requirements at its next meeting April 13 and 14. The proposed rule change has been very controversial; education advocates and other foes say it will disproportionately affect low-income students, whose districts are often strapped for cash, by allowing schools to eliminate art, music and other classes. Advocates for the rule changes say they want to give schools more discretion on how they spend their money.

Taxpayers paid $3,400 for Ohio Gov. John Kasich to fly to Washington earlier this month for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, the Associated Press reports. The funds went toward hotel rooms, airfare and parking for the Republican governor and two staff members. That’s perfectly legal, but it also means taxpayers picked up the bill for Kasich to attend a highly partisan event. The speech, in which Netanyahu harshly criticized President Barack Obama for his policy toward Iran, was controversial, playing on a growing divide in Congress and in American politics in general. The GOP invited Netanyahu to speak but didn't give the White House a heads up beforehand. More than 50 top Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden, did not attend the address, which was given to both House and Senate members.

• So it’s very little surprise that the University of Kentucky is the team to beat this year in the NCAA basketball tournament. This pretty insightful breakdown from the New York Times’ Upshot blog, however, gives you some nice pointers as to whether you should go with the favorites or pick an underdog. While you’re thinking about March Madness, pick up our issue this week, which has a great preview of all the hoops craziness. Because I’m not a statistician, sports fan or gambler, I always vote for our local teams until they inevitably lose, but hey, one of these years…

• Finally, this is unsettling to me, but maybe I just need to get more comfortable with the glories of late-stage capitalism already. A new company that lets you put your own face on action figures and dolls is coming to Cincinnati. AvaStars, which already has stores in Chicago and St. Louis, will soon open at Kenwood Towne Center. The store will allow children or really anyone for whom selfies are no longer gratifying enough to put their own faces on figurines, as well as appear in a customized video. Like I said, in the age of incessant social media self-branding, there’s something weird about this to me, but hey, I’m trying to be more positive this week, so let’s look at the upsides. This could be huge for a kid’s self-esteem and ability to envision their future — picture a lot more female scientist dolls, maybe, or other possibilities that undermine the constant drumbeat of oppressive normative messages most toys send to kids.

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

Morning y’all! I’ve been out of the morning news loop working on long-term projects but I’m back and ready to nerd out on some news. So let’s do it.

Twitter is all abuzz this morning with the news that the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority has approved plans to build a bike path on the Oasis Line near the Ohio River on the city’s East Side. That’s big news — as our feature on the potential Oasis path last month explored, completion of a bike trail there brings Cincinnati closer to a network of statewide trails and also makes biking from the East Side to downtown a possibility. SORTA controls the right of way on a set of tracks that will need to be paved for the bike path to be built. The Indiana-Ohio Railway company, however, voiced opposition to the plan, citing safety concerns and plans to expand its business in the area. The company owns tracks running just seven feet from the unused line the bike path would occupy.

• Will Pete Rose get reinstated into Major League Baseball, clearing the way for his induction into the Hall of Fame? It could happen, but the road facing Charlie Hustle is still a long one. Rose recently applied for reinstatement with new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who expressed openness to a conversation about letting Rose back in after taking baseball’s top position in January. Manfred has acknowledged he received Rose’s request but hasn’t tipped his hand about whether or when the hit king might be reinstated. Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader, received a lifetime ban from baseball in 1989 after he was investigated for betting on the game while he was a player and coach. Rose denied the allegations until 2003, when he publicly admitted he did bet on games.

• Two members of Cincinnati City Council would like to spend $9 million to revamp a 20-acre park in Mount Auburn while also improving the area around the park on Auburn Avenue for pedestrians. Inwood Park sits along Vine Street on the western edge of the neighborhood between uptown and downtown. Councilmen Charlie Winburn and Chris Seelbach would like the city to invest $5 million in the park over the next two budgets in a plan they unveiled before council’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting Monday. The hope is that investment would help increase momentum on new development in the neighborhood, which has just begun to pick up. Developers Uptown Rentals and North American Properties plan to invest nearly $100 million in Mount Auburn in the near future, including the construction of 400 units of market-rate housing and tens of thousands of square feet of office space.

“As we’ve seen with Washington Park, these dollars do more than beautify our neighborhoods,” Seelbach said in a news release yesterday. “Inwood Park will become a destination in Uptown, drawing families, students and neighbors to spend time together, enjoying our city.”

I walk through this park all the time and think it’s pretty epic. The motion met with mixed reactions from the rest of the budget and finance committee, who are hesitant about the expenditures without reviewing the plan with the Parks Department and considering other uses for the money.

• Gov. John Kasich met Monday with the Ohio Taskforce on Community-Police Relations to discuss the group’s ongoing work. Kasich convened the task force in December in the wake of controversy over the shooting deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police officers, including Tamir Rice in Cleveland and John Crawford III in Beavercreek. The 18-member group made up of lawmakers, experts, law enforcement professionals and community leaders held four listening sessions across the state, including a marathon five-and-a-half hour session in Cincinnati March 9. Now, the task force must compile the hours of expert testimony and community input into a report with recommendations for policy changes, which is expected to be released April 30. In the meantime, Kasich dropped by the meeting Monday to hear initial thoughts from the task force members.

One member, Oregon, Ohio Police Chief Michael Navarre, said that all of his training has informed him to shoot in dangerous situations, and that "there is a huge gap between what community and police want," according to Gongwer news service. Kasich has said changing training and procedures for officers could be one outcome of the task force’s work.

• Finally, are you following this crazy story about New York millionaire and property magnate Robert Durst? You should be. Durst is suspected in three murders over the span of nearly two decades, including that of his wife, one of his best friends and a neighbor. The thing is, he’s been a suspect for years and was even acquitted on grounds of self-defense for one of the murder charge even after he admitted to dismembering the man he killed. The HBO series Jinx has chronicled Durst and the suspicions against him, and, incredibly, Durst was arrested in New Orleans just before the show’s finale to face charges in L.A. for one of the murders. There are so many things to unpack about this situation — how money changes your relationship to the justice system, the weird looking glass of true-crime TV and real law enforcement colliding, Durst’s own strange background and on and on. Anyway, the whole story is worth reading up on and I’m sure we’ll be searching for answers to the questions Jinx raises for years to come.

That’s it for me. Tweet me (@nswartsell). Email me (nswartsell@citybeat.com). Say hey when you see me at Findlay Market. Whatever you gotta do to give me those news tips or your thoughts on the weird world of true-crime docu-dramas.

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<![CDATA[The Onion Mocks Cincinnati, The Economist Touts MusicNOW]]>

Some interesting national/international coverage for Cincinnati.

The Onion's Weekender edition for March 15 — the special travel issue — spotlights "Cincinnati in Just 300 Days" on its cover. However, it somehow overlooked publishing the itinerary. Check out the comical cover here.

Meanwhile, the latest issue of The Economist — in its Prospero arts section — has a legitimate feature on the just-concluded MusicNow festival, featuring an interview with its founder, Bryce Dessner.

It does offer some insight into what Dessner might be planning next. He's unsure of MusicNow's future after 10 years of growing success. Attendance was huge this year at Music Hall and Memorial Hall. Here's the except:
After this anniversary festival is over, Mr Dessner plans to take full stock of what it has achieved before deciding which direction to take with future programmes. "I always saw it as a ten-year thing so I'm not sure what happens next," he says. "What I do know is that we'll continue to champion cutting-edge, progressive programming and hope that people will continue to be inspired by that."

Read more here.

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<![CDATA[Marijuana Legalization Effort Moves Forward]]>

A controversial effort to legalize the growth and sale of marijuana is one step closer to the November ballot. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today approved ResponsibleOhio's ballot summary language, or the description of its proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize pot but restrict growth to 10 sites owned by the group’s investors across Ohio.

“We are very happy with today’s news,” said ResponsibleOhio Spokesperson Lydia Bolander in a news release. “Voters deserve a thoughtful conversation on this important issue, and we are eager to continue this conversation in the coming months.”

DeWine initially rejected the group's ballot proposal over quibbles with its summary language. ResponsibleOhio tweaked its proposal, and now the initiative is ready for the ballot.

The group built its ballot initiative in the mold of Ohio’s successful 2009 casino legalization effort. Opponents, including other pro-marijuana groups, say that like the casino amendment ResponsibleOhio’s proposal would create a state-ordained monopoly on marijuana farms that mainly benefits the group’s investors. Other critics, including many conservative statewide officials, say the plan will increase drug use and crime.

In response to criticism from other pro-marijuana activists, ResponsibleOhio last month announced it was changing its proposition to allow private growth of small amounts of marijuana.

The group says its proposal will decrease the black market for weed, alleviate some legal injustices, save law enforcement money and increase tax revenues.

“Marijuana prohibition has failed,” Bolander said. “Black Ohioans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than white Ohioans. Patients are denied access to treatments that could ease their suffering. And the state is wasting $120 million each year to enforce these bad laws.

Local ResponsibleOhio investors include basketball hall of famer Oscar Robertson, philanthropist Barbara Gould and venture capitalist Frank Wood. Cincinnati attorney Chris Stock is also involved with the group, helping draw up the language for the ballot initiative. Three of the proposed 10 marijuana farms would be in the Greater Cincinnati area.

Next, ResponsibleOhio will need to finish collecting the more than 300,000 signatures required to put the amendment on this year’s statewide ballot. The group has until this summer to do so.

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

What’s up Cincy? Here’s your Friday morning news update.

Here we go again. Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter has been indicted on another felony charge. The charge is a reprise of one of the eight felony counts a jury deadlocked on last year. Hunter is being charged again with misuse of a court credit card. Prosecutors say they have new evidence on that charge that they presented to a new grand jury, which handed down the indictment. Hunter is also facing a new trial on other charges the jury couldn’t come to agreement on in her former case. Hunter was convicted on one count of having an inappropriate interest in a court contract last year over interventions prosecutors claim she took in an investigation into her brother, a county court employee. Hunter’s attorney says the new credit card indictment is unfair since Hunter was already tried for the charge. He says Hunter will appeal it and the other pending charges set for retrial.

• The number of brewers in Cincinnati is exploding, bringing increased stress on the city’s sewage system, according the Metropolitan Sewer District. That’s led to increased fees for brewers to make up for the runoff that MSD must process. But Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black have halted those fees for now after breweries cried foul. Black says he understands the outcry and is working to find a compromise — a way to enforce water regulations while also keeping the city from dampening one of its fastest-growing industries. Smaller brewers say the fees could hurt their businesses as they operate on small margins and will have to pass the increased costs on to consumers. They’ve also said they were given little warning about the fees. Cranley supports the pause, saying he wants to give brewers who feel they’ve been mistreated a fair shake. Black has said he wants to make sure the system is fair to other rate payers and will be working on a new plan over the next several weeks.

• A citizen task force that has compared Cincinnati’s charter to the governments of 17 other cities says that our mayor has “extraordinary power,” an imbalance that leaves Cincinnati City Council at a disadvantage. The task force is part of a panel studying the city’s charter ahead of possible changes. The group says the mayor has more power than intended by a 2002 amendment to the charter that created a so-called “strong mayor” system in the city, though it stressed that the review wasn’t aimed at current Mayor John Cranley but at the way the city’s government overall is structured. Two ways the mayor is unusually powerful, according to the group, are that he or she sets City Council’s agenda and controls the hiring and firing of the city manager.

• The convoluted case of the Emery Building in Over-the-Rhine got a new chapter this week as the managers of the building agreed to pay $125,000 in property taxes to Cincinnati Public Schools. The building had been property tax exempt, but will now be on the Hamilton County tax rolls. The controversy originated with a complex arrangement to renovate the building, which is owned by the University of Cincinnati. A for-profit developer renovated the upper floors and lower-level commercial space and was to use the proceeds to renovate the historic Emery Theater on the building’s first floor. However, the Requiem Project, a nonprofit that at one point had an agreement with the Emery group, charges that isn’t what has happened, and that renovation efforts have stalled. The Requiem Project sued after its contract with the Emery groups was terminated in January 2013.

• Here’s an alarming statement about national infrastructure investment from former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers: Public investment in infrastructure these days is essentially zero percent (OK, .06 percent) of the country’s GDP, and federal, state and local spending is basically maybe enough for maintenance the infrastructure we already have. Maybe. But the country isn’t investing in new infrastructure at all by the numbers. That statement comes as a debate rages over what to do about the nation’s aging roads, bridges, highways and other publicly funded transportation necessities. The debate hits close to home: We’re years into the struggle to find a way to pay for the 51-year-old, traffic-packed Brent Spence Bridge, for instance, and a solution to the bridge’s $2.6 billion funding dilemma still seems distant. Bummer.

That’s it for me. Tweet or e-mail me news tips or your suggestions for favorite strange corners of the city to explore. I’m planning to be out and about this weekend soaking up the spring weather. Assuming that it’s actually nice out. If it’s not nice out, tweet me suggestions for great places to curl up in a ball and cry.

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

Morning Cincy! Here’s your news today.

Former senator and potential Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum visited the Greater Cincinnati area yesterday to speak at a conference on religious freedom in West Chester Township. Santorum wasn’t shy about mixing in some campaigning, telling the crowd that big government is threatening their freedom to be Christian and that the path forward is electing strong Christian leaders like Santorum himself. He threw out some recent headlines, including one about public schools in New York celebrating Muslim holidays, as examples of ways in which the religious right are being persecuted by pretty much everyone else. In his god, guns, no government stumping, Santorum appears to be reprising his role as 2012 Republican presidential primary runner-up. He came in second to Mitt Romney, a guy who has no weird religious ideas whatsoever. Santorum told the Cincinnati Enquirer he is considering running again for the GOP nomination and will make a solid decision in June or so.

• The Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s largest LGBT advocates, has recognized a local nonprofit for its service to LGBT youth. HRC has awarded Lighthouse Youth Services with its All Children – All Families seal of approval, the organization’s highest recognition of competency with LGBT issues for child welfare agencies. Lighthouse, which does street outreach, residential treatment and other programs with homeless and at risk youth, is the first agency in Ohio to receive the award.

“It’s an honor to receive this recognition from HRC as we work to serve this population of young people who are at such high risk of homelessness and discrimination,” said Lighthouse President and CEO Bob Mecum in a statement.

• As a fan of dark beer, and, really, dark beer exclusively, I’ve sat on the bench watching a number of craft brewers pop up around the city. Those brewers are great and all, but hopped-up IPAs are just not my style and that seems to be the rage these days. However, someone has finally heard my cry and now there’s a brewer coming devoted to my love of the dark, chocolaty richness of stouts and porters. Darkness Brewery is planning to open just across the river in Bellevue in September, focused on the tastiest corner of the beer world. I’ll be camped out at the door come grand opening. Founders Eric Bosier and Ron Sanders are currently funding the enterprise themselves but might set up a Kickstarter campaign in the near future.

• Do courts in Kentucky discriminate against addicts by blocking those on probation from taking anti-addiction drugs like methadone? That’s what a federal lawsuit filed by a Kentucky nurse alleges. Stephanie Watson is an opiate addict who is forbidden from taking medication aimed at easing her off the drugs. Watson’s attorneys say that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit targets the state’s Monitored Conditional Release program, which maintains the rules about the drugs, and seeks to have those rules overturned. Officials from the release program have yet to comment on the suit.

• Business groups across the state are signaling they’re not on board with Gov. John Kasich’s tax cut plan, mostly because it includes an increase in sales taxes. Kasich has proposed a $500 million tax cut for the state, mostly achieved by lowering income taxes while raising sales taxes and taxes on specific items such as cigarettes. Many of Ohio’s regional chambers of commerce have come out against the plan, saying it will limit Ohio’s nascent economic recovery. Kasich’s plan has also drawn flack from liberals, who say it makes the state’s tax structure more regressive. It’s also not gotten a lot of love from the Republican-dominated General Assembly, who have signaled they will be making changes to Kasich’s proposed budget.

• Here’s an interesting, and distressing, wrinkle in the ongoing national conversation about police use of force set off by the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo. This story explores the little-recognized fact that all the police involved in recent controversial shooting deaths of unarmed black citizens have been remarkably young and inexperienced — all well under the age of 30. While it’s important to realize that a number of systemic issues seem to be at play in the deaths of young men like Tamir Rice in Cleveland and John Crawford III in Beavercreek, officer inexperience seems to be an important, and under-recognized, element to the tragedies.

That’s all I’ve got today. You know the drill: tweet at me (@nswartsell), email me (nswartsell@citybeat.com) or comment with news tips or general heckling. Whatever you gotta do.

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

Morning y’all! Here’s a brief morning news rundown before I jet off to some interviews.

The Ohio Task Force on Community-Police Relations met last night at UC for a sometimes intense five-and-a-half-hour listening session. A large group showed up to listen to expert testimony and to speak to the panel themselves. Perhaps the most charged moment came when John Crawford, Jr., the father of John Crawford III, a Fairfield man shot by police in a Beavercreek Walmart, gave emotional testimony about the need for police reforms.

Among experts presenting were Garry McCarthy, superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, who talked about data-driven policing, Lt. Colonel David Bailey from the Cincinnati Police Department and Al Gerhardstein, a Cincinnati attorney who played a key role in the city’s collaborative agreement following the civil unrest here in 2001. State Sen. Cecil Thomas also testified about his role in the agreement. About 45 community members signed up to speak, including young activists with the Ohio Student Association, who argued there should be youth representation on the 18-person panel. Most attendees were from Cincinnati, but some drove from as far away as Columbus and Toledo. The panel concludes a tour of four listening sessions across the state. Now the task force, which was convened by Gov. John Kasich in December, will work on a report about its findings due at the end of April.

• A potential Over-the-Rhine neighborhood parking plan continues to take shape. Council discussed the prospective plan yesterday at its Transportation Committee meeting but did not pass anything just yet. Right now, the plan council is mulling would charge about $100 to park in one of 400 reserved spots around the neighborhood. That’s about a third of all the spots in OTR. Those who receive housing assistance would get a deal on the parking plan, however, only paying $18. Only two passes would be permitted per household.

• A bill necessary to move forward with tolling on a potential Brent Spence Bridge replacement is a likely wash in the Kentucky state Senate, meaning it’s back to the drawing board for the $2.6 billion project. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear recently proposed a public-private partnership to fund the 51-year-old structurally obsolete bridge’s replacement, but that requires Kentucky, which owns the bridge, to pass a law allowing public-private partnerships. Some Kentucky politicians, including many Northern Kentucky officials, oppose tolls on the bridge, saying they’ll hurt commuters and businesses in the region.

• Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has garnered another big endorsement in his run against Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld for the Democratic Party’s nomination in the 2016 race for Republican Rob Portman’s Senate seat. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of the party’s senators, has backed Strickland over Sittenfeld. There was some speculation that Sittenfeld, who is regarded as a promising rising star within the party, would bow out to the more experienced and well-known Strickland when the latter announced his campaign last month. But the younger Democrat has vowed to stay in the race, even as the going gets tougher. Yesterday, we told you that current Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown also endorsed Strickland. Sittenfeld has backers of his own, to be sure, and has raised a respectable $500,000 for his campaign.

• Finally, let’s go national. When something like the following happens, I automatically assume it happened in Florida, and I’m right a distressing amount of the time. On Sunday, thieves there stole a tractor-trailer with $85,000 worth of… mozzarella cheese. That’s a felony level of cheese there, friends. If I had that much cheese, I’d probably swim in it the way Scrooge McDuck used to swim in all those crazy gold coins he had. Police haven’t found the culprits yet, but I have a hot tip for them: Look for the guys making an insanely large pizza.

That’s it. See ya. Tweet at me @nswartsell or hit me on email (nswartsell@citybeat.com).

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

Hey all! Hope your weekend was great. I spent my Saturday at the Neighborhood Summit, so mine was super fun because I’m a huge dork. If you’re like me and you’re into community building, urban planning, transit, or anything else at all city related, though, it’s kind of like our Midpoint. Highlights included a three-part panel discussion among Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell, activists Damon Lynch III and Iris Roley and other experts talking about how far the Cincinnati Police Department has come since 2001, as well as another set of presentations about immigration in Cincinnati.

Anyway, on to the news. Could labs on Cincinnati’s East Side currently occupied by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health be a new home for the Hamilton County crime lab? County Commissioner Todd Portune says he’s looking into that possibility. Last month, the federal government announced it was providing $100 million to build a new facility for NIOSH to combine the organization’s two labs in Cincinnati into one complex over the next few years. That could free up plenty of lab space for the county’s cramped and outdated morgue and crime labs, currently in a building built in the early 1970s. What’s more, some of that $100 million could go toward renovating the current NIOSH lab so the county crime lab could move in. The idea comes after county commissioners killed a plan to move the morgue, crime lab and other county offices to a former Mercy Hospital in Mount Airy donated to the county for a dollar. Commissioners have said it would cost too much money to retrofit that building for the new offices.

• A statewide task force on police-community relations put together by Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the wake of controversy over police shootings is coming to Cincinnati tonight. A public listening session will be held at 4:30 p.m. at the Kingsgate Marriott, 151 Goodman Drive, near the University of Cincinnati. City Locals Councilwoman Amy Murray, Pastor Damon Lynch III and others make up the panel, which will produce a report in April on ways to improve relationships between police and community members. Kasich ordered the task force in December in response to nationwide consternation over police shootings of unarmed citizens of color across the country. In Ohio, the August shooting death of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart and the October killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice on a playground in Cleveland have gotten national attention. Both held toy guns at the time of their deaths, and police say they seemed to pose a threat. But the families of both Rice and Crawford say police were reckless and did not act appropriately. They say the shootings are indicative of a larger cultural problem between police and communities of color.

• As political bickering continues to swirl around the streetcar’s first phase, Councilman Chris Seelbach is pushing the city to work on planning the rail project’s next leg. Seelbach has created a motion in council seeking to spur the city to begin work on plans that would take the streetcar uptown toward the University of Cincinnati and many of the city’s hospitals. The motion directs the city administration to give detailed accounting of how much the next phase of the project would cost and how it might be paid for with state and federal grants. Seelbach has also requested the city refine its process for engaging community members along the route to get better input on the project. Originally, plans for the streetcar treated the downtown loop currently being  built and an uptown jaunt as one phase. But then Gov. John Kasich pulled $55 million in state funding for the project, resulting in the current scaled-down scope. Mayor John Cranley, who has been a vocal opponent of the streetcar, has said it’s much too soon to begin focusing on the next phase before the first is even finished. But Seelbach and other supporters say the only way to tap into federal funds and other sources of funding is to have a plan in place and ready to go.

• Sen. Sherrod Brown, one of Ohio’s highest-profile Democrats, has endorsed former Gov. Ted Strickland in his run for the state’s other senate seat, currently held by Republican Rob Portman. That’s not a surprise — Strickland is one of Ohio’s other super high profile Democrats — but it does signal the challenge City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has ahead as he challenges Strickland in the Democratic primary for the seat. Sittenfeld, who announced his candidacy last month, has recently said he won’t back down from the race despite his big name competitor. He’s raised at least $500,000 for his run and told supporters last week that he’s all in for the fight. Though Brown endorsed Strickland, he was careful to praise Sittenfeld in his announcement, saying the 30-year-old has a bright future in politics.

• In the face of issues around execution drugs, a steady number of exonerations of those on Ohio’s death row and other factors, is it time to consider reforming or abolishing Ohio’s death penalty? Many feel strongly that it is, including unlikely conservative opponents to the punishment. Recent delays to executions caused by Ohio’s struggle to find a source for drugs that will end an inmate’s life humanely have renewed calls for the state to reconsider its death penalty entirely. This Columbus Dispatch story takes a deep look into the issue and is worth a read.

• Finally, March 7 marked the 50th anniversary of the violent clash between police and protesters in Selma, Alabama, an event that helped fuel new national civil rights legislation, including the Voting Rights Act. Thousands visited Selma over the weekend to commemorate the anniversary, which was marked by passionate speeches by both President Barack Obama and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder used his speech to question the future of the VRA, parts of which have been dismantled by recent Supreme Court decisions. Here’s a pretty in-depth New York Times piece about events in Selma over the past few days.

That’s it for me. You know the drill. Tweet (@nswartsell), e-mail (nswartsell@citybeat.com), comment, send me a telegram or a fax (do people still fax? Is that still a thing?) Here we go. Tweet me about whether you still use a fax machine or even know what a fax machine is. I kind of do.

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<![CDATA[U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Ohio Same-Sex Marriage Cases April 28]]>

The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing that will decide the fate of same-sex marriage bans in Ohio and three other states. On April 28, the court will hear arguments over whether same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

Ohio’s ban passed as an amendment to the state’s constitution in 2004. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and other ban supporters say upholding the ban is about protecting voters’ rights to enact laws via the democratic process. But opponents equate same-sex marriage to now-protected civil rights such as provisions upholding voting rights and school integration that had to be upheld by decisions from the courts. They also cite more recent polls that show attitudes toward same-sex marriage are shifting.

Last year, a three-judge panel in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court in Cincinnati upheld the bans in the four states in a 2-1 decision, agreeing with DeWine’s argument. But there are signs the Supreme Court may not agree.

Other circuit courts across the country have thrown out similar bans. And in June 2014, the nation’s highest court struck down a 1996 federal law that effectively banned same-sex marriage in a narrow 5-4 decision. The five justices opposed to the federal bans included reliably liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer as well as moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who many legal experts believe represents the crucial vote for matters pitting liberals against conservatives on the court. All five justices who voted to strike down the federal ban remain on the court, though some have joined its more conservative wing in upholding other bans, most notably California’s 2008 ban.

Among the four cases to be presented in arguments over Ohio’s ban is a lawsuit against the state by James Obergefell of Cincinnati. Obergefell sought to be listed as the spouse of his terminally-ill longtime partner John Arthur on Arthur’s death certificate. The state refused to allow that, even though the two were legally married in another state. Arthur died in October 2013. 

After oral arguments, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the cases sometime in June.

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

Hello Cincy! Here’s a brief rundown of what’s going on in the news today.

As I told you about earlier this week, Cincinnati City Council passed a new dog law that levies steep civil penalties (up to $15,000) for dog owners who don’t control their pets. The law was changed just slightly before passage, cutting out criminal penalties that duplicated already existing state laws. Council also wrangled over the streetcar again (surprise) and passed a measure that would increase the highest possible salary for assistant city manager to more than $160,000, a big bump. That move came with some argument from council members Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach, who felt raising prospective salaries at the top sent the wrong message when frontline workers are receiving just a 1.5 percent increase in pay. Council did also approve a small cost of living allowance increase for non-union city workers as well at their meeting yesterday, however.

• Local craft brewers Rhinegeist got some bummer news yesterday from the state of Kentucky, though other craft brewers may feel differently about a bill that passed the state Senate. That bill, HB 168, prohibits brewers in Kentucky from also owning distribution companies. That’s bad news for Rhinegeist because the company is just three months into its River Ghost venture, which was to distribute their beer as well as other spirits in the Bluegrass State. Other craft brewers are elated by the prospective law, however, because it also prohibits brewing giant Anheuser-Busch from owning distribution in the state. Smaller brewers say giant brewing companies put their own beers front and center in their distribution, muscling the little guy out. Anheuser-Busch will have to sell or close its two distributing businesses in the state.

• The University of Cincinnati College of Law now has a female dean for the first time in its 182-year history. UC announced yesterday that it has chosen Jennifer Bard for the top position at the law school. Bard is currently a law professor and assistant provost at Texas Tech University. She’s highly regarded: She was also a candidate for the top job at three other law schools. Bard, who has a background in bioethics and public health, will do double duty at UC, also serving on faculty at the university’s College of Medicine.

• We here at CityBeat’s news desk (“we” being pretty much just me and editor Danny Cross sometimes) talk a lot about affordable housing here in the morning news and in our more in-depth reporting. And while it’s true that the rental market is seeing an affordability crisis, with rents going up and affordable units going down, the home ownership market is a different story. Cincinnati is one of the most affordable cities in the country in terms of owning a home, according to a recent ranking by website Next City. Cincinnati ranks fourth in the country, behind just Pittsburgh, Cleveland and St. Louis in the estimated yearly salary needed to afford the average house in the city. Of course, that’s still a firmly middle-class salary: about $33,500, which aligns pretty neatly with the city’s median household income of $33,700.

• Think back about four months or so, if you can, to a flap about Ohio Gov. John Kasich allegedly saying that he didn’t think Obamacare could be repealed. The Associated Press insisted Kasich made the assertion during an interview, while the governor said he only meant that Medicaid expansions in the states that had accepted money from the federal government couldn’t be repealed. Kasich asked for a correction. AP stood its ground. Sound nitpicky? Kind of, but it was a really big deal because repealing Obamacare is a GOP obsession and any Republican, especially one of Kasich’s stature, saying it wasn’t possible risked all sorts of slings and arrows from the party. Now, as Kasich seeks to gain the GOP nomination for president, and as Obamacare hangs on a Supreme Court decision, Kasich has finally wrung a correction out of AP. The news group now says it misunderstood him and that he meant to say that Medicaid couldn’t be repealed, not Obamacare in total. Right.

• The Department of Justice will not seek civil rights charges against Officer Darren Wilson or the Ferguson Police Department in connection with the August shooting death of unarmed black citizen Michael Brown. But they are not happy with the department. At all. The DOJ issued a scathing and, quite frankly, terrifying report about the Ferguson PD, citing numerous instances of racial bias, inappropriate use of force and seeming violations of citizens’ rights. Eighty-eight percent of the department’s uses of force were against black residents of the city, according to the DOJ. The report claims that the department has been functioning as little more than a revenue-collecting arm of the city’s government and that ticket quotas were established solely for the purpose of raising funds for the city. The revelations come as the country continues to grapple with questions around race and police use of force.

That’s it for me. I’m off to put together next week’s feature and an upcoming cover story and will be out tomorrow doing so, so this is goodbye for the week. I'll miss y'all! What do you want to see CityBeat dive into next? Hit me with it on Twitter: @nwarstell or e-mail me at nswartsell@citybeat.com.

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

Hey all. Let’s get this news thing going before the snow comes once again and grinds everything to a halt. Or just dusts the ground with a little inconvenient powder, depending on how much you trust weather forecasters.

Yesterday I told you a bit about 3CDC’s presentation to City Council’s Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee. During that meeting, 3CDC head Steven Leeper said the developer might cross the $1 billion threshold this year for investment made in the basin since it began in 2003. Let’s dig into my notes a bit and talk in more detail about a couple things regarding Over-the-Rhine the developers have planned.

One of the noteworthy projects on the group’s radar is a redevelopment of Ziegler Park on Sycamore Street. The park is across from the former SCPA building and just a block from Main Street’s active corridor of restaurants, bars and apartments. 3CDC head Steve Leeper said Ziegler’s revamp would increase the number of basketball courts and other active features currently found there. Removal of the courts at Washington Park during its 2010 revamp by 3CDC caused controversy among neighborhood residents, many of whom used the courts regularly. Leeper promised that while Washington Park’s character is more “passive” in nature, Ziegler would be a much more “active” park.

“There will be a lot more athletic activities going on there,” Leeper said, “and hopefully it will attract kids from the neighborhood who can spend their time in those athletic endeavors like we all did when we were kids."

• Leeper also outlined progress on three facilities for individuals without homes — two in Queensgate set to replace the Drop Inn Center and City Gospel Mission facilities currently in Over-the-Rhine and a third in Mount Auburn built to replace the Anna Louise Inn downtown. These projects have been controversial — advocates fought hard for years to keep the Drop Inn Center at its location in OTR and a protracted legal battle stretched on for many months between Cincinnati Union Bethel, which runs the Anna Louise Inn in Lytle Park, and Western & Southern Financial Group, which eventually purchased the property against CUB’s wishes. The new spaces are a bit further from the city’s center, though they do have a larger capacity.

• Speaking of the Drop Inn Center, its winter shelter will be open the rest of this week in response to dropping temperatures, according to a release sent out by the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Usually, the winter shelter is closed by this time of year, but with winter taking its time going away, the shelter will stay open a bit longer.

• Here we go again: More streetcar drama could be coming our way. There is currently a potential fight brewing over who will operate the transit project. Council has set a limit of $4.3 million a year on bids for running the streetcar. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority is taking bids on the contract, and there’s controversy over whether to use union employees for the job or not. Some council members favor that move, even if it costs a bit more, and they’ve asked  SORTA to negotiate with the Amalgamated Transit Union, which also runs the city’s bus service. But ATU has accused SORTA of dragging its feet on contract negotiations and trying to undercut the union by demanding a separate collective bargaining agreement for running the streetcar. SORTA says a separate agreement is necessary because the scale of the streetcar — just 30 employees at most — is much smaller than 750 people who run the city’s bus service. Union officials, however, says that SORTA is trying to get the lowest bid possible out of the union in order to drive other bids down as well. My guess is we’ll be hearing a lot more on this one. A decision must be made on the operator of the project by July.

• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld today said he will stay in the race for U.S. Senate, ending speculation he might bow out after former governor Ted Strickland entered the race last week. Sittenfeld will face Strickland in the Democratic primary. The winner will face incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, unless he is felled by a primary challenger — an unlikely possibility.

“Since we launched our campaign, I have been more grateful than I can express for the enthusiasm, encouragement and support we've received,” Sittenfeld said today in a statement on social media and his website. “So I want you — my supporters and friends — to hear it from me directly: I'm all in. Ohio needs a forward-looking leader to replace Rob Portman and the broken culture in Washington that he's long been part of.”


• You might be able to walk around The Banks with a bit of the ole’ alcheyhol on Opening Day. For a while now, lawmakers in Ohio have been trying to pass legislation that would allow cities to designate open container districts where folks can have a beer out in public. It looks like the legislation is good to go, with enough support at the State House, and now local officials are telling the Ohio General Assembly to hurry the dang thing up so we can chug a couple Moerleins in public to celebrate the Reds beating the Pirates April 6. The bill looks likely to pass the House, hopefully with the two-thirds vote margin needed to put it into effect immediately. Local State Sens. Democrat Cecil Thomas and Republican Bill Seitz have introduced a bill in the Senate to speed the process up there as well. Now that’s what I call bipartisanship. If the bill passes, council will have to scramble to create and approve the districts, one of which looks likely to be the area around the stadium. Ladies and gentlemen, you have a month. Get to work.

• Hey! Do you want people fracking in state parks? It could happen soon whether you like it or not. Four years ago, Gov. John Kasich signed into law a provision allowing fracking on state land. He then pulled a fast one and declined to fund the commission that would give drillers approval for fracking permits on that land, basically circumventing the law he signed. Very clever. But the Ohio General Assembly, which is currently dominated by pro-fracking Republicans, is working to pass a bill called House Bill 8 that would bypass that commission. Proponents of the bill say it’s meant to help private landowners who want to sell drilling rights to wells that might end up under state land. But critics note that under the current version of the bill, so called “surface impacts,” or drilling directly on state land, are not outlawed and would be permissible if the law passes. The bill heads to committee next week and looks to pass there, after which it will be considered by the whole House.

• In national news, Supreme Court arguments begin in King vs. Burwell today, a lawsuit which could revoke health care subsidies for 7.5 million people currently signed up under the Affordable Care Act under the federal exchange. The core of the case is the contention that the language of the 2009 law does not allow the federal government to issue subsidies to people who went through the federal exchange, and that only those living in states that created their own exchanges are eligible for government help with their health care bills. It’s a nitpicky suit turning on a few words in a turn of phrase, but it could completely unravel Obamacare by making it unaffordable for those in the 34 states that did not or could not establish their own health care exchanges online. Many agree that’s the point of the suit, in fact — another attempt to repeal the healthcare system by throwing a legal wrench into its works. Just think! A pedantic semantics debate could leave millions without access to health care. And you thought clear writing wasn’t important.

That’s it for me. Hit me with those tweets and those e-mails: @nswartsell or nswartsell@citybeat.com

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

Morning y’all. Here’s what’s up today. First, I have a couple previews of stories that will be in the print issue tomorrow. We’re taking a deeper look at these issues, but here’s the teaser:

I skipped doing the morning news yesterday so I could check out council’s Law and Public Safety Committee meeting. The committee passed a new dog law in the wake of several severe dog bite incidents in the past year. The law isn’t breed specific but would create three categories for dogs based on their behavior and levy fines on owners depending on the severity of a dog’s offenses. Simply letting a dog run free unattended would result in a $50 fine, while more violent behavior from the dog would increase civil penalties for the owner. The committee didn’t pass a competing ordinance proposed by Mayor John Cranley that would have required pit bulls to wear special collars among other stipulations.

“I’m hopeful that this will help the police and prosecutors crack down on bad owners, prevent dog bites and make this a safer city,” said Councilman Chris Seelbach of the legislation the committee passed. Seelbach was a vocal opponent of the breed-specific law proposed by Cranley.

While we’re talking about council, let’s get right into today’s 3CDC presentation to the economic growth and infrastructure committee. 3CDC head Steven Leeper gave a number of updates about the developer’s activities on the long-stalled 4th and Race project, 3CDC’s efforts to redevelop Over-the-Rhine, especially north of Liberty Street. Also included were updates on a huge project at 15th and Race streets and the developer’s proposal to create two community entertainment districts downtown. Leeper fired back at criticisms of the proposal from those concerned that the six new liquor licenses granted in one of the districts would be controlled by 3CDC. Some, including Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, have questioned whether a developer controlling the licenses violates the spirit of community entertainment districts, which were created to boost small businesses and revitalize neighborhoods.

“We’re not interested in controlling liquor licenses,” Leeper said. “This is a means to an end. We have several terrific restaurateurs, small businesspeople. Everyone we’re talking to who is going into this site is from Cincinnati.”

• A group of activists is holding a town hall meeting at Bellarmine Chapel on the campus of Xavier University tonight at 6 p.m. to discuss comments made by Norwood Mayor Tom Williams in a January letter to the city’s police force calling black leaders in the community “race baiters.” The group says it hopes to start “a conversation where we can talk together about how our community can be welcoming to all who live here, shop here, visit here and worship here.” A Facebook listing for the event says childcare and refreshments will be provided.

• The Cincinnati Police Department has released video of an officer-involved shooting that occurred Monday morning in Price Hill. Police say 24-year-old Christian Jackson had broken into his ex-girlfriend’s house when police confronted him. After Jackson pointed a shotgun at them, police fired 11 times, hitting Jackson twice, according to the officers. Jackson ran two blocks before collapsing. He was taken to the hospital and is currently in stable condition.

This story is strange: this morning I woke up to Twitter posts about a person named Adam Hoover being abducted from work this morning and driven around I-275 in the trunk of his car. He posted a Facebook update about it, claiming he couldn’t call 911 because he was afraid his captors would hear him. Law enforcement soon found Hoover and began questioning him, and local news picked up the story, though there were few details available. Now, it all seems to have been a hoax. Hoover, a local activist who helped organize vigils for Leelah Alcorn after her death in December, apparently made up the entire ordeal, authorities say.

"This is a young man dealing with some issues in his life right now and for whatever reason he decided to stage this kidnapping and abduction," Green Township Police Lt. Jim Vetter told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

• Did Hillary Clinton circumvent federal email secrecy rules when she served as secretary of state? A New York Times story reveals that Clinton often used her personal email accounts to carry out official business as SOS. That’s against recent rules that require federal officials to use government email addresses for official business so their correspondence can be tracked and archived. Some Bush administration officials, including Karl Rove, were heavily criticized during W’s tenure for using secret, private email accounts to discuss official business. Sounds shady, but heck, is this really such a great strategy when apparently the federal government can read your private emails anyway?

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