CityBeat Blogs - Business http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-24.html <![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

A group of Greenpeace protesters face burglary and vandalism charges after a stunt yesterday on the Procter & Gamble buildings. Protesters apparently teamed up with a helicopter to climb outside the P&G buildings to hang up a large sign criticizing the company for allegedly enabling the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia by working with an irresponsible palm oil supplier. P&G officials say they are looking into the protesters’ claims, but they already committed to changing how they obtain palm oil by 2015.

Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) will step in to resolve the status of a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. The previous city administration pushed the project as a means to bring more residential space downtown, but Mayor John Cranley refuses to pay to move a tenant in the parking garage that needs to be torn down as part of the project. Following Cranley and Councilman Chris Seelbach’s request for 3CDC’s help, the development agency will recommend a path forward and outline costs to the city should it not complete the project.

Meanwhile, the tenants in the dispute announced today that they will sue the city to force action and stop the uncertainty surrounding their salon business.

Cranley insists politics were not involved in an appointment to the Cincinnati Board of Health, contrary to complaints from the board official the mayor opted to replace. Cranley will replace Joyce Kinley, whose term expired at the end of the month, with Herschel Chalk. “Herschel Chalk, who(m) I’m appointing, has been a long-time advocate against prostate cancer, who's somebody I’ve gotten to know,” Cranley told WVXU. “I was impressed by him because of his advocacy on behalf of fighting cancer. I committed to appoint him a long time ago.”

The costs for pausing the streetcar project back in December remain unknown, but city officials are already looking into what the next phase of the project would cost.

Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s must fully pay for rent and fees by March 10 or face eviction.

Through his new project, one scientist intends to “make 100 years old the next 60.”

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<![CDATA[City Council Tackles Progressive Agenda]]> City Council on Wednesday advanced a largely progressive agenda that moves forward with initiatives aimed at job training, homelessness and inclusion.

The agenda defined City Council’s first meeting of the new year — the first full session since council decided to continue work on Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project.

The meeting also showed that the Democratic majority — once fractured over the streetcar project and parking privatization plan — now appears to have formed a coalition on most issues facing the city. Perhaps more than anything, that could indicate the direction of Cincinnati for the next four years.

Responsible bidder

Most contentiously, the Democratic majority on City Council rejected a repeal of the city’s contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) projects.

The rules dictate how the city and county will award contracts for the federally mandated $3.2 billion revamp of the local sewer system.

The city’s rules impose stricter job training requirements on city contractors and require them to fund pre-apprenticeship programs that would help train new workers in different crafts.

Councilman Chris Seelbach, a Democrat who spearheaded the rules, argues the requirements will help foster local jobs and job training.

But the Republican-controlled county government, which also manages MSD and GCWW, says the requirements unfairly burden contractors and favor unions. Last year, county commissioners halted MSD’s work on the sewer overhaul in protest of the city’s rules.

The county’s halt has put 649 jobs and $152 million worth of sewer projects on hold, according to data released by Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.

With the federal mandate looming, county commissioners on Wednesday unanimously proposed a compromise that would create some job training and inclusion initiatives.

“We are approaching a crisis here in this dispute with the city,” said Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.

Vice Mayor David Mann, a Democrat, said he will look at the county’s proposal. But he cautioned, “I’m not going to repeal it until we have a substitute. To have a substitute we have to have conversations. This could be the beginning of a framework.”

The issue could end up in court. The city’s lawyers previously claimed they could defend the local contracting rules, but the county insists the city would lose.

“Portions of what the city wants will not stand in court. Our lawyers should meet,” Hartman told Seelbach on Twitter.

If the city and county don’t act before February, Winburn said the federal government could impose a daily $1,500 fine until MSD work fully continues.

Supportive housing project in Avondale

A supermajority of council — the five Democrats plus Charterite Kevin Flynn — agreed to continue supporting state tax credits for Commons at Alaska, a 99-unit permanent supportive housing facility in Avondale.

Although several opponents of the Avondale facility claim their opposition is not rooted in a not-in-my-backyard attitude, many public speakers argued the housing facility will attract a dangerous crowd that would worsen public safety in the neighborhood.

Supporters point to a study conducted for similar facilities in Columbus that found areas with permanent housing facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically comparable areas.

Other opponents decried the lack of outreach for the project. They claim the project was kept hidden from residents for years.

National Church Residences (NCR), which is developing the facility, says it will engage in more outreach as the project moves forward.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, said council’s decision ignores what most Avondale residents told him.

“The supermajority of residents that I have talked to that are directly impacted by this project are against it,” asserted Smitherman, who is leading efforts against the facility in council.

Even if council decided to rescind its support for the Avondale project , it’s unclear if it would have any effect. NCR already received state tax credits for the facility back in June.

Disparity study

City Council unanimously approved a study that will look into potential race- and gender-based disparities in how the city awards business contracts.

The $690,000 study is required by the courts before the city can pursue initiatives that favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses with city contracts, which Mayor John Cranley and most council members support.

But Flynn and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a Democrat, voiced doubts that the studys findings will fulfill the legal requirements necessary to legally enact initiatives favoring minority- and women-owned businesses.

Given the doubts, Simpson cautioned that the city should begin moving forward with possible inclusion initiatives before the disparity study is complete.

“I do think we need to rally around a mantra that we can’t wait,” agreed Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.

Once the study is complete, several council members said it will, at the very least, provide valuable data to the city.

Other notable actions

• Council approved a tax budget that lowered the property tax millage rate from 5.7 mills to 5.6 mills, which will cost $500,000 in annual revenue, according to city officials.

• Council approved an application for a $70,000 grant that would fund local intervention efforts meant to help struggling youth.

• Council approved an application for a nearly $6 million grant to provide tenant-based rental assistance to homeless, low-income clients with disabilities.

• Council disbanded the Streetcar Committee, which the mayor and council originally established to look into halting the project. Streetcar items will now be taken up by the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee.

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

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune will announce today whether he'll run for governor. If he decides to run, Portune will face off against Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald to decide which Democrat should face off against Republican Gov. John Kasich next November. Until now, it has been widely assumed that FitzGerald would take the gubernatorial nomination without a primary challenge. But if Portune enters the race, it could lead to a primary process that could hinder Democrats' chances in a pivotal state election.

Hamilton County Republican Party officials are looking into hosting the 2016 national GOP convention in Cincinnati, but they acknowledge their bid might come in too late. The 2016 convention would put the national spotlight on Cincinnati during a presidential election year, when presumably two new presidential contenders will have been picked by Democrats and Republicans to replace President Barack Obama. Hamilton County Republican Chairman Alex Triantafilou said Cincinnati would be a great location for the convention, given the region's electoral importance to both parties, but he wants to make sure Cincinnati actually stands a chance before using time and resources to file a formal application.

Entertainment districts allow some businesses in Walnut Hills and nine other Cincinnati neighborhoods to receive their state liquor licenses more quickly and inexpensively, but some — particularly businesses facing new competition — are worried the increasingly popular economic designation will lead to more alcohol-serving establishments than Cincinnati can sustain.

Local startup incubator SoMoLend got state hearings over allegations of fraud pushed to February and March. The once-promising crowdfunding incubator previously partnered with Cincinnati, but the city cut ties with the business once allegations of fraud surfaced.

The Ohio Department of Health warned on Friday that flu activity is increasing across the state and Ohioans should get vaccinated.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol last week launched an enhanced registry of people who have been convicted of drunk driving at least five times.

Starting Jan. 1, regulations meant to crack down on puppy mills will require licenses for dog breeders and clean cages. The legislation enforcing the new rules was approved more than a year ago to curtail Ohio's reputation of being soft on large dog breeding operations.

Ohio gas prices spiked at the end of the year.

With the year drawing to a close, check out CityBeat's top stories of 2013.

The question you probably never asked has now been answered: Can a human fall in love with a computer?

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<![CDATA[Help a Cincinnati Small Business Win a $250,000 Grant ]]> Cincinnati-area businesses only have a few more days left to garner enough votes to enter the running to win a slice of $3 million Chase Bank will award to 12 small businesses across the country.

Chase's Mission Main Street Grants program is designed to help small businesses grow. Although the registration deadline has passed, there are about 65 small local businesses who've applied hoping to enter the running. Click here and search "Cincinnati" to see which local businesses are vying for a grant, and vote for your favorite using your Facebook account.

In order to earn eligibility, small businesses need to garner 250 votes from supporters, which will allow them to move onto the selection phase where a Chase panel will review small businesses' applications and choose winners based on enthusiasm, likelihood to succeed, a well thought-out growth plan and positive impact in the community.

The 12 winners will receive a $250,000 grant, plus a Google Chromebook Pixel laptop and a trip to Google for a small business workshop with Google whizzes. Voting ends on Nov. 15, and winners will be announced in January 2014. 

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<![CDATA[Council Approves Pure Romance Tax Credits]]>

Oct. 10 update: At its final full session before the Nov. 5 election, City Council on Wednesday approved nearly $854,000 in tax credits for Pure Romance that city officials say will bring the company to downtown Cincinnati for at least 20 years.

Councilman Charlie Winburn, the lone Republican on council, was the only council member to vote against the deal.

Oct. 9 story: City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday approved nearly $854,000 in tax credits over 10 years for Pure Romance in return for the company coming to and remaining in Cincinnati for 20 years.

The city administration estimates the deal will lead to at least 126 new high-paying jobs in downtown Cincinnati over three years and nearly $2.6 million in net tax revenue over two decades.

If the company fails to keep at least 126 jobs after three years or remain in Cincinnati for 20 years, the city will claw back some of the tax credits depending on how egregiously the terms are failed.

Cincinnati in 2011 clawed back tax benefits on its so-called “megadeal” with Convergys after the company failed to keep its total downtown employment at 1,450 or higher.

Pure Romance is a $100-million-plus company that hosts private adult parties and sells sex toys, lotions and other “relationship enhancement” products.

The company was originally planning on moving to Cincinnati with support from both the state and city. But Gov. John Kasich’s administration ultimately declined to provide tax credits, which forced the city to ratchet up its offer from $353,000 to prevent Pure Romance from moving to Covington, Ky., instead of Cincinnati.

Kasich’s administration says the company didn’t fall into an industry the state normally supports, but state Democrats and local officials claim the state government resisted the tax credits because of a “prudish” attitude toward a company that sells sex toys.

“We welcome Pure Romance to the city of Cincinnati,” Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said at the committee meeting. “We are glad that the city administration and Pure Romance were able to work out an arrangement that actually welcomed them to the city.”

Pure Romance previously told CityBeat that it hopes to move its headquarters from Loveland to downtown Cincinnati by the end of the year, but the move hinges on whether the company can quickly finalize a lease agreement.

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

A bill enacting new regulations on minor political party participation in state elections yesterday passed through the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate despite objections from the Libertarian Party and other critics that the bill will shut out minor parties in future elections. The bill now needs approval from the Republican-controlled Ohio House and Republican Gov. John Kasich, who would likely benefit from the bill because it would help stave off tea party challengers in the gubernatorial election. The proposal was sponsored by State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Republican from Cincinnati.

The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority yesterday released drafts for contracts with operators who will manage Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages under the city’s parking plan, which leases the parking assets to the Port Authority for at least 30 years. Xerox will be paid about $4.5 million in its first year operating Cincinnati’s parking meters, and it will be separately paid $4.7 million over 10 years to upgrade meters to, among other features, allow customers to pay through a smartphone. Xerox’s contract will last 10 years, but it can be renewed for up to 30 years. The city administration says the parking plan will raise millions in upfront money then annual installments that will help finance development projects and balance the budget, but critics say the plan gives up too much control of Cincinnati’s parking assets.

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee yesterday approved nearly $854,000 in tax credits over 10 years for Pure Romance in return for the company coming to and remaining in Cincinnati for 20 years. The city administration estimates the deal will lead to at least 126 new high-paying jobs in downtown Cincinnati over three years and nearly $2.6 million in net tax revenue over two decades. Pure Romance is a $100 million-plus company that originally planned to move from Loveland to Cincinnati with support from the state and city, but Gov. John Kasich’s administration ultimately rejected state tax credits for the company. Kasich’s administration says Pure Romance didn’t fit into an industry traditionally supported by the state, but critics argue the state government is just too “prudish” to support a company that includes sex toys in its product lineup.

The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), Cincinnati’s vitriolic tea party group, yesterday appeared to endorse John Cranley, who’s running for mayor against Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls.

Ohio conservatives are defending their proposal to weaken the state’s renewable energy and efficiency mandates, which environmentalists and businesses credit with spurring a boom of clean energy production in the state and billions in savings on Ohioans’ electricity bills. State Sen. Seitz compared the mandates to “central planning” measures taken in “Soviet Russia.” A study from Ohio State University and Ohio Advanced Energy Economy found Ohioans will spend $3.65 billion more on electricity bills over the next 12 years if the mandates are repealed. CityBeat covered the attempts to repeal the mandates in further detail here and the national conservative groups behind the calls to repeal here.

Ohioans renewing their driver’s licenses or state ID cards will no longer be asked whether they want to remain on the list of willing organ donors. The move is supposed to increase the amount of participants in the state’s organ donation registry by giving people less chances to opt out.

An Ohio Senate bill would ban red-light cameras. Supporters of the traffic cameras say they deter reckless driving, but opponents argue the cameras make it too easy to collect fines for the most minor infractions.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine awarded $17 million in grants to crime victims services around Ohio, including more than $49,000 to the Salvation Army in Hamilton County.

President Barack Obama is likely to appoint Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve, which would make her the first woman to lead the nation’s central bank.

Lost in their smartphones and tablets, San Francisco train passengers didn’t notice a gunman until he pulled the trigger.

Scientists are bad at identifying important science, a new study found.

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

Councilman Chris Seelbach last night helped a gunshot victim before the man was taken to the hospital. Seelbach posted on Facebook that he was watching The Voice with his partner, Craig Schultz, when they heard gun shots. They went to their window and saw a man walking across Melindy Alley. When Seelbach asked what happened, the man replied, “I was shot.” Seelbach then ran down and held his hand on the wound for 10 to 15 minutes before emergency services showed up. “We have a lot of work to do Cincinnati,” Seelbach wrote on Facebook. Police told The Cincinnati Enquirer the victim seemed to be chosen at random.

Pure Romance yesterday announced it will remain in Ohio and move to downtown Cincinnati despite a decision from Gov. John Kasich’s administration not grant tax credits to the $100 million-plus company, which hosts private adult parties and sells sex toys, lotions and other “relationship enhancement” products. The reason for Pure Romance’s decision: The city, which was pushing for Pure Romance despite the state’s refusal, upped its tax break offer from $353,204 over six years to $698,884 over 10 years. Kasich previously justified his administration’s refusal with claims that Pure Romance just didn’t fall into an industry that Ohio normally supports, such as logistics and energy. But Democrats argue the tax credits were only denied because of a prudish, conservative perspective toward Pure Romance’s product lineup.

City Council yesterday unanimously rejected restoring car allowances, paid work days and office budgets for the city government’s top earners, including the mayor, city manager and council members. Councilman Seelbach said he hopes the refusal sends “a signal to the administration that this Council is not interested in making the wealthy more wealthy or giving more executive perks to people who already make hundred-plus thousands of dollars.” The restorations were part of $6.7 million in budget restorations proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney. The city administration previously argued the car allowances were necessary to maintain promises to hired city directors and keep the city competitive in terms of recruitment, but council members called the restorations out of touch.

The Cincinnati area’s jobless rate dropped from 6.9 percent in August 2012 to 6.7 percent in August this year as the economy added 11,500 jobs, more than the 3,000 required to keep up with annual population growth.

The former chief financial officer for local bus service Metro is receiving a $50,000 settlement from the agency after accusing her ex-employer of retaliating against her for raising concerns about issues including unethical behavior and theft. Metro says it’s not admitting to breaking the law and settled to avoid litigation.

Ohio House Democrats say state Republicans denied access to an empty hearing room for an announcement of legislation that would undo recently passed anti-abortion restrictions. But a spokesperson for the House Republican caucus said the speaker of the House did try to accommodate the announcement and called accusations of malicious intent “absurd.” The accusations come just one week after the state’s public broadcasting group pulled cameras from an internal meeting about abortion, supposedly because the hearing violated the rules. The legislation announced by Democrats yesterday undoes regulations and funding changes passed in the state budget that restrict abortion and defund family planning clinics, but the Democratic bill has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled legislature.

Ohioans will be able to pick from an average of 46 plans when new health insurance marketplaces launch on Oct. 1 under Obamacare, and the competition will push prices down, according to a new report. CityBeat covered Obamacare’s marketplaces and efforts to promote and obstruct them in further detail here.

Ohio lawmakers intend to pursue another ban on Internet cafes that would be insusceptible to referendum, even as petitioners gather signatures to get the original ban on the November 2014 ballot. State officials argue the ban is necessary because Internet cafes, which offer slot-machine-style games on computer terminals, are hubs of illegal gambling activity. But Internet cafe owners say what they offer isn’t gambling because customers always get something of value — phone or Internet time — in exchange for their money.

Ohio tea party groups can’t find candidates to challenge Republican incumbents.

The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed the first openly gay U.S. appeals court judge.

The Cincinnati area is among the top 20 places for surgeons, according to consumer finance website ValuePenguin.

A graphic that’s gone viral calls Ohio the “nerdiest state.”

Insects apparently have personalities, and some love to explore.

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<![CDATA[Pure Romance to Remain in Ohio]]>

Pure Romance on Tuesday announced that it is moving to downtown Cincinnati despite a decision from Gov. John Kasich’s administration to not grant tax credits to the $100 million-plus company, which hosts private adult parties and sells sex toys, lotions and other “relationship enhancement” products.

Pure Romance will now move 60 jobs and its headquarters from Loveland to downtown Cincinnati. It expects to create another 60 jobs in the process.

In a statement that thanked City Council and City Manager Milton Dohoney for their support, Pure Romance CEO Chris Cicchinelli cited downtown Cincinnati’s growth as a reason for remaining in Ohio.

“We look forward to playing an active role in the continued resurgence of this region’s urban core and know that Pure Romance professionals will add to the dynamic and exciting growth being enjoyed in downtown Cincinnati,” he said.

The move will receive support from the city government, which previously offered $353,000 in tax breaks to the company.

Pure Romance was originally considering moving to Kentucky after Ohio refused to give the company tax credits.

Kasich and other Republican officials justified their refusal with claims that Pure Romance just didn’t fall into an industry that Ohio normally supports, such as logistics and energy.

But Democrats, citing other companies that obtained tax credits despite not being within traditional industries, argue that Kasich’s administration only denied the tax request because of a prudish, conservative perspective toward Pure Romance’s product lineup, which includes sex toys.

Pure Romance is looking to move downtown by the end of the year, but the time frame hinges on ongoing lease negotiations.

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

The streetcar project is on track for its Sept. 15, 2016 opening date, according to a monthly progress report released by the city yesterday. Through Aug. 31, the city spent $22.1 million on the project, including nearly $2 million in federal funding. In total, the project is estimated to cost $133 million, and about $45 million will come from the federal government. CityBeat covered the project and political misrepresentations surrounding it in further detail here.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and community partners yesterday unveiled the “Come Home Cincinnati” initiative, which promises to make vacant properties available to new occupants in an effort to increase homeownership and redevelop neighborhoods hit hardest by vacancy and abandonment. The initiative will work through the Hamilton County Land Bank, private lenders and community development corporations to connect potential homeowners with a pool of loan guarantees, which would pay for the home loans if a borrower defaulted. Qualls’ office says the plan will likely require tapping into the city’s Focus 52 fund, which finances neighborhood projects. If City Council passes the motion supporting the initiative, the city administration will have 60 days to come up with a budgeted plan, which Council will also have to approve.

A Democratic state legislator used Pure Romance’s troubles to criticize Ohio’s process for granting tax credits. State Rep. Chris Redfern, who sits on the legislatures Controlling Board, repeatedly brought up Pure Romance when discussing tax credits for three companies supported by Gov. John Kasich’s administration. Redfern ultimately didnt vote against the tax credits, but he only backed down after getting state officials to say the three companies were meeting all of the state’s priorities. Pure Romance originally planned to move its headquarters and 60 jobs from Loveland to downtown Cincinnati and create 60 jobs in the process. But since the company was denied state tax credits, its openly discussed moving to Kentucky to take up a better tax offer. The Kasich administration says it denied the tax credits because Pure Romance isn’t part of a targeted industry, but Democrats argue the administration is killing jobs in Ohio just because of prudish feelings toward Pure Romance’s product lineup, which includes sex toys.

Cincinnati will be honored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) later today for connecting residents to renewable energy sources, according to a press release from the city. Some environmental groups have already praised Cincinnati for championing solar energy in particular, as CityBeat covered here.

At a City Council forum last night, residents demanded walkable, livable neighborhoods that include grocery stores.

Internet cafes need more than 71,000 signatures to get on the November 2014 ballot. The cafes are attempting to overturn a state law that effectively forces them out of business. State officials argue the law is necessary because Internet cafes, which offer slot-machine-style games on computer terminals, are hubs of illegal gambling activity. But Internet cafes say what they offer isn’t gambling because customers always get something of value — phone or Internet time — in exchange for their money.

The Affordable Care Act’s (“Obamacare”) marketplaces will go live in one week, regardless of whether the federal government shuts down. The marketplaces will allow users to enroll in insurance plans with tax subsidies from the federal government. CityBeat covered the marketplaces and efforts to promote and obstruct them in further detail here.

A Democratic state legislator is pushing new requirements that would force lobbyists to disclose their annual salaries.

I-75 lanes are temporarily closing for improvements.

Step one to stopping malicious hackers: Learn their ways.

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

Yesterday’s shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., left 13 dead, including the suspected shooter. The suspect was identified as Aaron Alexis, 34, by the FBI. He died after a gun battle with police. Alexis was discharged from the Navy Reserve in 2011, the same year he was arrested for accidentally firing a bullet into his neighbor’s apartment. The Associated Press also reported that Alexis had been suffering from severe mental health issues and hearing voices. The Washington Post will continue live blogging about the events here.

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee yesterday unanimously approved a proposal that will allow the city administration to study whether city contracts should favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses and report back with the results in February 2015. City officials support the measures because reported city contract participation rates have plummeted for minority-owned businesses and remained relatively flat for women-owned businesses since Cincinnati dismantled its previous minority- and women-owned business program in 1999. The study, which the city now estimates will cost $450,000 to $1 million, is necessary because of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires governments to empirically prove there is a racial or gender-based disparity before enacting policies that favorably target such groups.

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee also put a two-week hold on the controversial supportive housing project in Avondale while an independent mediator, who will be paid $5,000 by the city administration, goes in to take community feedback. The Commons at Alaska project has been criticized by community members who fear it will bring more deterioration to an already-blighted neighborhood, but supporters argue that a spread of misinformation has led to the current tensions. The proposed 99-unit facility would provide residence to the homeless, particularly those with severe mental health issues, physical disabilities and drug abuse histories. CityBeat covered the controversy in further detail here.

Gov. John Kasich yesterday reversed a decision from the Ohio Development Services Agency that prevented the public from seeing tax credit estimates that state agencies like JobsOhio use to gauge whether giving a business a tax break is worthwhile. Kasich agreed to the reversal after being questioned by reporters about whether keeping the estimates secret only further perpetuates the narrative that JobsOhio, the privatized development agency, is unaccountable. JobsOhio has been mired in multiple scandals in the past couple months after media reports revealed the agency suggested tax credits for companies with direct financial ties to the governor and JobsOhio board members. Republicans argue JobsOhio’s privatized, secretive nature helps it more quickly establish job-creating development deals, but Democrats say it allows the agency to waste taxpayer money without public scrutiny.

Kasich also hinted that his administration might pursue the Medicaid expansion without legislation, but he also clarified that the expansion will require agreement from legislators at some level. Under Obamacare, the federal government is asking states to expand Medicaid to include anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level; if states accept, the federal government will pay for the entire expansion through 2016 then phase its payments down to an indefinite 90 percent. Kasich has been a strong proponent of the expansion, but Republican legislators have so far rejected his support.

A national organization could target Ohio’s LGBT population as part of a nationwide campaign that will raise awareness about Obamacare’s benefits. Kellan Baker, founder of Out 2 Enroll, says the efforts are needed in Ohio and the rest of the country because gay, lesbian, bisexual and especially transgendered people are often uninsured at greater levels than the rest of the country as a result of outright discrimination and poor outreach efforts. But three major changes in Obamacare could help fix the trend: tax subsidies, online marketplaces that will allow participants to compare insurance plans and new regulations that protect LGBT groups from discrimination in the health care and insurance industries.

A downtown office building at 906 Main St. is being converted to apartments.

Piracy apparently plays a major role in Netflix’s show purchases.

Wait But Why helps put time in perspective.

Small animals see the world in slow motion.

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<![CDATA[Disparity Study Moves Forward]]>

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Sept. 16 unanimously approved a proposal that will allow the city administration to study whether city contracts should favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses and report back with the results in February 2015.

City officials support the measures because reported city contract participation rates have plummeted for minority-owned businesses and remained relatively flat for women-owned businesses since Cincinnati dismantled its previous minority- and women-owned business program in 1999.

The study, which the city now estimates will cost $450,000 to $1 million, is necessary because of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires governments to empirically prove there is a racial or gender-based disparity before enacting policies that favorably target such groups.

It’s also unclear if the latest participation numbers are accurate. As part of the city’s previous business program, minority- and women-owned businesses were required to report as minority- and women-owned businesses. But the classification has been voluntary since the program was terminated, which could be leaving out businesses who choose not to report.

In August, council members supported funding the disparity study with money from the parking lease or any other funds the city administration could locate.

“We need to put all of Cincinnati to work building Cincinnati,” said Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who introduced the August motion, in a statement. “To make sure that the city has an open, fair, inclusive process that ensures everyone benefits from our public investments and from private development that we support with public money, we need an updated disparity study.”

Cincinnati hasn’t undertaken a disparity study since 2002. That study found evidence of disparities but ultimately recommended race- and gender-neutral policies to avoid legal uncertainty that surrounded the issue at the time.

Officials claim they couldn’t conduct another study until the city administration finished implementing suggestions from OPEN Cincinnati, a task force established in 2009 to reform the city’s small business program after Mayor Mark Mallory and his administration were accused of neglect.

The study has also been stalled by cost concerns. Some critics argue the money would be better spent elsewhere, but, in an uncommon moment of consensus, all council members have backed funding.

The city manager’s proposal calls for conducting the study between February 2014 and January 2015. The city administration will report the results to City Council and take public comments on the study in February 2015.

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

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine certified a petition effort that, if approved by voters, would require the state to expand its Medicaid program. The effort now must gather roughly 116,000 signatures to be approved by the Ohio Ballot Board and eventually end up on the 2014 ballot. Under Obamacare, states are asked to expand their Medicaid programs; if they accept, the federal government will pay for the full expansion through 2016 then indefinitely phase down its payments to 90 percent after that. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and generate $1.8 billion in extra revenue. But the expansion has been so far rejected by Republican legislators, who tend to be opposed to government-run health care programs and say they’re concerned the federal government won’t be able to uphold its commitment to Medicaid as it has for nearly four decades. CityBeat covered the expansion in greater detail here.

In another example of rising secrecy surrounding JobsOhio, state tax credit estimates are now exempt from public records law, which means the public will no longer be able to see the value of tax credits granted to new and expanding businesses. The estimate is used by JobsOhio to gauge whether it should propose granting a tax break to a certain business, but the Ohio Development Services Agency says it’s concerned the numbers aren’t accurate in the long term. In the past few months, JobsOhio has been mired in controversy because of its lack of transparency. Republicans argue that JobsOhio’s secretive nature allow the privatized development agency to move more quickly with job-creating development deals, but Democrats argue tax dollars are being used with little accountability.

The final results of Cincinnati’s disparity study for city contracts aren’t expected until 2015. The city is pursuing the study, which is estimated to cost between $500,000 and $1.5 million, to gauge whether Cincinnati should change its contracting policies to favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses. The study is necessary before making such changes because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires governments to empirically prove there is a racial or gender-based disparity before favorably targeting such groups.

Meet Cincinnati’s new police chief: Jeffrey Blackwell. He’s currently deputy chief at the Columbus Division of Police, where he’s been for 26 years. Blackwell was picked over three other finalists: Paul Humphries, who’s been acting Cincinnati Police chief since June; Michael Dvorak, deputy chief of the Mesa, Ariz., Police Department; and Jerry Speziale, deputy superintendent of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio criticized Debe Terhar, president of the State Board of Education, for calling Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye “pornographic” and demanding it be removed from the state’s teaching guidelines. Terhar and others have criticized the book because it contains a scene in which a father rapes his daughter. The Common Core standards adopted by Ohio suggest The Bluest Eye as an example of reading text complexity, quality and range for high school juniors who are typically 16 or 17 years old, but it’s ultimately up to school districts to decide whether the novel belongs in the curriculum. Removing mention of the book from the state’s guidelines wouldn’t explicitly ban the book in Ohio schools, but it would weaken the novel’s prominence as a teaching tool.

The University of Cincinnati Medical Center is part of an international effort involving clinical trials to cure Alzheimer’s, the neurodegenerative disease with no known cure that causes long-term memory loss, confusion, mood swings and other symptoms typical of dementia.

Police are searching for an active shooter on the grounds of the Washington Navy Yard in the District of Columbia. The shooter has barricaded himself in a room after allegedly shooting at least three people.

Ohio gas prices are back down.

An unarmed drone club for children with autism might teach the children to view things from different perspectives.

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

A tea party-backed pension amendment yesterday cleared the hurdle of 7,443 petition signatures required to appear on the November ballot. Cincinnati for Pension Reform, the group behind the amendment, had previously paid nearly $70,000 to petitioners to gather signatures. The amendment would privatize pension plans so the city and city employees hired after January 2014 would contribute to individual retirement accounts that the employee would then manage by independently selecting investments. That’s a shift from the current system in which the city pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. But unlike private-sector employees, city workers might not qualify for Social Security, which means they’ll lack the safety net that typically comes with risky 401k-style plans. If workers do qualify for Social Security, the city would have to pay into the federal entitlement program, which would cost the city more money, according to an Aug. 5 report from the city administration.

Cincinnati is cutting ties with SoMoLend, the local startup that had previously partnered with the city to connect small businesses and startups with $400,000 in loans. SoMoLend has been accused of fraud by the Ohio Division of Securities, which says the local company exaggerated its performance and financial figures and lacked the proper licenses to operate as a peer-to-peer lending business. The Division of Securities won’t issue a final order until after a hearing in October. SoMoLend’s specialty is using crowdfunding tactics to connect small businesses and startups with lenders.

Ohio Republicans are considering bringing back the “heartbeat bill,” the controversial anti-abortion bill that would ban induced abortions after a heartbeat is detected, which could happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The bill could be reintroduced next week. That would come just a couple months after Republican legislators and Gov. John Kasich approved a slew of anti-abortion measures through the two-year state budget.

The Ohio Senate will today hear testimony from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio about projections that show the state could save money if it takes up the Medicaid expansion. As part of Obamacare, states are asked to expand their Medicaid programs to include anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. In return, the federal government will pay for the expansion for the first three years and wind down to paying 90 percent of the costs after that. The Health Policy Institute previously estimated the expansion would save Ohio roughly $1.8 billion and insure nearly half a million Ohioans in the next decade.

Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan is touting Cincinnati Safe Student Housing, a website that allows university students to pick from housing options that passed a free fire inspection. The website was unanimously approved by City Council following several university students’ deaths to fires, which council members argue could have been prevented with stronger standards.

The new owner of the former Terrace Plaza Hotel says he will reopen the building as a hotel. Alan Friedberg, managing principal of the company that bought the building earlier this year, says the process of bringing back the building will take a lot of time and work, considering it’s now been vacant for three years.

Four Greater Cincinnati hospitals have been recognized for protecting the LGBT rights of patients and employees by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation: Bethesda North Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital, the Veterans Affairs Cincinnati Medical Center and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected a ballot initiative that would have legalized marijuana in Ohio. DeWine claims the summary for the ballot initiative is untruthful and leaves out various important details.

Mason, a Cincinnati suburb, was ranked one of the top 10 places to live by CNNMoney. Maybe CNN really likes Kings Island.

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown was in Cincinnati yesterday to call on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to expedite processing on benefit claims. The VA currently has a backlog of 500,000 veterans, according to a press release from Brown’s office.

Introducing Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, a proposal for a railway system that would use high-pressure tubes to shoot passengers around the country. It’s estimated traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco, which normally takes about five and a half hours, would only take 30 minutes in the tubes.

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<![CDATA[City to Cut Ties with SoMoLend]]>

The city of Cincinnati is suspending its relationship with SoMoLend, the local startup that the city partnered with in December to connect small businesses and startups to $400,000 in loans.

The broken partnership comes in response to accusations of fraud from the Ohio Division of Securities that have forced SoMoLend to stop giving out loans in the state and could lead to the business’s shutdown.

City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat in an email that although the city partnered with SoMoLend in December, it has yet to give out any loans through the crowdfunding incubator.

The Ohio Division of Securities says SoMoLend failed to gather the proper federal and state licenses for a peer-to-peer lending business and falsely inflated its performance and financing figures.

SoMoLend gained local and national recognition for supposedly helping foster startup and small businesses by linking them to loans through crowdfunding — a particularly promising proposition given the state of the economy and research from the National Bureau of Economic Research that shows startups are the best drivers for economic and job growth.

But with the extent of the charges, it’s questionable whether SoMoLend had any success to begin with.

Candace Klein, CEO of SoMoLend, told The Cincinnati Enquirer on Sunday that the company is currently in talks with the state. She stressed that the Ohio Division of Securities won’t issue a final order against SoMoLend until after a hearing scheduled for October.

SoMoLend, which stands for Social Mobile Local Lending, was founded in 2011. The business’s specialty is using crowdfunding tactics to connect small businesses and startups with lenders. It then packages the loans to sell them as notes and charges a fee or commission for its services.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cursive might get kicked from the classroom.

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

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

Actual headline: “Video shows thief stealing cigarettes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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<![CDATA[Council Members Rally Behind Racial Disparity Study]]>

Cincinnati council members and community leaders today explained and defended plans to use the parking lease to fund a disparity study that would gauge whether the city should change its contracting policies to favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses.

But before City Council unanimously passed the motion at today's meeting, it was amended to allow the city administration to find alternate sources of funding.

Since the city dismantled its last minority- and women-owned business program in 1999, contract participation rates for minority-owned businesses have plummeted, while rates for women-owned businesses have remained relatively flat.

But because of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, governments must conduct a study to prove there's a race- or gender-based disparity before policies can be adjusted to favor such groups.

Cincinnati has not taken up a disparity study since 2002. That study found evidence of disparities but ultimately recommended race- and gender-neutral policies to avoid legal uncertainty that surrounded the issue at the time.

"This is an opportunity to respond to a complaint and concern that has been around for as long as I can remember," Councilman Wendell Young said.

City officials claim they couldn't conduct another study until the administration finished implementing recommendations from OPEN Cincinnati, a task force established in 2009 after Mayor Mark Mallory and his administration were criticized for neglecting the city's small business program.

But the holdup has also been brought on by the study's cost, which city officials currently estimate between $500,000 and $1.5 million. Some critics argue the money would be better spent elsewhere.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who's running for mayor this year, defended the cost by explaining a disparity study can potentially lead to economic development by lifting minority groups, who currently face unemployment rates higher than white Cincinnati residents. She said it's on the city to ensure everyone, including women and minorities, benefit from Cincinnati's economic growth.

Other critics, particularly mayoral candidate John Cranley, have criticized the motion's suggestion for funding. The motion asks the city administration to fund the study with part of the upfront money that will come from leasing the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but it does allow the city administration to find other funding options if possible.

Cranley, who supports conducting a disparity study but opposes the parking lease, says the money should come from other, unnamed sources because parking funds are currently being held up while the city hashes out legal uncertainty surrounding the lease and the Port Authority works out contracts with private operators that will manage Cincinnati's parking assets.

In response to those concerns, Qualls said that "money doesn't grow on trees" and Council has to make do with what it has.

Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the parking lease, but he supports using parking funds for the disparity study. He says that, while he may have voted against the lease, the vote is done and the money is there.

The amended motion was unanimously passed by City Council today. It asks the city administration to present a budget and timetable for the study at the Budget and Finance Committee's first October meeting.

Updated at 3:18 p.m. with results of City Council meeting.

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

Early voting for the mayoral primary election begins today. The top two winners of this round of voting will go head-to-head in the Nov. 5 election. The candidates: Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who supports the streetcar and parking lease; ex-Councilman John Cranley, a Democrat who opposes the streetcar and parking lease; Jim Berns, the Libertarian who attempted to withdraw from the race but changed his mind a day later; and Sandra “Queen” Noble, an eccentric Independent candidate who sent an F-bomb-laden email to debate organizers.

Cincinnati Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved the construction of Over-the-Rhine headquarters for Cintrifuse, the startup incubator. The company has been working from a temporary location downtown, but it claims it needs a better space to continue attracting businesses, particularly those in the tech field. Cintrifuse will be joined in its new home by CincyTech and the Brandery. Although all council members voiced support for Cintrifuse, Councilman Chris Seelbach disputed using Focus 52 funds to build the new headquarters. The city administration previously told Seelbach that the Focus 52 money wouldn’t be used to further develop Over-the-Rhine, which has received a disproportionate amount of city funding to spur the neighborhood’s revitalization.

The committee also approved changes for the next phase of The Banks, which will include retail space and a nine-story apartment building with about 305 apartments. The first phase of The Banks filled up fast and won a top award — two big positives the city and county obviously hope to replicate with the next leg of the project. It’s now up to the development team behind the project and the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners to approve the next phase.

Council members and city officials voiced opposition yesterday to a tea party campaign to change Cincinnati’s pension system. Council members acknowledged the current pension system has problems, but they called the campaign, which is currently gathering petitions to get a proposal on the November ballot, misguided and flawed. The proposal would change the city’s pension system to use a defined contribution model similar to 401k plans that are common in the private sector. But just like private sector plans, the new system might require paying into Social Security, which would make the plan more expensive for Cincinnati.

Ohio House Republicans are being asked to hold oversight hearings for JobsOhio, the state-funded, privatized development agency that has been mired in controversy in the past few weeks. Most recently, Dayton Daily News discovered that some members of the JobsOhio board are employed by, on the board of or stockholders in companies that are receiving state aid through JobsOhio. Republicans say JobsOhio’s privatized and secretive nature allow it to move faster with deals that attract businesses and jobs to the state, but Democrats argue the agency is too unaccountable and might be wasting and misusing taxpayer money.

Billy Slagle, the convicted murderer who apparently hung himself over the weekend, died without knowing of a plea deal that could have prevented his scheduled execution. CityBeat wrote about Slagle’s case in further detail here.

The Ohio Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is upset that charges have been dropped against an allegedly abusive Amish dog breeder. The group had pushed for charges against Jonas Beachy, the breeder, after 52 dogs were pulled from his central Ohio farm with dental disease, feces-smeared coats and paws mangled by wire mesh cages. Circleville Law Director Gary Kenworthy conditionally dismissed the charges because of problems securing veterinarian records for the dogs.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) announced in a statement today that the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, the Ohio Department of Public Safety and ODJFS will be working with the Ohio Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers to help minors who are victims of human trafficking. The new collaboration is seen as another step to stop human trafficking in Ohio, an issue that has haunted the state in the past.

Metro’s bus service is adding routes and changing connections on Aug. 18.

BuzzFeed has a list of “31 Ways To Tell You’re From Cincinnati,” but the list reads like something from 2001. Who’s avoiding Over-the-Rhine with all its new restaurants and after LumenoCity?

Popular Science has a rundown on how 3-D printing body parts will revolutionize medicine.

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

City Council could use leftover revenue from the previous budget cycle and money from the parking lease to fund a disparity study that would gauge whether minority- and women-owned businesses should be favorably targeted by the city’s contracting policies. The study could cost between $500,000 to $1 million, according to city officials. Because of a U.S. Supreme Court case, the city must carry out the study before it can impose policies that favorably target minorities or women with business contracts. Since the city's last race- and gender-based program was dismantled in 1999, contract participation rates for minority-owned businesses dropped from a high of 22.4 percent in 1997 to a low of 2.7 percent in 2007, but rates for women-owned businesses have remained relatively unchanged. But the numbers could be understating how many minority-owned businesses there are because classifying as one is now voluntary, while it was mandatory in the 1990s.

State Rep. Ron Amstutz, chairman of the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee, says he wants to move on a package of bills that would include the Medicaid expansion by early October. The bills will also tackle other issues, such as how to deal with growing concerns about opiate addiction in Ohio. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio says the federally funded Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and generate roughly $1.8 billion for the state in the next year. But Republican legislators in the General Assembly say they're concerned the federal government won't be able to uphold its commitment to the expansion. Recent polling found about 63 percent of Ohioans support expanding Medicaid.

East side residents pleaded with Greater Cincinnati Port Authority officials yesterday to reduce enforcement hours for parking meters under the city's controversial parking lease. The plan allows for enforcement until 9 p.m., but residents say it should only go to 6 p.m. to avoid hurting local businesses that might rely on free parking during the evening. The city is leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then manage the assets through private operators from around the country. The city administration estimates the deal will produce $92 million up front and at least $3 million a year afterward for Cincinnati, which officials plan to use for development projects and to help close budget gaps.

Meanwhile, opponents of the parking lease appealed their legal challenge to the Ohio Supreme Court. Opponents argue the lease should be susceptible to voter referendum. The city claims Cincinnati's emergency clause powers allow council members to expedite laws and remove the possibility of referendum altogether. The legal challenge was initially successful in a lower court, but the appeals court ultimately sided with the city. It's unclear whether the Ohio Supreme Court will hear the challenge.

Legal experts say it's unclear which, if any, of Ohio's new abortion restrictions could survive a court battle. The anti-abortion measures, which were passed in the state budget by Republican legislators and Gov. John Kasich, impose a series of regulatory hurdles that require extra medical procedures prior to getting an abortion and could be used to shut down abortion clinics.

An internal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report suggests that fracking, an oil- and gas-extraction process, can contaminate underground drinking water. The findings could have implications for Ohio, which is currently undergoing a fracking boom as companies rush to tap into oil and gas reserves in northeastern parts of the state. CityBeat covered Ohio’s fracking boom in further detail here.

Councilwoman Pam Thomas and ex-Councilman Cecil Thomas want everyone to know that they have not endorsed anyone for mayor.

Ryan Widmer's mother, who gained notoriety for defending Widmer during his three trials, was found dead yesterday. There were no obvious signs of trauma or foul play. Widmer is currently serving 15 years for drowning his wife in a bathtub in 2008.

Scientists may have to genetically modify oranges to save them from a deadly disease.

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<![CDATA[City to Consider Funding for Disparity Study]]>

City Council could use leftover revenue from the previous budget cycle and money from the parking lease to fund a disparity study that would gauge whether minority- and women-owned businesses should be favorably targeted by the city’s contracting policies.

“Once we conclude the parking lease agreement and see the results of the close-out of the last budget year, I believe there may be a majority (of Council) that would support funding a Croson study,” Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls told CityBeat.

The disparity study — named a “Croson study” after a U.S. Supreme Court case — could cost between $500,000 and $1 million, according to city officials.

Qualls expects to see the final revenue numbers from the previous budget cycle sometime this week. The numbers are expected to come in higher than projected, which would give Council some leftover money to allocate for newer priorities, including a disparity study and human services funding.

Another potential funding source: the city’s parking lease agreement with the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, which will take over Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages and manage them through various private companies from around the nation.

The announcement comes shortly after minority inclusion became a major issue in the 2013 mayoral race between Qualls, John Cranley, Jim Berns and Sandra “Queen” Noble.

Cranley announced his minority inclusion plan, which includes a disparity study, on July 12.

Because of a 1989 Supreme Court ruling, city governments are unable to enact programs that favorably target minorities or women without first doing a disparity study that proves those groups are underrepresented.

The city’s last disparity study was done between 1999 and 2002. It found evidence of disparities but ultimately recommended race- and gender-neutral policies to avoid legal uncertainty that surrounded the issue at the time.

But since the city did away with its affirmative-action contracting policies in 1999, contract participation rates for minority-owned businesses dropped from a high of 22.4 percent in 1997 to a low of 2.7 percent in 2007. Participation among women-owned businesses remained relatively stable, hitting a high of 6 percent in 2005 and otherwise fluctuating between 0.9 percent and 3.8 percent from year to year.

Rochelle Thompson, head of the city’s Office of Contract Compliance, points out that classifying as a minority- or women-owned business is now voluntary, whereas it was mandated through the city’s policies in the 1990s. That, she argues, might be understating how many contracted businesses are truly minority- or women-owned.

Still, business leaders are calling on the city to do more. They claim minority-owned businesses are more likely to hire minorities, which could alleviate an unemployment rate that’s twice as high for them as it is for white Cincinnatians.

Qualls says City Council hasn’t pursued a disparity study until now because it was waiting for the full implementation of recommendations from OPEN Cincinnati, a task force established in 2009 after Mayor Mark Mallory and his administration were criticized for neglecting the city’s small business program. The resulting policies forced the city administration to be more transparent and accountable for the program’s established goals.

Thompson claims OPEN Cincinnati’s changes “breathed life” into the small business program, but none of the changes specifically targeted minority- and women-owned businesses. Instead, the program broadly favors and promotes small businesses, which Thompson calls the drivers of job and economic growth.

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