CityBeat Blogs - News http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-36.html <![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

All right! So I’ve got some great Halloween parties lined up and it’s really hard to sit still and focus on important things. But since that’s pretty much what being a grownup is about, and since they pay me to (kind of) be a grownup around here, let’s talk about news for a few.

• Though most of the action happened in committee meetings, City Council made final a bunch of things it has been working on, including funding the mayor’s Hand Up initiative. The jobs program has been controversial since the funding will come in part from other programs. Get the back story on that here.

Council also gave the thumbs up for City Manager Harry Black’s proposals for the city’s $18 million budget surplus. The city will stash most of it away in savings or emergency accounts for weather and such, give some to a new data analysis office, use some to fight infant mortality and to repay neighborhood programs.  

Council also gave final approval to an ordinance that would make getting expungements easier for those convicted under Cincinnati’s old marijuana law. Lingering criminal records for a number of city residents mean difficulty finding jobs and getting school loans, something the new law looks to address.

Finally, council passed new regulations on Uber and Lyft. You can read more about that here. Busy day.

• A while back I told you about outspoken Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones taping an interview for The Daily Show. Well, this probably goes without saying, but… it didn’t go so well. It’s gotta be hard when you’re diametrically opposed to the viewpoints of the show you’re going on, and they have all the editing power, but still. It was rough. Jones, who made his way down to the belly of the liberal beast, Austin, Texas, for the taping, continually insisted that illegal immigrants get all sorts of free stuff the rest of us aren’t privy to. I’ll let you watch the results yourself if you haven’t already.

• Also a while back, and also something you should watch — the Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial meeting at which Gov. John Kasich more or less ignored beleaguered challenger Ed FitzGerald. I also, because I’m thoughtful like that, linked you to a page with a video of the exchange, or, well, lack thereof. Only the Plain Dealer later took that video down, which is weird, right? So here it is again. Warning: strong language in the article accompanying the vid, including the terms "douchecanoe" and "asshat."

• Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is getting more help from the Clintons in her nail-biter of a challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell. Hillary Clinton will appear with Grimes today in Louisville and Saturday in Covington at 11th-hour campaign rallies. No word what their Friday plans are, but I’m going to some great Halloween parties if y’all are reading and interested.

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<![CDATA[City Passes Ride Sharing Regulations]]> City Council yesterday voted to approve rules governing ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft, the first time since the companies came here in March that they’ve been regulated by the city.

“I don’t know if it will ever be perfect, but in other cities, they’ve outright banned Uber and Lyft,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray, the transportation committee chair. “I think we’ve put together a perfect plan for this point in time, where we’re managing safety in Cincinnati without over-regulation. If we don’t have anything, there’s nothing on the books.”

The new regulations classify the ridesharing companies as “transportation network companies” and require them to carry a license with the city costing $10,000 a year. License requirements include $100,000 in liability insurance, keeping trip records for six months, as cab companies must do, requirements for background checks on drivers and minimum requirements for vehicles.

When rideshare companies first came to town, cab companies in the city cried foul at the lack of regulation the tech-savvy newcomers enjoyed. Representatives from cab companies protested outside City Hall and lobbied for rule changes.

Some rules placed on cab companies, like regulations when drivers can wear shorts, are arcane and burdensome, companies say.

Murray said the rules are due for an adjustment.

“Certainly this brought out some things in our taxi regulations right now that have not been updated in a while,” she said. “We need to look at that, and our committee will be doing that.”

Uber and Lyft have said they’re fundamentally different from taxi companies and shouldn’t be regulated the same way.

Uber Ohio General Manager James Ondrey told CityBeat in July that Uber doesn’t oppose all regulations, since the company does some of the things required of cab companies anyway. But he also said the company isn’t the same as a taxi company.

“Uber is a technology company,” Ondrey said. “We’ve built a mobile platform that connects users with drivers giving rides. They’re not employees. They’re independent contractors who pay a small fee to us to use our platform.”

Many of the regulations Council passed yesterday are things the companies already do voluntarily.

Vice Mayor David Mann had some reservations about the regulations and voted against them, saying they didn’t go far enough in terms of insurance and holding ride sharing companies accountable for the fares they’re charging.

He said the $25,000 in insurance the companies will be required to carry for accidents where they’re not at fault is too low and could leave citizens under-covered if an uninsured driver hits a ride share car. He also said the companies aren’t transparent enough with the city about their rates.

“We are letting them operate on our streets under the license we issue,” Mann said, “and we have no way to direct, easy way to make sure we’re comfortable with what they’re charging.”

The companies generally show the rates on their apps, but the rates are variable due to peak pricing schemes, which some have found confusing.

Overall, however, Council was supportive of the regulations, which have been in the works for five months and have gone through six versions in Council’s transportation committee. Mann was the only dissenting vote.

“This is as close as we were going to get to perfect,” Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said. “I think it’s a show that Cincinnati is open to business and that we’re working to be the big, great city we already are.”

Simpson pointed out that cabs still have cabstands and can be hailed. “Uber and Lyft don’t have that,” she said.
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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Phew! Our election issue is done and out in the world, I just wrapped up a draft of next week’s cover story, and I have literally hours before the next City Council meeting. Let’s hang out for a minute and talk about what’s going on.

Mayor John Cranley has endorsed former City Councilman and Human Rights Commission head Cecil Thomas in his run for state Senate, but it’s understandable if you were thinking otherwise. Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn, running against Thomas, has pulled a Cranley quote from a Cincinnati Enquirer article published back in April praising Winburn and put it in campaign material. That kinda, you know, makes it look like Cranley is endorsing him.

Cranley’s standing behind his fellow Democrat, which would be kind of awkward for Winburn if he wasn’t just plowing right on through it.

“His endorsement won't matter at this point," Winburn says. "He has to let everyone know he's a Democrat."

• Iconic Cincinnatian Leslie Isaiah Gaines passed away on Monday. Gaines was a Renaissance man the likes of which we rarely see these days— a larger-than-life lawyer, preacher, songwriter and Hamilton County municipal court judge. Gaines broke down barriers as a black lawyer and judge, as well as standing up for the legal rights of people of all colors.

• The Vatican has removed three Cincinnati catholic priests for sexual abuse offenses involving children. The decision to permanently remove Thomas Kuhn, Thomas Feldhaus and Ronald Cooper from the priesthood was announced yesterday, and while advocacy groups say they’re glad some justice is being done, they also heavily criticize the long, slow nature of the process. The three had been suspended for years and were still collecting paychecks from the church. Feldhaus’ offense dates back to 1979, and Cooper’s to the 1980s. The three are among more than a dozen Cincinnati-area priests investigated following a national scandal involving child abuse in the Catholic church that surfaced more than a decade ago.

• I’m only surprised that it took so long for this to happen. Ghost Hunters, the popular SyFy channel TV series, recently filmed an episode, airing tonight at 9 p.m., in Music Hall. The building is supposedly one of the country’s most haunted locations. Music Hall was constructed starting in 1876 on a former orphanage and burial ground for indigent citizens, and thousands of bones were found during the process. More remains have also been found in subsequent updates of the building, as well as in neighboring Washington Park. So if anywhere has ghosts, it’s Music Hall. The only question is whether any of those ghosts have tons and tons of money and want to like, chip in on some home repairs.

• Cincinnati may end up losing a $4.3 million federal grant for a bike trail on the city’s east side if it follows through with a plan to build on a route along an old train line instead of along the river. Part of the Ohio River Trail has already been built, but continuing to build along the river could be complex and expensive, requiring purchasing property from private owners and building a flood wall. Instead, council is considering shifting to the Oasis Line, a stretch of seldom-used train tracks. Supporters say that plan would be much cheaper and faster to build. But that plan has its own complications, including approval from the Federal Transportation Authority and Genesse and Wyoming Railroad, which holds some rights to the tracks. There’s also the fact that the federal grant money at stake can’t be moved from the Ohio River Trail to the Oasis Line.

• As a candidate, this is not the kind of news you want to hear a week from election day. Cuyahoga County Inspector General Nailah Byrd released a report on County Executive and Democratic candidate for Ohio governor Ed FitzGerald yesterday slamming the fact he drove without a driver’s license for 10 months after taking office. Byrd, who was appointed by FitzGerald, said the Democrat committed “a breach of public trust” for driving his own vehicle and county vehicles without a valid license. The inspector general doesn’t have any disciplinary powers over FitzGerald, but it’s the last thing his sagging, ill-run campaign needs at this point. Incumbent Gov. John Kasich has a towering, double-digit lead over his challenger, and has run circles around him in terms of fundraising, which basically means we’re doomed to four more years of having a governor who defends Ohio’s gay marriage ban, pushes abortion restrictions, refuses federal funds for food aid, and so forth. Great.

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

Morning y’all. Before we begin, I have to share something only tangentially related to the news. Last night I went and checked out a concert at Union Terminal, which has a 100-year-old organ in house and more than 4,000 pipes for that organ built into the walls. I don’t know a whole lot about baroque and classical music, but I do know a lot about loud music, and it was insanely loud. And awesome. Very recommended. To tie this into newsy stuff, I’ll just say go weigh in one way or the other on Issue 8 (the icon tax) at your local polling place.

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee yesterday more or less tied up what the city will do with its $18 million budget surplus. The committee, which is composed of all nine council members basically adopted City Manager Harry Black’s recommendations outright. The decision came with controversy, however, as some on Council again questioned the process by which the recommendations were proposed. Council members Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and P.G. Sittenfeld pushed back on the process, accusing Budget Committee Chair Charlie Winburn of trying to push the proposals through quickly and asking why public input wasn’t sought on the proposals before they were brought before Council for a vote. The three abstained from voting for Black’s recommendations.

• Council also wrangled again over funding for Mayor John Cranley’s Hand Up Initiative at the committee meeting. Several council members had questions about why some established programs are being cut to fund the $2.3 million jobs initiative, especially when the city is running a large budget surplus. Councilman Chris Seelbach pushed for an amendment to the ordinance funding the program to try and restore some cuts to housing advocacy group Housing Opportunities Made Equal and People Working Cooperatively, which helps the elderly and low-income with home weatherization, maintenance and energy efficiency. Those programs lost federal dollars from Community Development Block Grants that have been diverted to the mayor’s new jobs program. The amendment was voted down, 5-4.

“These programs employ people,” said Councilman Wendell Young, who, along with council members Seelbach, Sittenfeld and  Simpson voted for the amendment. “When these programs take a hit, that impacts their employees. There’s a real paradox there. These programs leverage dollars. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s help everybody.”

Others turned out to either support the mayor’s program or oppose the cuts. Many spoke on behalf of Cincinnati Cooks, which is a Hand Up partner. But some questioned the mayor’s program. Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless Director Josh Spring praised the organization's partnering with Hand Up, but said cutting other programs was counterproductive and unnecessary.

“Are we really going to lower poverty by five percent in five years by serving just 4,000 people? What the mayor has accomplished is that he has forced groups that get along to come down here and fight each other,” Spring said. “We do have a surplus. There are other ways to do this. Things like lead abatement, things like home repair, things like upward mobility so that folks experiencing low incomes can move up economically — those aren’t handouts.”

• One other skirmish broke out at the marathon meeting, which was still going when I stopped watching it on Citicable at about 6 p.m. (yes, I lead an exciting and enviable life). The tussle broke out over money that was once set aside for permanent supportive housing in the city. That money had been earmarked for a prospective 99-unit affordable housing development in Avondale for those recovering from addiction and other issues called Commons at Alaska. However, pushback from some community members there hamstrung that development. Now it will be used for other things.

“Last June, we had money set aside in the budget for permanent supportive housing,” Seelbach said. “I know some people say Alaska Commons doesn’t have enough community buy-in. But permanent supportive housing is an essential part of the equation. We were told we were not going to be eliminating it. And now guess what? We’re eliminating permanent supportive housing. Well, I’m not going to do that.” Seelbach voted against moving the money, along with Simpson, Young and Sittenfeld.

• That’s enough City Council action, at least until Wednesday. Let’s move on. Normally, the words “best” and “suburbs” in the same sentence cause heavy cognitive dissonance in my brain. But this is cool, I guess. Three Cincinnati suburbs have been ranked among the best in America by a new study. Madeira (3), Montgomery (21) and Wyoming (24) were tops in the region and among the best in the country, according to Business Insider. The rankings looked at nearly 300 ‘burbs across the country and took into account housing affordability, commute times, poverty, public school ratings and the number of stifling gated communities, GAP outlets and SUVs with stick figure family stickers on the back window per capita. Just kidding on those last ones, guys. Suburbs can be cool, too.

• The end of a long, watery saga: Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant, a boat that has been basically sinking since August, is being demolished.

• The Ohio Department of Transportation commissioned a study to determine future transit needs, and it found that the state will need to double its funding of transit over the next decade to more than $1 billion due to increasing demand. In 2000, the state spent $44 million for public transit. In 2013, it spent just $7.3 million. ODOT also gets money for transit from the federal government, however. Gov. John Kasich's administration has been especially cold to public transit, calling passenger rail supporters a "train cult" and turning down $400 million in federal funds for a commuter line between Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. He also, you know, withheld state funds for the streetcar. This is why we can't have nice things.

• In Ohio and beyond, it’s looking more and more likely that Democrats are going to take a beating this midterm election. That’s especially true in Congress, where once-safely Democratic House seats suddenly seem to be up for grabs. If Dems lose enough of those seats, they may not have any chance of taking back a majority in the House until redistricting rolls around again. Many analysts and some in the party have blamed the potential slide in House seats on the unpopularity of the president.

• Finally, if all this news is just too overwhelming for you (I know how you feel) check out this porcupine. He’s eating a pumpkin. It's adorable. You’re welcome.

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

Hey all! We’re hustling this week to put together our election issue, which will be just overrun with everything you need to know before Nov. 4 or, heck, right now if you’re doing the early voting thing. In light of that, I’m going to hit you with a brief, just-the-facts version of morning news.

• Some folks in the city, including advocates for the poor, are upset with the way Mayor John Cranley’s new job training program, called the “Hand Up” initiative, will be funded. That initiative is getting some of its funding from federal grants originally slated for other established programs in the city. Cranley says those programs aren’t the best use of the federal funds, and that his program will help up to 4,000 Cincinnatians reach self-sufficiency. Others, however, challenge that assertion.

• Seven Greenpeace activists were scheduled to stand trial today for hanging a banner protesting P&G’s use of palm oil from the company’s headquarters in March. But that trial has been postponed until Jan. 20. Another activist who was also facing charges died Oct. 6. A ninth took a plea deal Sept. 8 and is awaiting sentencing. The remaining activists could face more than nine years in prison on felony burglary and vandalism charges.

Yet another development deal may be happening soon on Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine. Have you ever driven down Central Parkway near Liberty Street and wondered what the building that says Warner Brothers on the front was all about? Developer Urban Sites is considering turning the 40,000-square-foot historic building, which was used by the film company as a vault, into offices or apartments.

• Democrat Senate candidate and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is still running neck and neck with Sen. Mitch McConnell in one of the country’s most-watched races. Recent polls put the two dead even, and, in a sign that folks who follow such things think she still has a chance, Grimes was endorsed by two of Kentucky’s major newspapers over the weekend. Both the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader have backed Grimes. McConnell’s challenger made a last-minute swoop through Covington over the weekend, showing up to hang out with a few dozen supporters at the MainStrasse Village Dog PawRade.

• Let’s zoom out to the bigger picture on the Senate. This AP story explores how weak Republican governors in some states could hurt the party’s chances of taking back the Senate, which it desperately, desperately wants to do so it can keep President Obama from doing really communistic type things like making sure people have health care and stuff.

• Finally, while we’re talking about elections, could the national attention focused on civil unrest Ferguson, Mo., spur greater black turnout in this midterm election? I normally don’t pay too much mind to the Daily Beast, but this article is thought-provoking.

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<![CDATA[Cranley's Hand Up Initiative Criticized for Diverting Funding ]]> Remember this summer, when Mayor John Cranley shuffled some money around to nonprofits outside the normal budget process while others got cuts? Get ready for some deja vu.

Cranley’s “Hand Up” job initiative will be funded in part by cuts to other anti-poverty and blight mitigation programs. That has some advocates for the poor up in arms.

The Hand Up program, which has an overall budget of $2.3 million, will provide education, job training and other services for Cincinnatians experiencing poverty. It will fund nonprofit job training organizations Cincinnati Cooks, Cincinnati Works and Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention.

Cranley says the program will eventually provide more than 4,000 Cincinnatians with jobs making at least $10 an hour. But it will do so by redirecting more than $1 million from federal Community Development Block Grants that was budgeted to other well-established Cincinnati programs that serve the poor.

Former City Council candidate Michelle Dillingham, who now works for the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, says the cuts are short-sighted and unfair.

“The programs the mayor has recommended for elimination are the few we have that are able to address systemic discrimination and inequality faced by our citizens,” she wrote in an Oct. 21 editorial in the Cincinnati Enquirer. She also noted that there are other more pressing concerns the funds could be used for.

“Block-grant funds could also be used to create more units of affordable housing,” she says, “an especially acute need given than homelessness in the city is increasing and the average age of a person receiving emergency shelter last year here was 9.”

Cranley says the cuts have been vetted by a board that approves the city’s use of CDBG funds. CDBG grants, which come from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, allow cities some flexibility in how they’re distributed. But HUD hasn’t prioritized job training over the kinds of programs being cut, critics like Dillingham say.

The cuts include $40,375 from Housing Opportunities Made Equal, which does tenant advocacy work, tenant education and other services. About $152,000 will come from People Working Cooperatively, an organization that provides home repairs, energy efficiency help and other services to low-income people.

Some critics, including Over-the-Rhine Community Council President Ryan Messer, say Cranley’s message of job training over assistance for the poor mirrors regressive conservative talking points about poverty, including Wisconsin Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s infamous budget proposal last year, which slashed spending on food aid and other anti-poverty programs.

Cranley has said that the program is designed prioritize teaching people to provide for themselves over “traditional welfare handouts.”

Councilman Chris Seelbach has been skeptical of the cuts and has drawn up a motion to restore funds to some of the programs. He’s hoping to get the motion before council at its Nov. 3 meeting.

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

Morning y’all. Here’s what’s happening in Cincinnati and the wider world this morning. On a side note, I can’t wait until Nov. 5 so I can stop writing about politics quite so much. Anyway, onward.

The city’s last facility providing abortions could be closing soon. Planned Parenthood’s Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center in Mount Auburn received notification that the state is citing it under a law passed last year requiring all clinics providing abortions to have agreements with area hospitals to take patients in case of emergencies. The Mount Auburn facility doesn’t have that agreement with any hospital but applied for an exception, called a variance, last year. The state has yet to reply to the clinic’s application. If the center closes down, Cincinnati could become the largest metropolitan area in the country without access to such facilities.

• The city’s much-discussed proposal to charge $300 a year for residents to park in Over-the-Rhine to pay for streetcar operating costs might not be legal, a former city solicitor says. In 2012, Ohio Supreme Court justices ruled that fees levied against a specific group of people but used for projects that benefit the general public are a no-go. City officials say the parking permits are a different issue than that case, which involved zoning permits, because parking permits are voluntary. The city has also stressed that no legislation has been voted on or put forward yet, and that they’re working to make sure any proposal falls within the letter of the law.

• The race for the Ohio House seat representing the 28th District in northern Hamilton County has been a knock-down, drag-out fight. The latest skirmish between Republican Jonathan Dever and his Democrat Michael Kamrass is over campaign finance. Dever says Kamrass’ campaign colluded with Coalition for Ohio’s Future, a PAC, on mailed ads the PAC run against Dever. That’s illegal under campaign finance rules. Dever points to the fact that the ads use photos identical to those paid for and used by Kamrass’ campaign and that the ads both have the same client number from a direct mail company called JVA Campaigns. Kamrass’ campaign says the photos are available for download on Flickr. JVA says the number on the ads in question simply denotes the month in which the ads were ordered.

• Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown yesterday released a statement criticizing Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted for displaying his name prominently on informational posters his office is requiring be hung in polling places.

“A Secretary of State’s obligation is to fair and accessible elections, rather than furthering his own reelection,” Brown said. “I’ve never seen a Secretary of State who is on the ballot insist that his name be prominently displayed near the voting booths, where a voter would be barred from even wearing a small button or sticker. Jon Husted is abusing his office by forcing boards of election to give his campaign a boost.”

Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Tim Burke first called out the posters last month. Husted says they’re simply part of his job administering elections for the state. He's is running for reelection against Democrat Nina Turner.

• Speaking of statewide races: It must be hard being Ed FitzGerald right now. The Democrat candidate for governor has taken a shellacking in the press for campaign missteps and he’s trailing his opponent, Gov. John Kasich, by oh, about $4 million in fundraising. And last night, during the only debate between the two and Green Party candidate Anita Rios, Kasich literally gave FitzGerald the cold shoulder. Kasich, leaning back in his chair with no tie on like Don Draper just after closing a big ad sale to GM, cast not an eye toward FitzGerald. He didn’t bother answering any of his challenger’s questions, either, or really directly address FitzGerald at all. Cold. He DID accidentally call a reporter at the debate Ed, which was not the reporter’s name. So, you know, at least he’s thinking about FitzGerald on some level.

• I feel it’s worth noting in the national scheme of things, so here it is: Someone in New York has been diagnosed with Ebola. The 33-year-old doctor is the fourth case confirmed in the United States. But don’t freak out. About Ebola at least. There are plenty of other things to freak out about.

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

All right. Let’s talk about this news stuff, shall we?

In just 12 days, voters will decide whether or not to back a plan put forward by Republican Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel for fixing Union Terminal. But the details still haven’t been worked out completely, as this Business Courier article discusses. The tax increase proposal, an alternative to another scheme drawn up over a number of months by a cadre of the city’s business leaders that also included Music Hall, has been a kind of plan-as-you-go effort by the commissioners. The 5-year, .25-percent sales tax increase won’t provide all the money needed for the project, and it’s still a bit up in the air where the rest will come from. The structure of the deal will hold Cincinnati Museum Center, which occupies the building, accountable for cost overruns or revenue shortfalls, which they’ll need to make up with private financing or donations. A new nonprofit entity might also need to be created to officially lease the building from the city in order to qualify for state and federal tax credits, a possible stumbling block that will require city-county coordination. All of which is to say there’s a long way to go before the landmark is on its way to renovation.

• The NAACP is ready to tap Cincinnati for its 2016 national convention pending a site visit in November. That’s a bit of a surprise, as many assumed Baltimore, where the organization is headquartered, would get the nod for its presidential election year convention. Cincinnati also hosted the NAACP convention in 2008. Big political players, including presidential candidates, often speak at the convention during election years. The 2016 election is shaping up to be huge for Ohio, with Cleveland hosting the GOP national convention and Columbus in the running for the Democrat’s big national event.

• A talk by award-winning conservative Washington Post columnist George Will at Miami University last night drew a number of protesters unhappy that the school invited him to speak. Will has caused controversy over remarks he made in a column in June criticizing new sexual assault rules on many college campuses. Will has blasted the “progressivism” of the rules, saying they place men accused of assault in a “guilty until proven innocent” situation. Specifically, Will criticized measures that stipulate a person who is considerably inebriated is unable to give sexual consent. Students and faculty who opposed Will’s talk say they collected more than 1,000 signatures from members of the Miami University community asking the school to cancel the event.  

Will has gained a reputation for his controversial, sometimes outlandish remarks. He has dismissed climate change science, for instance. Most recently, he claimed on Fox News that Ebola could be spread through the air via coughs and sneezes, an assertion contradicted by nearly all scientists who study the disease.

• Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s attorney Clyde Bennett has filed a motion for a retrial, saying that two of the 12 jurors on the case did not vote to find Hunter guilty on a felony charge earlier this month. Hunter was on trial for nine felony counts. The jury hung on the other eight but allegedly agreed that she was guilty of improperly intervening in a case involving her brother, a court employee who allegedly punched a juvenile inmate. Hunter’s sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 8, though a Nov. 13 hearing on Bennett’s retrial motion could change that.

• If you live in Kentucky and are hoping Yuengling comes to your neck of the woods soon, you may be disappointed. There’s a battle brewing (haha) over beer distribution in the state as giant Anheuser-Busch seeks to buy a distributor in the Kentucky that could give the company a quarter of the beer market there. That has mid-sized independent companies like Yuengling and some wholesalers saying there may not be room for them. Generally, beer brewers aren’t allowed to own distributors or stores under anti-trust laws, but Anheuser-Busch won the right to own one in Louisville after suing the state in 1978.

• In international news, four former employees of Blackwater, the private security firm that the U.S. contracted during the Iraq war, have been convicted for the 2007 shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis. The incident, which happened at a public square in Baghdad, became notorious as an example of U.S. contractors’ misconduct during the Iraq war. A judge in the case ruled that the killings were not an act of war, but a crime. One defendant, sniper Nicholas Slatten, faces life in prison for murder. Three others face 30 year minimum sentences for charges including committing a using a machine gun to carry out a violent crime and voluntary manslaughter.

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

Good morning y’all! Here’s a quicker than usual rundown of the day’s news before I jet for an interview.

There is yet another version of the Union Terminal restoration deal being passed around. The deal, which Hamilton County Commissioners are expected to vote on soon, doesn’t make many changes to the sales tax hike on the November ballot, but would hold the Cincinnati Museum Center responsible for any cost overruns the project might incur while allowing its leaders to seek financing for the project. Voters will still have to approve the .25 percent sales tax increase before that deal would go into effect.

• VLT Academy might be gone, but there’s at least one more bit of turbulence related to the troubled former charter school. VLT closed in August after losing its sponsoring organization, required by Ohio law, and falling behind on its rent. It seems computers sold at an auction to pay off the school’s debts may not have been scrubbed of private personal information. The Ohio Department of Education says it has launched an investigation to make sure that information was erased properly and didn’t fall into the wrong hands.

• The push for a high-speed rail route between Chicago and Cincinnati has gained more supporters. The mayor and city manager of Hamilton recently sent a letter to OKI, the region’s planning office asking for the office to fund a feasibility study for the potential project. They join Hamilton County Commissioners, who voted in September to request that study. The rail line could have big economic benefits, but would also be a huge, long-term undertaking.

• Speaking of transit, you can tell the Ohio Department of Transportation what you’d like to see in the future at a public discussion from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Oct. 31. Yes, that’s in the middle of a workday. It’s also in Lebanon for some reason, which you can’t really get to by public transit. That has some people kind of miffed. The meeting is for the entire Southwestern Ohio region, ODOT says, and that’s why it has to be held in a central location. Come on, guys, you couldn’t have two meetings in Dayton and Cincinnati on a couple Saturdays? I’ll bring the donuts and coffee. Anyway, the event is part of a statewide outreach effort by ODOT to get input about transit options in the state. Meetings have also been conducted in Columbus, Cleveland, Athens and Findlay.

• An Ohio man arrested in North Korea in May finally returned home today. Officials in the isolated country detained Jeffery Fowle after leaving a bible in a nightclub there. He was held until recently on charges of Christian evangelism, a crime in North Korea. His release might have been hastened by repeated appeals by President Obama to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

• We’ve reported a bit about Common Core in the past. Controversy continues over the new federal academic standards, and the fight is coming to the state board of education elections. Seven candidates are running for election to the 19 member board, and several of them have made repealing the standards a key point in their campaigns. Mary Prichard, who is running to represent Butler, Preble, Montgomery and Miami Counties on the board, has made the issue the centerpiece of her candidacy. She calls the standards “a government takeover.” Zac Haines, running to represent Hamilton and Warren Counties, has promised to work to repeal them in the state. His opponent, Pat Bruns of Price Hill, supports the standards.  Ohio is one of 40 states to implement Common Core.

• Wait. Did Gov. John Kasich really say that? He did, and he didn’t. The Associated Press reports that in a speech Monday, Kasich said a repeal of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is “not gonna happen.” Then Kasich, either backtracking or clarifying, ran them down and asked the AP to make a correction. He was only referring to the Medicaid expansion of the ACA, he said. That’s been a controversial issue all its own, with many conservative governors refusing to take the federal dollars to increase eligibility for residents of their states. Kasich did take the money, though, which has helped hundreds of thousands of Ohioans get medical coverage.

Kasich’s correction is a bit of a small distinction, since most conservatives roll the ACA up in one big, evil ball. Rejecting the Medicaid expansion has been something of a litmus test for conservative governors. But Kasich has not only taken it, he’s praised the program. Opposition to expanding Medicaid, which governors like Texas’ Rick Perry have worn like a badge of honor, “was really either political or ideological," Kasich said in the same speech. "I don't think that holds water against real flesh and blood and real improvements in people's lives.”

That alone is a noteworthy thing for a conservative governor to say. But have no fear, Kasich still hates the program, saying in his clarification that it “can and should be repealed.” Wait, even the part you said helps people?

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

So it’s not Monday anymore, which is a plus, but still. This week is the first week in my mission to give up caffeine and donuts. It’s going to be a long, long haul. Anyway, on with the news.

The city administration yesterday described in more detail a parking plan for Over-the-Rhine that’s been floating around for a bit now. The plan would charge $300 a year, or $25 a month, for residents to park in the neighborhood as a way to raise funds for the streetcar. Increased rates and hours for parking meters are also part of the plan. Currently, you have to feed the meters from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Sunday. The new hours would stretch from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday thru Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Mayor John Cranley has championed the plan. Council would need to vote on the residential permit part of the plan, which would be the highest parking fee in the country if enacted. City officials stressed at the Monday Neighborhood Committee meeting that they were still in the planning phases of the proposal, that a final proposal was contingent on continued feedback from residents, and that they weren’t asking for any decisions to be made yet.

• It’s not very often labor unions and conservative anti-tax groups get together on an issue. But it seems like proposed tolls to fund the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge may just be the one issue that… uh oh… bridges the usually wide ideological divide (see what I did there?) Advocacy group Northern Kentucky United, which has campaigned against tolls for the Brent Spence with its “No BS Tolls” initiative, announced that both Teamsters Local 100 and the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes have hopped on board the effort.  You may remember COAST as the folks who stamped their feet and threw a temper tantrum over Cincinnati’s streetcar project. The two groups are the first Ohio organizations to support the anti-toll group, which claims to have 2,000 members. The group is totally against those BS tolls, that much we know. Less certain is what alternate proposals the group does back for the crumbling 51-year-old bridge’s replacement. It will cost something like $2.5 billion to replace, and federal and state officials have said government dollars are not in the cards for the project.

• Embattled Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter today was suspended from practicing law by the Ohio Supreme Court, meaning she cannot practice law anywhere or represent anyone in a courtroom. Hunter was convicted on one felony count in a high-profile trial last week. Hunter was accused of forging documents, misusing a court credit card, improperly intervening for her brother, a court employee accused of punching a juvenile inmate and other charges. She was convicted on the charge she illegally gained documents for her brother, though the jury was hung on the other eight felony counts she faced. Hunter faces up to a year and a half in prison. Sentencing in the case will begin Dec. 2.

• Oh man, this is terrifying. What would you do if a county prosecutor’s office mistakenly put your picture in a newsletter as someone who had a recent heroin conviction? That happened to Dana J. Davis of Covington. Davis was temporarily put out of work, mistrusted by neighbors, and even shunned by family after an electronic newsletter contained his picture and a blurb that he’d pleaded guilty to a heroin charge and had been sentenced to prison time. But it was a different Dana Davis, and the Kenton County Prosecutor’s office grabbed the wrong photo. Oops. Now Davis is suing over the mistake, looking to be compensated for lost wages and damage to his reputation. The prosecutor’s office is arguing they shouldn’t have to pay because the newsletter does a public good, and because the prosecutor’s office is immune from that kind of lawsuit.  The case is headed to court.

• Here’s something I can get behind. Cincinnati is the second best city in the country for Halloween, according to a new ranking released by lifestyle site mylife.com. The rankings took into account number of costume shops per capita (we ranked second), vacant houses (we also ranked second), local Twitter mentions of Halloween, as well as interviews with local ghosts camped out in abandoned costume shops tweeting about Halloween (not really).  The rankings do give a shout out to the city’s rich history, though, as well as Pete Rose for some reason. If you’re curious, number one was Las Vegas. Florida and Arizona were represented heavily in the top 10, which makes sense. Both are terrifying places.

• A minimum wage job in Ohio won’t pay for a college education, a new story from data reporters at Cleveland.com finds. I guess the shocking news in this is that it ever did. Apparently, in 1983, you could work a minimum wage job full-time during the summers and school breaks, work ten hours a week during school, and make ends meet. That seems so quaint now! It would take a wage of $18 an hour to make that possible today, and working minimum wage will leave you more than $11,000 shy of the average tuition, room and board at a university in the state. In my day, I worked two jobs, crashed at my mom’s house and commuted an hour each way my senior year, sometimes sleeping in my car, and sold blood and the rights for my first-born child to pay for my degree from Miami University. Ok, maybe not all of that, but it was kinda rough. Alls I’m saying is, kids these days should have to do the same.

• A new study finds Ohio has benefited greatly from its expansion of Medicaid. More than 367,000 Ohioans are now enrolled as of August 2014, according to the report by Policy Matters Ohio. The report claims that the expansion has lowered health care costs and improved health outcomes for low-income people. You can read all the details here.

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

Hello Cincy! Here’s what’s going on this morning.

Though you won’t find a way to help shore up the building on the ballot in November, efforts to fund renovations of Music Hall may get a big boost soon. Advocates for the Cincinnati landmark have applied for $25 million through the Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program offered by the state once every two years. Music Hall is competing for the tax credits with The Huntington Building and May Co. Department Store building in Cleveland and the former Goodyear headquarter building in Akron. The award would be in addition to another $25 million in other tax credits and $40 million in private donations, all of which go along way toward the building’s estimated $133 million renovation costs. The winner of the credits will be announced in December.

• Lots of questions have been popping up in City Council and elsewhere recently about the way the city makes development loans, even as past loans to some of the city’s biggest developers continue to linger unpaid. Council members have expressed concerns that there isn’t enough of a process for deciding who gets the loans and on what terms, leaving a patchwork of deals that are of questionable value for the city. The city has a number of old loans it has made to big developers still hanging around, including almost $9 million worth from between 1991 and 2001. Those loans were used on big, now completed projects in and around downtown. The terms are fairly generous, and many of the borrowers have yet to repay much if any of the principles on those loans.

• Err, so I went to school here for a few years. The Principal of Edgewood High School, which is up in Butler County between Hamilton and Middletown, has said he’ll be getting his concealed carry permit so he can start packing a gun on the job. State law allows individual districts to decide if staff should be armed, but Edgewood, based in the rural/exurban town of Trenton, is the only district in the Greater Cincinnati area that has moved to allow it. Principal Russ Fussnecker said he may start carrying the weapon before the school year is out. He says it’s a measure “to make the school safer” in case of a mass shooter. Other schools have taken milder safety measures. Kings High School in Mason has installed new barriers to keep someone from shooting their way through doors into the school. Lakota has added in-school police and training drills. 

•Law enforcement officials from Memphis, Tenn., and Detroit are meeting with officials from Ohio in Cleveland this week to discuss rape kit backlogs at a first-of-its-kind summit around the issue. Untested kits, which may contain genetic information that can convict rapists, have piled up here and in other states. The untested kits have become a big issue in this year's race for attorney general, as challenger Democrat David Pepper hits Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine over Ohio's backlog.

• Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is getting more help from Democrats in her much-watched run against Kentucky Senator and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Many of the 16 female Democratic senators are rallying around Grimes with campaign plugs, strategy advice, money and other support.  Powerful Senators like Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. and progressive firebrand Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. have all jumped on board, holding fundraisers, donating cash and giving shout outs to Grimes. Whether all that help will pay off remains to be seen. Various pundits and polls have recently declared Grimes dead in the water, while others say she’s still neck and neck with McConnell.

• One of the big issues in the race is the state’s dependence on coal. Both McConnell and Grimes have promised to keep coal-friendly policies alive in Kentucky, which is dominated by the industry. McConnell has tied Grimes to Obama, who many Kentuckians blame for the industry’s decline. But how much does coal really matter to Kentucky? Turns out, there is as much myth flying around as fact.

• Throw off thy long-sleeved chains of corporate oppression, my barista sisters and brothers, and put on the short-sleeve shirt or necktie of freedom. But please not both at the same time, because that just looks terrible. Starbucks is lifting its ban on visible body art, as well as “colored ties and neck scarves and black denim.” Really? You all couldn’t wear black jeans? If CityBeat outlawed black denim, I would have to go buy like, five new pairs of pants.

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

All right. It’s beautiful outside right now and I’m at a desk (as I imagine you are) with a load of election stories to write. I’m sure you’ve got your own stuff going on as well; let’s do this news thing quick so we can all be a little closer to getting to the weekend.

Are you embarrassed for Ohio yet? No? Just wait. Everyone’s favorite big-talkin’ sheriff will be representing the Greater Cincinnati area to an audience of millions soon. Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones is filming a segment of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, where he will tangle with host Jon Stewart. Jones is well known for his antics and sometimes factually questionable assertions. He recently tried to bill Mexico for the amount it cost Butler County to jail undocumented immigrants he alleges came from that country. He also likes to equate immigrants with crime, drugs and disease which I explored briefly a while back. Now… he’s going national.

“We’re going to be filming a segment on illegal immigration and the upcoming elections,” Jones told the Cincinnati Enquirer about the show, which he’s filming this afternoon. Can’t wait!

• Dena Cranley, wife of Mayor John Cranley, will join 14 area pastors’ wives in an effort to extend health tests and information about diseases that predominantly affect low-income urban areas, the mayor's office said in a news release today. The services will be available at area churches with financial support from Walgreens. The program is part of a national push called First Ladies Health Initiative that has already been launched in Los Angeles and Chicago. The initiative provides free screening for diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, and more.

• 3CDC will buy three buildings with 80 units of low-income housing in Over-the-Rhine on the 200 block of West 12th Street across from the Drop Inn Center and at 1301 Walnut Street. The developer says the buildings are “problem” properties, with high amounts of police calls, and that residents there want out. 3CDC says it’s helping those living in the 64 occupied units find other places to live. The developer doesn’t know what it will do with the buildings yet, but says the building on Walnut may become an expansion of nearby Mercer Commons project and could end up as mixed-income housing,. Helping low-income people find more enjoyable, safer surroundings sounds great, but a couple questions spring to mind. Will the low-income units be replaced one-for-one? What do residents have to say, and will they be relocated to nearby housing in OTR? None have been quoted so far about the buildings’ problems, and it’s unclear where they will be moved to. You can peruse crime stats yourself to see the propensity of police calls to the buildings, how many people arrested lived in the buildings and so forth.

• There’s a reason you shouldn’t get relationship-related tattoos, and I think it’s kind of the same with building names. Chiquita Brands International peaced out on Cincinnati in 2011, first moving to North Carolina and now training its wondering eyes toward Ireland. Until recently, we still had a big, prominent building, the Chiquita Center, bearing the company’s name. It kind of made us look like we weren’t ready to move on from the relationship. No more. We’re finally letting go. The center will be rebranded as 250 East Fifth, a simple, bold declaration that the building doesn’t need to define itself by its bygone relationship with some flashy, globe-trotting company with tons of banana money.

• Finally, I think I found my Halloween costume. This guy was dressed in the creepiest possible way when he drunkenly entered someone’s house and passed out on their couch, only to be discovered by children. Undead Santa couch surfer for the win.

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<![CDATA[City Will Drop Big Bucks to Clean Up Big Mess]]>

It’s probably safe to call 80,000 tons of rotting meat and vegetables a big mess. In fact, I don’t want to live in a world where such a thing doesn’t qualify for “big mess” status. The deeper issue is what can be learned from such a mess and who will be held responsible.

Council voted Oct. 15 to spend $300,000 to clean up Compost Cincy, a former composting company created in Winton Hills in 2012 with the help of the city’s Office of Environment and Sustainability (OES).

Neighbors of the site have complained for the past year of unbearable odors. The company closed its doors in October 2013, but the smell remained. Now, the city is left with the bill for cleaning it up.

Composting takes food waste, and by rotating it and controlling its decomposition, converts it into soil. San Francisco was the first city to institute a municipal program when it started collecting compostable waste in 1996. Today, the city collects more than 600 tons of waste a day for composting. A number of other cities, including Portland, Ore., Seattle, Boulder, Colo., and other generally progressive places also have programs. If composting isn’t done correctly, though, allowing for the correct mixture of air to reach the refuse, you just end up with a progressively worse smell.

That seems to be what happened with Compost Cincy. Since 2012, the company accumulated 45 code violations from the city and two EPA citations. The city refused to renew its lease last year due to complaints about odor. One factor at play may have been the fact the company was doing outdoor composting. Many compost facilities are located indoors as a way to mitigate odor creation.

The OES will cover $220,000 of the cost of clean up with its budget, with another $80,000 coming from city contingency account. Mayor John Cranley pinned a good deal of the blame for the project’s failure on the city office.

“The origin of this entire organization is to combat odor,” Cranley said during an Oct. 15 City Council meeting. “So it’s pretty embarrassing that it was this office that came up with this compost mess in the first place. It’s a nightmare for the people who have had to go through this for a year."

Council voted 9-0 to fund the clean up effort. But Cranley’s remarks created a good deal of controversy around the role of the organization and the city’s efforts to establish sustainability programs.

The official mission of the office goes beyond odor control. The OES is charged with leading sustainability efforts in the city. That includes redeveloping brownfield sites around the city, helping run Cincinnati’s recycling program and protecting the city’s air quality. Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach all chimed in to support the office.

“I want to stick up for the Office of Environment because I don’t think it’s their fault, or that they were in any way trying to emit odors on purpose in our city,” Seelbach said at the meeting. “Composting is something that there is a large demand for. The business, Compost Cincy, was actually doing really well because lots of people wanted to bring their compost there and buy the soil that it produces.”

Seelbach said zoning was the big issue, something the OES doesn’t control. Simpson said that the Office of Trade and Development, not the OES, selected the site. She said the office needs more support.

“We need more resources to the offices of sustainability to so we can get at least 10 years behind,” Simpson said, noting that Cincinnati is falling short of sustainability efforts made in other, comparable cities. She acknowledged that Compost Cincy was "poorly executed" but said that wasn't the fault of OES.

She praised the city’s recycling program and said the city should support more sustainability efforts, not mock failures. She pointed out that council and the mayor have been willing to support other endeavors that don’t guarantee success.

“We’re going to continue to have conversations about whether the city should support small businesses, and we just invested $5 million in Cintrifuse, which runs start ups,” she said. “Some may work, some may not, some stay in the city and some may leave, but there’s no question we should spend money on that.”

Cranley also faulted other OES initiatives, including the city’s infamously unpopular one garbage can policy.

“This came out of the same organization that said we should have meatless Monday and all kinds of bad ideas,” he said. “It seems like we should not be funding organizations who then end up creating multi-hundred-thousand-dollar cleanups.”

Councilman Kevin Flynn also had pointed questions about the project, but from a different angle.

“If this was a good business, then why is the city having to pay $300,000 to clean up this mess?” he asked. “We need to be able to go after the money that resulted from these people paying for dropping off their waste and the money from the people who were buying the dirt created by that waste. Under our current policy, we don’t have that ability to do it.”

Flynn said the structure of the business and the city’s agreement with it mean that owner Grant Gibson may not be liable for cleanup costs. Gibson told The Cincinnati Enquirer he had sunk about $500,000 into the business.

Meanwhile, Compost Cincy’s website is still live, though it states that the company is shuttered. In a somewhat passive aggressive farewell message, the owners also put some blame on the zoning process for the company's problems, though they say, in the end, location doesn’t matter as much as the attitudes of a composting project's neighbors. The site’s farewell missive seems to claim it was sunk by unfounded fears about composting.

“If our society doesn't move faster towards actually being green and not talking about it, our planet will be 100 percent wrecked of natural resources in the very near future,” the site says. “With that said, make the changes necessary to your life.”

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

Good morning Cincy! I’m a little groggy today after last night’s Iron Fork event, which was awesome. If you were at the Moerlein Taproom for the chef showdown and restaurant sampling festivities, you probably saw me with the group that pretty much monopolized the giant Jenga set all night. Sorry ‘bout that. Anyway, on with the news.

One of the Greenpeace activists on trial for hanging an anti-palm oil banner from P&G headquarters has died, the Associated Press reports. Tyler David Wilkerson, 27, died Oct. 6, according to an obituary in the Fresno Bee newspaper. No cause of death or other details have been released. Wilkerson was one of eight activists facing felony burglary and vandalism charges in connection with the March protest. A ninth activist took a plea bargain.

• Yesterday’s City Council meeting was action packed. Well, maybe not action packed, but interesting and eventful. OK, OK, just eventful, and with more bickering than usual for some reason. Members of council got their feathers all ruffled by the fact that the media knew about Cincinnati’s $18 million budget surplus before they did, perhaps marking the end of new City Manager Harry Black’s honeymoon with the city’s most illustrious deliberative body. Council members found it a bit off-putting that plans were already being made for that money before they even knew it existed. Black promised to make sure every council member is tipped off the next time the city finds unexpected change in the couch cushions.

But look at me over here gossiping. Substantive stuff happened as well.

• The city will pay $300,000 to help clean up a failed compost facility in Winton Hills affectionately nick-named “Big Stanky.” OK, no one but me calls it that. But it does smell very bad, and that’s caused a great deal of controversy. The company, Cincy Compost, went bust earlier this year, but left something like 80,000 tons of rotting meat and other food scraps behind. The city is chipping in on the cleanup because it has to be done, but Mayor Cranley and a few council members weren’t happy about it. Cranley used the issue as an opportunity to jab at the city’s Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability, which he blamed for the mess. Other council members, including Chris Seelbach, jumped to defend the office, to which Cranley replied that the office’s “Meatfree Monday” initiative was dumb. Seemed like a bit of a low blow, since Seelbach is a vegetarian, but that’s neither here nor there.

• Council also voted to apply for nine HUD grants worth more than $6 million for the city’s Continuum of Care program. The money would be used to provide rental assistance for homeless, low-income people with disabilities. Council also approved a $500,000 loan to Walnut Court Limited Partnership, a Walnut Hills developer. The developer will be rehabbing 30 units in the neighborhood to provide housing for very low income individuals. This deal was a bit more controversial, as Councilman Kevin Flynn questioned how the property, which was overseen by HUD, came to need such extensive renovations and why the city should have to pay for them.

• Moving on to market rate developments, there are some new plans for the former site of the historic house that held Christy’s/Lenhardt’s restaurant and bar in Clifton Heights. The house was demolished last year to make way for an apartment building in the university neighborhood. Gilbane Development Co., which was part of initial plans to put a larger development at the site, has come back with some revised, scaled-down ideas. The building was originally going to be eight stories tall with 245 units of housing. It will now be only six stories with 190 units, as well as some commercial space. The project will be part of a larger development effort for the block that should happen sometime in 2015.

• A little old, but worth noting: The Hamilton County Public Defenders Office has written a letter to Mayor John Cranley about Cincinnati Prosecutor Charlie Rubenstein, saying he took inappropriate actions last month by getting a judge to sign a warrant that would have allowed him to search the entire public defender’s office over a single robbery case. That just doesn’t happen to private law firms, the defender’s office says, and shouldn’t be allowed. The mayor and the city manager have said they want to work with the public defender’s office to make sure evidence is gathered in the least invasive way possible in the future.

• LeBron James was in Cincinnati yesterday for a Cavs preseason game at Xavier University against the Indiana Pacers, and he said he liked the city, calling it “a great sports town.” Despite being arguably the state’s biggest name in sports, James had never played in Cincinnati before. He scored 26 points in the game.

• Let’s take a quick jog south and revisit the Kentucky Senate race, shall we? Recent articles have prognosticated that time is almost up for Democrat Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his seat. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the party’s national arm in the race, stopped spending money on ads in the state this week, leading reporters to say the party is pulling out of the race and that Grimes is ready for the fork, cause she’s done. That appears to have been a premature judgment, however. Potential Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaigned for Grimes yesterday in Louisville, urging voters in the Bluegrass State to “put another crack in the glass ceiling” by putting Grimes into office. It also turns out that the DSCC is still running polls in Kentucky and may jump back into the race with more ads before all is said and done. Grimes' campaign also has about $4 million in that cash money in the bank, so don't count her out just yet. 

Much has been made of Grimes’ refusal to say who she voted for in the last two presidential elections, and some pundits, including conservative commentator Rich Lowry, have said it has sunk Grimes’ chances in the race. Lowry wrote a deeply dumb rant ostensibly about that subject (though it quickly jumps the rails and becomes yet another boring anti-Obama diatribe about four paragraphs in). Clearly Democrats are still hoping Grimes has a chance, though.

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

So much stuff has happened in the last 24 hours. I’m just going to hit you with all of it without my usual witty introduction.

A jury found Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter guilty on one felony count yesterday. The jury says Hunter broke the law by gaining access to confidential files relating to the firing of her brother, an employee of the juvenile court, and passing them on to him. The jury could not reach a decision on eight other felony charges against Hunter, for which she may or may not be retried. The conviction carries a penalty of up to a year and a half in prison. Hunter will be sentenced in December. It’s also very likely the state Supreme Court will take disciplinary action, which may include disbarring her. Hunter has been on suspension with pay as the trial took place and will now be suspended without pay until she is removed from the bench officially.

• Sometimes you put on that pair of jeans you haven’t worn in a long time and find some cash you forgot about wadded up in one of the pockets. I love those days. Cincinnati just found $18 million in its pants somewhere, and now the city is debating how to spend it. The cash is a budget surplus from better-than-expected tax revenues and cost-cutting. City Manager Harry Black has some ideas on how to use that money, including kicking more than $4 million to a fund for winter weather response, using another $4 million to pay back neighborhood development funds the city borrowed, holding $3 million in reserve for possible future police and fire expenses, $275,000 to make sure the city hires more businesses owned by women and minorities, $400,000 for a new city government performance analysis office and other ideas. I always just spend extra money I find on pizza, but that’s probably among the reasons why I don’t run the city. But seriously, $18 million is enough to buy each resident of the city $60.50 worth of pizza, maybe combined into one enormous Adriatico’s MegaBearcat the size of Mt. Airy Forest. Think about it, Mr. Black.

• You’ll note that using any of the surplus to fund streetcar operating costs is not on that list, presumably because Mayor John Cranley has drawn a hard line in the sand about using city money for its projected $4 million annual shortfall. But others are more open to using money from the city’s coffers to plug that gap, including Vice Mayor David Mann, who suggested at yesterday’s City Council Transportation Committee meeting that while not ideal, he hasn’t written off the idea. That’s significant because Cranley's suggestion to draw down operating hours to close the funding gap would have to be approved by City Council. Other options include raising funds through a parking plan, special improvement or other means.
Council seems split on whether it would vote for a reduction in service hours

• Mayor Cranley thinks there are "too many" transitional living houses for those recovering from addiction in the city, but Price Hill-based New Foundations Transitional Living can stay in the neighborhood, according to a settlement it reached with the city recently. The six homes for men and women recovering from addiction to drugs and alcohol have been the focus of controversy in recent months. Neighbors complained earlier this year about the houses, saying the neighborhood wasn’t zoned for them. Price Hill is zoned for single occupancy, not the so-called “congregant occupancy” needed to normally run group homes. The city investigated removing the homes from the neighborhood. But under the Fair Housing Act, transitional homes such as New Foundations are allowed in single occupancy neighborhoods. Under a compromise, the for-profit group will reduce the occupancy of the houses and promise not to expand in the neighborhood.

• Another building along Central Parkway in Over-the-Rhine is being rehabbed, and this one’s really cool news. The Central Parkway YMCA is getting a $27 million renovation that will include the creation of affordable housing. The update will modernize and augment the building’s fitness equipment, adding new weight rooms and group fitness areas, a cycling studio and put affordable housing for seniors on the top floors. I love the building and have recently pondered getting a membership because they’re one of the few fitness places in town with an actual track for running. I should probably wait a little bit on that, though, because the building will be closing in December for renovations. It’s expected to open back up in early 2016.

• If you’re not tired of the tea party vs. conservative establishment narrative that has dominated the political news cycle the past, oh, seems like forever now, here’s another one for you. Some prominent local tea party activists are bummed because they weren’t allowed into a Monday rally for Gov. John Kasich in Butler County. The group, including Cincinnati Tea Party President Ann Becker, was outside the rally protesting Common Core, the educational initiative that looks to standardize performance measures for U.S. students. They say they were denied admission because they were wearing anti-Common Core T-shirts. Officials with the Kasich campaign say it had nothing to do with their shirts and everything to do with the fact they were being disruptive to the event. I honestly don’t know who to root for here so I’m just going to move along on this.

• While we’re on the “suburbs are cray” tip, let’s talk about this story for just a sec. State Rep. Ron Maag is throwing a fundraiser he’s calling a “Machine Gun Social” in Lebanon Oct. 25. By throwing Maag a little cash for his re-election campaign, you get to fire machine guns in a nature preserve. Just like when you were in high school and your cool gun rights friend would invite you out to the rock quarry to shoot at bottles and cans! But don’t worry — you have to be at least a teenager to fire the guns, they’ll be permanently pointed downrange and there will be instructors present to, like, instruct you on the best way to neutralize a threatening soda can with a hail of semi-automatic rifle fire. Maag’s Democratic opponent is of course pitching a fit, but has chosen, oddly, only to take issue with his use of the word “social.”

• Whoa, this is already too long, but I need to get at least one national story in here. Another medical worker in Texas has tested positive for Ebola. That worker apparently flew from Cleveland to Dallas the day before she started having symptoms. I usually try to end this stuff on a positive, non-terrifying note, but today I failed.

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

So, I skipped writing the morning news yesterday to hang out at City Council half the day. I know, you’re jealous. Let’s catch up.

The city should declare Mahogany’s, the former restaurant at The Banks, in default on its $300,000 loan, Councilman Kevin Flynn said during the Budget and Finance Committee meeting yesterday. After coming to The Banks two years ago, restaurant owner Liz Rogers fell behind on rent, loan payments and state sales taxes, eventually shuttering Mahogany’s last month.  Rogers has tried to convince the city to reduce the amount she owes, and even threatened to sue, but the terms of her loan mean she may be on the hook for more than just the $300,000. The city could initiate foreclosure proceedings on her other restaurant in Butler County, which she offered up as collateral. Rogers may also be asked to pay back a nearly $700,000 grant the city gave her. Rogers still owes more than $265,000 on the loan and is $40,000 behind on her payments. Flynn is asking for all relevant financial records from the restaurant so the city can determine what assets still remain that the city could claim to recoup part of its investment.

• Meanwhile, in the Law and Public Safety Committee meeting earlier yesterday, councilmembers wrestled with Councilman Charlie Winburn’s marijuana expungement ordinance. Winburn’s proposal looks to give those convicted under a 2006 city law that criminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana a chance to expunge those convictions from their criminal records. In Ohio, possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor that does not show up on a person’s criminal record, though the ordinance changed that to a fourth-degree misdemeanor, which does. The ordinance itself was repealed by council in 2011, but many who were convicted still have trouble getting jobs or educational loans due to the blemish on their records. The committee wrestled with some detailed legal questions about the ordinance, including the tricky nature of issuing an ordinance that seeks to work retroactively. Though the ordinance has yet to pass out of committee, Winburn said he hoped it would be ready for a full council vote in two weeks.

• A new budget proposal by Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman looks to fundamentally shift the way the county pays for the services it provides. It will do so in a way that could very well shift more of the burden onto the backs of low and middle-income people, however, as sales taxes increase and property taxes go down. You can read more about that here.

• Dr. Deana Marchbein, the president of Doctors Without Borders USA and expert on Ebola, spoke last night at the downtown library. Marchbein talked about the risk the virus represents, as well as other world health issues worth concern. Marchbein has said she isn’t super worried about Ebola in the United States since it is less contagious than many other diseases and because the U.S. has better access to modern medical isolation of patients than West Africa, where the disease has run rampant. Marchbein did express serious concern about that, noting that the spread of the disease there has grown out of control. Her talk is well timed; last week in Dallas, a man from Liberia died from the disease, the first fatality in the U.S., and a second case, the first time Ebola has been transmitted here, was discovered. That person, a nurse who treated the deceased man in Dallas, is now isolated and receiving treatment for the virus.

• Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes faced off in their first and only debate last night. McConnell is the Senate minority leader and has held the Kentucky Senate seat for 30 years. Grimes is the Kentucky Secretary of State. The two went at each other last night, trading barbs on a number of issues while not really revealing anything new about their policy proposals. McConnell battered Grimes by tying her to President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and basically any other Democrat he could think of, including the Clintons. Grimes bashed McConnell over his cozy relationships with big money donors, including the infamous Koch Brothers, who have poured millions into a large number of races for candidates supporting their vision of a libertarian utopia where companies have little oversight from the government.

The race has been a titanic battle so far. Grimes has been running very close behind McConnell, who usually coasts to victory. At least one recent major poll has put Grimes ahead by a couple points, though other polls have her trailing by the same margin.

• Finally, if you’re like me, you’re still trying to figure out what to wear to Halloween parties. Yes, I’m kind of a grownup, sort of, but my friends still have costume parties so I’m still required to figure out what to be every year. My fallback—a cowboy—is getting pretty old, so I’ve been perusing costume ideas. But I don't think any of these are going to work. I can’t decide if the zombie hotdog costume is the worst thing ever, or the hashtag costume. No, wait, definitely the hashtag. Warning: a few of these are mildly NSFW.

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<![CDATA[County Budget Proposal Could Further Shift Tax Burden]]> Hamilton County’s tax structure could become more regressive next year if a new proposal to increase sales tax while decreasing property taxes is put into effect.

A budget proposal by Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman unveiled Oct. 13 called for a .25 percent increase in sales taxes and a decrease in property taxes for the county. The decrease would amount to $38 for every $100,000 worth of property, meaning homeowners would generally see a wash or net savings on the deal while low-income and middle class residents pay more in taxes. 

Sigman says the budget represents a big change in the way the county funds itself. The benefit of relying more on sales tax, he says, is that it raises much more money from those who live outside the county but buy things here. The budget proposal would provide $210 million in 2015. That’s short of the $222 million needed by county departments, but a big jump from the $200 million available under the current budget.

Democratic County Commissioner Todd Portune said the proposal was “bound to be controversial,” since sales taxes place a higher burden on the poor.

Unlike income or property taxes, everyone pays the same sales tax rates regardless of income or assets. But lower income residents generally spend more of their money on necessities, including those subject to sales tax, meaning they end up paying a larger portion of their income in sales taxes. The bottom fifth of workers in Ohio, those making less than $17,000 a year, pay 7 percent of their income in sales taxes under the state’s current tax structure. Meanwhile, top earners, those making more than $138,000, pay as little as 1 percent in sales tax. And Ohio’s tax structure has gotten more regressive over the years due to cuts in the state’s income tax.

At 6.75 percent, Hamilton County’s sales tax is about average for the state. Even if the .25 percent increase were to pass on the ballot in November, it would still be lower than other major cities in Ohio. Franklin County, where Columbus is located, has a 7.5 percent sales tax, and in Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is, it’s 8 percent.

The sales tax increase was first proposed last summer as part of a plan to renovate Music Hall and Union Terminal. Republican County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel voted to strip Music Hall out of that plan, but the tax hike will be on the November ballot for Union Terminal. That hike could also be used to provide for a number of other county needs, including a proposed move for the county Board of Elections office from downtown to Mount Airy.

Commissioners have not said whether they support the budget proposal.

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

Oh wow it’s Friday, I saw pretty much the best show I’ve seen in months last night when Mirah played MOTR Pub and I just had a pretty great donut and tons of iced coffee. But this isn’t a baked goods or early 2000s music blog (I wish), so let’s get to the news.

Attorneys for the Greenpeace activists arrested for hanging a banner from P&G’s headquarters in March lost a legal tussle yesterday as a judge ruled jurors wouldn’t be able to take a tour of the crime scene. The defense alleges the activists didn’t damage windows when hanging the banner, and that other windows on other floors have similar damage that pre-existed the protest. The felony charges against the activists hinge on that damage. P&G says the company has made so many changes since the incident, including new security measures, that a tour of the building would only confuse jurors. The judge in the case sided with the company, because nothing is more confusing to jurors comparing windows than some extra security guards milling about. Eight of the nine protesters face felony burglary charges that could land them in prison for more than nine years. A ninth protester made a plea bargain over the summer.

• Imagine this: guidelines from a federal agency are vague and clouded, and local factions on both sides of an argument are using that ambiguity to make political points. Shocker, right? The streetcar funding imbroglio is a white elephant gift that just keeps getting passed back and forth between the mayor, transit advocates and news organizations. First, the mayor said the city may cut streetcar service if the project’s $4 million annual operational funding gap isn’t filled. Advocates for the project objected, saying that the federal grants used to build the streetcar prohibit the city from doing so. Then a Cincinnati Enquirer story last month said the hours would be up to the city, with the Federal Transportation Administration staying out of the mix. But it also suggested that the city couldn’t run it only for special events, as Mayor Cranley suggested on 700 WLW in what he later called an “extreme hypothetical.”

Hm. So, uh, can we just get some numbers up in this? Like, just how many hours a week does the city have to run the streetcar? In its various grant applications to the FTA, the city has promised to run the streetcar 16-18 hours a day, 365 days a year. Is the city tied to that number? The FTA’s response to the controversy doesn't totally clear this up. 

“We expect Cincinnati to provide the nature and quality of service that it proposed in both the TIGER and Urban Circulator grant applications, which were a consideration in the selection of the applications for the award of grant funding,” the agency said in a statement responding to recent questions from the Cincinnati Business Courier. Well, huh.

• The clock is still ticking on an effort to establish a co-op grocery store at the site of the former Keller’s IGA in Clifton, but the game is now in overtime. Officials with the group Clifton Cooperative Market announced they’ve signed an extension on a contract to purchase the building on Ludlow Avenue near Clifton Avenue, and now have 90 more days to do so. The group is trying to raise $1.65 million to buy the building by selling shares to community members. So far, they’ve got more than 800 co-op members and $600,000 banked for the project. The market will be an “uptrend” grocery, which I think means $3 bottled sodas, a lot of quinoa and kale as far as the eye can see. I’m not hating. I like all those things.

• Here's an interesting story about the way the city of Cincinnati collects property taxes, and how small-government conservatives passed laws back in the late 90s limiting the amount the city can collect to a specific dollar figure. The results have been a mixed bag at best.

• Cincinnati is one of the worst places in the country for irrelevant political ads, a new study has found. I mean, given the level of non-representation we’re getting out of our federal, state and local politicians and the appalling lack of options we have for most races, I’d say pretty much anything these jokers slap on a billboard is more or less irrelevant. But alas, the study says  our ranking is because our market is split between Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana and because candidates in one state often have to buy ads for the whole region.

• The accepted wisdom on millennials is that we’re all entitled Bard College grads working on our Tumblr poetry blogs and being snotty to baby boomers from our perch as lowly Starbucks baristas while we work to save up money to move to Bushwick. We really haven't helped ourselves in this regard, as we're pretty much a generation obsessed with branding ourselves as such. But hey! Did you know that two-thirds of millennials don’t have a bachelor’s degree? Did you know that many grew up facing deep poverty and lack of educational opportunity? This NPR piece gives a little more attention to young folks who you probably won’t see on an episode of Girls anytime soon. It’s a good read.

• Finally, I can't decide if this fake John Matarese Twitter account is trolling us or not. Or if it's even really fake. John, is that you?

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<![CDATA[Dems Cry Foul Over Husted Signs in Polling Places]]>

Theoretically, there is no better real estate for a political candidate than the inside of a polling place, where a candidate’s name can be freshly stamped onto voters’ minds as they enter the voting booth. Currently, though, only one politician in Ohio gets access to this potential last-minute plug: Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted.

He says recent voter information signs prominently featuring his name are standard issue for secretary of state. But Democrats say he’s taking unfair advantage of his position.

There are laws against campaigning in polling places, and bumper stickers, buttons or other campaign swag are frowned upon in our temples of democracy the way movie theaters hate it when you try to sneak in some Twizzlers or a bunch of McChicken sandwiches in your pants. (I tried this once and the theater wasn’t too happy. I think you can sneak snacks into the polling places, though.)

So big signs with your name on them are a no-go, unless you’re the current secretary of state, charged with overseeing elections. Then you’re required to draw up informational posters with instructions on how voters can update their voter registration and make sure they’re at the right polling place. These posters can be posted at voting locations. You can also put your name on those things. Real big, if you want to.

Husted definitely wanted to, and did, emblazoning his name and signature on 2-foot by 3-foot posters that his office is now requiring all polling places to post. That has Democrats, including Hamilton County Democratic Chairman Tim Burke, crying foul.

Burke has taken exception to the inclusion of Husted’s name “the size of an oversized bumper sticker” on those posters. Burke is also chair of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, and he fired off an email earlier this week to Husted’s office demanding clarification about the requirement polling places post the posters. The letter contained some not-so-subtle digs as well.

“I am struggling to understand how it is legitimate or fair to create a situation where you will be the only candidate on the ballot in next month’s election to have your name prominently displayed along with the office to which you seek reelection in each polling place,” Burke wrote in the message dated Oct. 7.  

Burke also questioned the inclusion of a second, 11-by-17-inch poster that likewise prominently features Husted’s name. That poster, designed by a 5th grade contest winner, has little factual information about voting, Burke says.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Damschroder replied later that evening, saying the posters are a routine task for the secretary of state’s office and that Husted’s name and signature are present to assure voters that the poster is official. Damschroder also pointed out that county board of elections members, such as Burke, have their signatures displayed at the bottom of ballots.

Those signatures are small, however, and are unaccompanied by text spelling out the commissioners’ names. Perhaps they should work on the size and legibility of their autographs.

Let’s not forget the fifth-grade contest winner in all this. Damschroder said polling places aren’t required to post that poster.

“We have simply suggested that boards of elections post the winning design to advance the two-fold goal of encouraging participation in the democratic process, generally, and building civic-mindedness among the next generation of voters,” he said.  

If that kid is following along with what’s happening to that poster, she or he is surely getting a lesson about politics as well. 

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

Good morning! Apparently two tuba players are dueling with chainsaws outside our window, or at least it sounds like it. I’m going to try and fight through the distraction to give you the morning news. Today’s update is mostly a politics sandwich, but stay with me here, because things are getting interesting as we speed toward Nov. 4.

Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn will do anything for your vote as he runs for state Senate in a heavily Democratic district encompassing much of Cincinnati — but he won’t do that. I told you yesterday about Winburn’s recent evolutions on issues near and dear to most liberal hearts and minds. He’s pulling for expungements for folks who have marijuana convictions under a now-rescinded Cincinnati law, and though he says he’s pro-life, he recently lost endorsements from right to life groups after he signaled some reconsideration on women’s choice issues.

Last night during a debate with state Senate opponent Democrat  Cecil Thomas, Winburn made the case that he’s “an independent thinker,” willing to listen to his potential Democratic constituency but also able to use clout gained with the GOP as a long-time member of the party and reformed hard-core right winger. But one place he’s not bending: same-sex marriage rights. While Thomas, who was once opposed to gay marriage, has changed his tune on the issue, Winburn’s staying put on that one. “Let me be clear about what I believe,” he said during the debate. “I do not support gay marriages. Period.” Tell us how you really feel, Charlie.

• Former Mahogany’s owner Liz Rogers has a new deal she wants the city to think about. Rogers, who recently threatened the city with a lawsuit if it didn’t forgive a $300,000 debt she owes on her former restaurant at The Banks, now wants the city to cut that debt almost in half and suspend payments until July 2016. Rogers has proposed paying $800 a month for 12 years, interest free, to pay back the loan. City Manager Harry Black has passed the proposal along to City Council for a final decision.

• There’s another big development project happening in Walnut Hills. Developers Model Group are working with the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation on a $9 million project to renovate 3 buildings along East McMillan Street in the neighborhood. The buildings will house about 7,200 square feet of retail space and 30 market-rate apartments. The aim is to attract residents interested in urban living who can’t afford or don’t want to pay downtown or Over-the-Rhine prices.

• Who’s trolling over tolling? Was the head of the OKI, the region’s planning office, being overly provocative when he said yesterday that drivers who avoid the crumbling Brent Spence Bridge are “realists?” Those opposed to tolls on the bridge, who call themselves by the equally provocative name "No BS Tolls," say OKI head Mark Policinski should publicly rescind his statement about the safety of the bridge, calling it “unacceptable” and calling him out for fear-mongering. Policinski says he’d didn’t say the bridge was going to collapse tomorrow, just that reports show it is degrading. The battle rages on.

• It’s one of the most-watched 2014 races in the country, and yesterday the clash came to Northern Kentucky. A big throng of supporters, along with a healthy group of national press and local press, came out to hear Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Democratic candidate for Senate, make her pitch to the area. Grimes came to Newport yesterday to talk about two of the region’s biggest concerns: the aforementioned Brent Spence Bridge conundrum and the burgeoning heroin crisis. Grimes slammed her opponent, Senate Minority Leader and 20-year incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell, saying he didn’t have a plan for either issue. She promised she could secure funding for a replacement for the Brent Spence Bridge by closing some of the state’s corporate tax loopholes. She also pledged to use some of that money to hire more law enforcement officers and fund drug treatment programs.

McConnell’s campaign shot back against Grimes’ speech. McConnell said he has floated the idea of rolling back state rules that require companies working government contracts to pay the prevailing wage in an area. The campaign says the savings from that move could be used for the bridge. He’s also laid out plans for increasing the number of counties under scrutiny as drug trafficking areas, though he hasn’t mentioned Northern Kentucky specifically. 

A recent poll commissioned by the Louisville Courier Journal put Grimes ahead by two points in the race, though other polls have her trailing McConnell.

• Finally, the Greater Cincinnati area ranks lowest in the region, and very low nationally, in terms of public transit and job accessibility. It’s very hard for people to use public transit to get to their jobs in Cincinnati, according to a new University of Minnesota study. The area came in 41st out of 46 cities, well below Columbus (27), Cleveland (26), Indianapolis (38), Pittsburgh, (22), Louisville (36) and Detroit (34). Bummer.

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