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

Good morning, y’all. Before we get to the news this morning, I want to plug a cover story we have coming up in a couple weeks. I've been working on it since February, and I really hope you all will take a look when it goes up April 29. It deals with one of the city's forgotten neighborhoods, a group of people fleeing incredibly difficult circumstances and a place where cultures from around the world mix in an incredible way. The folks in the story deserve your attention for their courage and patience. That's all I'm going to say for now. I hope you'll check it out.

There is a lot to talk about today, so I'll stop promoting and get to the news.

Let’s start with the positive stuff first. Cincinnati City Council yesterday declared April 28 John Arthur day in honor of the late Over-the-Rhine resident and gay rights activist who passed away in 2013 from ALS. Arthur’s husband Jim Obergefell has since fought the state of Ohio to get his name listed on Arthur’s death certificate, a battle that will find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court April 28. The case will almost assuredly be a history-making event. Look out next week for our feature story on the battle that could determine the future of same sex marriage.

• Council also locked horns, once again, on the streetcar yesterday. Councilman Chris Seelbach proposed a motion that would direct the city administration to prepare a report on possible funding for Phase 1B of the transit project. Sound like a small step? It is. But oh, what a fuss it raised. The next hour was dominated by arguments over the project, including recent revelations that revenue won’t be as high as anticipated, Mayor John Cranley again touting a residential parking permit plan as a way to make up some of the difference and calls from at least one council member to can the project entirely. After all the fireworks, the motion passed 5-4. You can read all about it in our coverage here.

• What else is new around town? Well, our own Nick Lachey, of 98 Degrees fame, wants to turn over a new leaf (heh see what I did there?) as a marijuana farmer. Lachey has invested in a ballot initiative by marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio. In return for putting up money for the effort, which needs to collect more than 300,000 signatures by this summer to get its proposal on the November ballot, Lachey will become part owner of a marijuana farm in the city of Hudson, which is in northeastern Ohio. That farm will be one of 10 under ResponsibleOhio’s plan, which would restrict commercial cultivation to a select number of sites. The group also tweaked its proposal after some criticism, and the current plan would also allow home growers to grow a small amount for personal use. Critics, however, including other legalization efforts, still say the plan amounts to a monopoly.

• Representatives from some area school districts, including Princeton City Schools, are lobbying in Columbus today in protest over state budgetary moves that would cut millions from their budgets. Princeton serves Lincoln Heights, Glendale, Woodlawn and much of Springdale and Sharonville in addition to other areas. Some school employees have taken personal days off from work to protest the proposed elimination of a state offset for the so-called Tangible Personal Property Tax. TPP was a big part of funding for many schools like Princeton. It was eliminated by lawmakers in 2007, but the state continued to funnel funds to schools to make up for the loss. Now, with Ohio’s new proposed budget, that offset will gradually be eliminated. Princeton receives nearly a quarter of its budget from the payments. It’s one of a number of schools on the chopping block from the new budget, which is a milder form of Gov. Kasich’s proposed financial blueprint for the state’s next two years. Kasich’s plan would have cut half of the districts in Ohio while increasing funding for the other half, mostly low-income rural and urban districts. State lawmakers have eased some of those cuts, but the prospect of losing money has caused ire among schools like Princeton, Lakota and others.

• There are a lot of other things happening in the state house today. Lawmakers are mulling whether to eliminate funding for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, tests. The state’s GOP legislators would like to eliminate the $33 million used to administer the tests, effectively killing them off. Part of the reason lawmakers want to eliminate them is that they’re tied to so-called federal Common Core standards. State Republicans are generally opposed to the standards, though Gov. John Kasich supports them. The tests’ roll-out this year has also been rocky, marked by complaints about glitches and difficulty. But there could be a big price tag for the political statement being made by eliminating the tests:  the loss of more than $750 million in federal money for education in Ohio, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

• Elsewhere in the state house, the GOP is raising ire among its own with other measures in the state budget. Republican State Auditor David Yost has cried foul at an attempt to remove oversight of disputes about public records requests from his bailiwick. State lawmakers say that the auditor’s office is responsible for financial accountability of state offices, not their public records. They want to remove the auditor’s power to receive complaints about public records requests and issue information and citations about such requests. Yost says removing his office’s power to oversee public records request issues weakens his ability to hold other public offices accountable and is unconstitutional. The Ohio Newspaper Association has also come out against the move. Reporters file a lot of public records requests, after all, and I for one don't want to have to sue someone every time I want some information that YOU should be able to know.

• What’s going on in national news, you ask? Stories about Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s Chipotle trip continue, revealing little other than the utter intellectual bankruptcy of some of the national political press. The initial story about the stop in the Maumee, Ohio, Chipotle earlier this week was a bit of a campaign stunt in and of itself (Hillary’s campaign staff tipped off the New York Times about the stop, leading to this incredibly important breaking news) and now we’ve just spun down into the dregs of mindless chatter about a burrito bowl. Not even a real burrito! Burritos are for eating, not for think-piecing. Why do you folks get paid to do this, again?

Meanwhile, Kasich is getting some interesting press that could boost his chances in the Republican 2016 primary contest for the presidential nomination. National publications are calling him everything from the "GOP's Strongest Candidate" to the "GOP's Moderate Backstop." Ah, national media. Gotta love it.

I'm out. Tweet at me, email me, hit me up on Livejournal. Just kidding. I haven't logged into Livejournal in forever. Weeks, at least.

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<![CDATA[Council Passes Motion Asking for Report on Streetcar Phase 1B]]>

Cincinnati City Council today passed a motion asking the city administration to draw up a report on possible funding sources for the planning and construction of phase 1B of the streetcar.

But the relatively small step caused a firestorm of controversy, illustrating how politically divisive the transit project remains. The motion, authored by City Councilman Chris Seelbach, launched a contentious hour of debate among council members about whether it was appropriate to look ahead to the next phase of the controversial transit project when the current phase, a 3.6 mile loop around downtown and Over-the-Rhine, has yet to be nailed down.

The motion passed on a narrow 5-4 vote, with council members Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann, and Wendell Young voting for the measure. Council members Charlie Winburn, Kevin Flynn, Amy Murray and Christopher Smitherman voted against having the city produce the study.

Seelbach said the idea was to gather information to make an informed decision about next steps.

“This motion doesn’t say we’re ready to study Phase 1B of the streetcar,” Seelbach said. “All it says is we want some facts on paper about opportunities we may even want to pass up. I think that’s a very fair conversation we want to have. But let’s at least get the facts on paper.”

Seelbach cited the availability of federal TIGER grants, $500 million of which have been made available for fiscal year 2015 to cities proposing transit projects that spur economic development. Supporters of extending the streetcar say the city should start planning now so it can apply for future federal money that would help pay for a route extension.

But streetcar opponents, including Mayor John Cranley and Councilman Christopher Smitherman, said the focus now should be on the project’s beleaguered current phase. They pointed to a recent revelation that the Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority projects revenues for the streetcar will be well under earlier expectations.

“I guess my question is, 'Why aren’t the supporters of the streetcar leading the $500,000 new deficit that we discovered yesterday,' ” said Cranley. “Where is the plan to solve the revenue gap we discovered yesterday? Let’s make Phase 1 a success. Instead people want to write more checks and spend more money on Phase 2.”

Early estimates placed revenue from ridership and advertising sold on the streetcar at $1.35 million in the first year. But adjustments in the way passengers will pay fares (by time spent on the cars, not on a per-ride basis), factoring in subsidized rides for low-income riders and revised advertising revenue estimates mean the streetcar is likely to pull in just $781,000 in its first year, SORTA told council yesterday. That means the transit project may have to tap into a $9 million fund provided by the Haile Foundation to help fund the streetcar’s first decade in operation. Opponents like Cranley and Smitherman say the project's first phase is a financial mess that will leave tax payers holding the bag. 

Cranley used the opportunity to again propose a residential parking pass for residents of Over-the-Rhine. In the past, he's floated proposals to charge as much as $300 a year to residents who want to park in the street in the neighborhood. Citing the number of new high-price condos springing up in OTR, Cranley said the owners of those high-price abodes should have to foot some of the bill for the amenity running past their doors. 

But supporters of the project fired back, saying the project is meant to spur economic development and must be looked at through that lens. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said investment spurred by the streetcar, including new development in Over-the-Rhine, would far outweigh the expenditures the city will make. She chalked up continued opposition to the streetcar, and the motion to produce a report, to politics.

“I think it really comes down to leadership,” said Simpson. “We made a commitment to a project, and there are times when there are challenges. The campaign is over. Our ability to put our best foot forward on this project will really determine the success of the project.”

Originally, the streetcar was intended to run from The Banks to a location uptown. However, after Gov. John Kasich eliminated millions in state funds from the project, it was scaled back. The route now ends near Findlay Market. Supporters, however, including many who pushed the streetcar through a contentious three-week pause in 2013, haven’t given up hope that the second leg can be completed into the area around the University of Cincinnati and the area’s major hospitals.

The debate over the motion once again opened up old arguments.

Councilman Charlie Winburn called once again for the streetcar to be halted entirely, saying it should be “scrapped altogether.” Winburn told City Manager Harry Black that he didn’t have to follow the motion, which doesn’t have the force of law, and asked the city administration to disregard it. The city solicitor confirmed that the motion was non-binding, and it is unclear whether the city manager will direct city administration to produce the report.

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

Morning all! Let’s get started on this news thing right away. I’ll be brief today.

Good news for transit drama junkies: The next episode of the streetcar soap opera just dropped, and it’s a double feature. Turns out the 2013 pause in streetcar construction while Mayor John Cranley railed against the project and Cincinnati City Council mulled pulling the plug could end up costing the city $2 million. The city has already spent about $1 million on costs associated with the pause, and now the team responsible for the streetcar is negotiating with a consultant involved in the construction of the streetcars over how much it owes for other costs related to the work stoppage. The cars themselves will be delayed six months because of the three-week pause, the streetcar team says, since the company making the cars thought the project was dead at the time. That cash will have to come out of the streetcar’s contingency fund, which will have about $1 million left after payments related to the pause are made.

Meanwhile, estimates for how much money the streetcar will rake in every year are down, according to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority. Adjustments in the way passengers will pay fares (by time spent on the cars, not on a per-ride basis), factoring in subsidized rides for low-income riders and revised advertising revenue estimates mean the streetcar is likely to pull in just $781,000 in its first year, much less than the originally-estimated $1.35 million. That means the transit project may have to tap into a $9 million fund provided by the Haile Foundation to help fund the streetcar’s first decade in operation.

• We’ve known for a while that the current site of the Anna Louise Inn, an historic women’s shelter downtown near Lytle Park, is slated to become a luxury hotel. Now we know which luxury hotel. Marriott announced yesterday it is bringing its Autograph Collection hotel concept to the site. Autograph Collection hotels are high-end, boutique accommodations. Others include European palaces and swanky hunting lodges. Plans have been in the works to relocate the century-old women’s shelter after a protracted and contentious legal battle between the city, Anna Louise Inn operators Cincinnati Union Bethel and insurance giant Western & Southern ended in 2013. A new CUB facility is being constructed in Mount Auburn.

• Here’s a quick one: Two Cincinnati lawyers have filed a lawsuit hoping to legalize prostitution in San Francisco. Lou Sirkin and Brian O’Connor of Cincinnati-based firm Santen and Hughes have filed in a California U.S. District Court on behalf of an organization called the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Education and Research Project. Three sex workers and a prospective client of sex workers are named as plaintiffs in the suit, which Sirkin and O’Connor say is a constitutional issue. Sirkin has worked on a number of constitutional and individual rights cases across the country.

• Lebanon City School District is facing a civil rights complaint from the mother of one of its students. Heather Allen has filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that issues of racial discrimination and bullying haven’t been taken seriously by the district. Allen says her biracial children, as well as other black children in the district, have been subject to racist jokes, taunting, repeated use of racial slurs including the n-word and an alleged threat from another student who Allen says had a knife. Nine incidents total are listed in the complaint, which comes a few weeks after an Instagram photo surfaced from a district student bearing racial slurs and a threat toward a black Lebanon student. The district thus far has not responded to media inquiries about the complaints, though it did address the Instagram photo, saying it didn’t have jurisdiction over that issue since it happened off school property.

• Former death row exonerees took to the capitol yesterday to advocate for changes to Ohio’s death penalty. Six men who had been wrongfully convicted of murder and who spent time in prison for their wrongful convictions gathered to urge lawmakers to adopt 57 recommendations for changes to the way the state administers justice made by the Ohio Supreme Court Task Force on Capital Punishment. Among them was Ricky Jackson, who was finally freed last November after spending 39 years in prison for a murder in Cleveland he didn’t commit. Jackson was exonerated thanks to the work of UC’s Ohio Innocence Project, an initiative co-founded by Mayor John Cranley in 2003. The Innocence Project is the subject of this week’s CityBeat news feature — it just won a new trial for three other Cleveland men who may have been wrongfully convicted in another murder. Check it out.

• Finally, your 2016 update: U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida entered the presidential fold Monday, declaring he’ll seek the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, there is noise about who former secretary of state and current Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton will tap for vice president. Will it be former San Antonio mayor and current Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro? Some think-piece writers think so. It seems clear that Castro, along with his brother, U.S. Rep Juan Castro, are both being groomed by the Democratic Party for bigger things. The Castro brothers are promising stars in the party, to be sure, but there’s also a pretty calculated element to the speculation: Rubio is strong with Hispanics thanks to his own Hispanic background, and Castro as VP could be a way to counteract that, political pundits say. Ew. Politics is gross.

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

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

Hello all. What’s up? Let’s dive right into the news today.

If you live uptown and frequently need to hop on I-75 north, I have some bad news for you. It’s going to be another, oh, five years before the already years-old ODOT project to revamp I-75 makes it easier to access the highway from uptown. Let’s ruminate on that length of time for a minute. It’s an entire high school career plus a year of college. Or the amount of time it takes the average person to put 65,000 miles on a car. Or for some folks, multiple long-term relationships. The hang-up comes from a proposed connector bridge that will allow for easier access from I-74 to the area around Cincinnati State College. That construction is in the same area as the planned new northbound ramp, meaning the latter will have to be put off until 2020. That leaves uptown residents wanting to head north with the option of two complicated workarounds that probably add at least a few minutes to commute times. Happy driving y’all.

• In more positive news, it sounds like the city’s July 14 parade for the MLB All-Star Game is going to be something else. Usually, these kinds of things are limited to a few pickup trucks full of ball players on the way to field from their hotels, but Cincinnati Reds COO Phil Castellini says this year will be different. Floats, music and other festivities inspired by our annual opening day parade will fill the mile-long parade route, which goes from the Westin Hotel downtown past Fountain Square to Great American Ballpark. The All-Star Game is a big deal for any city to land — estimated economic impact for the city is somewhere in the $60 million range.

• Over-the-Rhine business course MORTAR will graduate its first class of entrepreneurs today. Locals William Thomas, Derrick Braziel and Allen Woods founded the group last year with a focus on increasing socio-economic diversity in the city’s startup culture. When you picture a startup entrepreneur, you might immediately think of a young white middle class male, which would be understandable since that demographic makes up a large percentage of entrepreneurs, especially in hot new markets like tech. MORTAR’s mission is to go beyond that, founders say, and to extend the opportunity to start a business to anyone in the city with a good idea. Tonight at Elementz, on the corner of Race and Central Parkway, the first class will take their ideas public during a series of presentations lasting from 6-9 pm. First year participants include Black Owned Outerwear founder Cam Means and soap maker Evie Cotton.

• I knew y'all were smart. Cincinnati is among the most literate cities in the country according to a study by Central Connecticut State University President Dr. Jack Miller. Miller measured literacy in America’s 77 biggest cities by studying bookstores, libraries, newspaper circulation, education level and Internet usage to come up with his ranking. Cincinnati ranked 12th, just above Raleigh, N.C. and just below Portland, Ore. We are far and away the best Ohio city on the list — runner up Columbus ranked just 21st. Minneapolis took the top spot this year after a four-year run in the top spot for Washington, D.C., which finished second this time around.

• The Ohio Board of Education voted yesterday to end the state’s stipulation that school districts have at least five of eight specialty positions in each of their schools. Those positions included librarians, music teachers and physical education teachers. The rule change has been hotly debated among educators and officials. Opponents say it will mean that students in many low-income schools will no longer be guaranteed arts, music and other important humanities education. Boosters of the rule change say it allows local school districts more autonomy with how they spend their budgets.

• Is Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal dead? Looks like its prospects are grim, especially when it comes to the tax boosts the governor suggested to make up for his proposed $5.7 billion in income tax cuts. The GOPers in the Ohio General Assembly love the cuts, but hate the offsets, which include a sales tax hike. State lawmakers are expected to tweak Kasich’s budget to cut about $1 billion in income taxes while forgoing the sales tax hikes and some other big measures in the budget. Kasich’s plan has taken fire from both the left and the right. Progressives point out that shifting the tax burden from income toward sales taxes puts a higher proportional burden on the state’s low-income workers and that cuts to taxes on businesses and the tax bills of the state’s top earners is a regressive move that favors the wealthy. Conservatives, on the other hand, say the sales tax hike would encumber businesses and slow the economy. Both the state House and Senate will have to vote to approve a final budget agreement.

• Big news here: While Hillary Clinton was driving around in her Scooby Doo campaign van yesterday, she passed through Ohio and stopped for some Chipotle. Surprisingly, this news story says, no one in the Maumee, Ohio, Chipotle recognized her, probably because they were too focused on their double barbacoa double cheese double sour cream burritos. Dude, when I’m eating a burrito, the wailing ghost of James Brown could come in spitting fire and singing "Poppa’s Got a Brand New Bag" and I probably wouldn’t take much note, but then the wailing ghost of James Brown isn’t running for president in 2016 (unfortunately).

• Finally, new revelations have surfaced in the shooting death of Walter Scott,
North Charleston, South Carolina man, by police officer Michael Slager April 5. North Charleston police have released audio recordings taken immediately after the incident in which Slager tells his wife he shot Scott while the man was running from him and then later laughs about the adrenaline rush to a supervisor. Scott was black, Slager white. The incident is the latest racially charged police shooting to capture the nation’s attention in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., last summer.

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

Hello all. I hope you got out and enjoyed the weather this weekend, which was spectacular. I took a nice six-mile hike organized by Imago, a Price Hill-based nature preserve and environmental education organization and Park and Vine, the planet friendly general store on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. It was pretty great to spend the day hiking through the OTR, the West End and the Price Hills.

On to the news! The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has announced it’s bringing incredibly popular OTR light show LumenoCity back Aug. 5-9, but it’s going to be a lot different this year, at least when it comes to admission. The two-year-old event has up to this point been a free offering to the public. The first year, the light show was open to anyone who wanted to drop by. Last year, however, organizers sectioned off the park and required show goers to claim free tickets online, citing massive demand. More than 30,000 people showed up for the four nights of the show. Those tickets sold out in a flash, and some ended up on eBay for pretty crazy prices. This year, organizers have set up a lottery for tickets. Those who are randomly selected from the lottery will pay up $20 for tickets, which will be limited to four per household and 6,000 per night.

• So this is kinda hilarious. It looks like Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters is down one really killer Halloween costume after a recent magistrate’s decision. As you probably know, a year ago, a group of Greenpeace activists staged a protest at Procter and Gamble headquarters over the company’s use of palm oil, the harvesting of which they say has lead to the destruction of rainforests. As part of this protest, one of the activists repelled down the side of P&G in a tiger costume. For whatever reason, Deters wanted that costume. He wanted it bad. He asked a Hamilton County Court magistrate if he could keep it (it had been held as evidence), but the magistrate recently told Deters to give the dang tiger suit back to the dude.

• Normally, the flow in Washington when it comes to making the big money is that you serve in the government side of things, as a legislator or on a legislator’s staff, then move on to the lucrative lobbying positions that big interests groups hire to gain influence in D.C. But it works both ways, apparently. Here’s an interesting piece about how some national politicians with local ties are hiring former lobbyists to join their Washington staffs. Which seems weird and a little shady, right? Well, it’s not illegal, and the former recipients of big corporate cash swear they’re only working for their bosses (read: us) when they make the move to a legislator’s office. Hm.

• Heroin is a big issue in both north and south of the Ohio River. But the legislative ways Ohio and Kentucky deal with the crisis are very different. Kentucky has recently passed a raft of new laws that look to alleviate the drug’s hold on the region, including making things like needle-exchange programs easier. It’s also ramped up penalties for traffickers bringing the drug into the state. But police officers in Ohio are more likely to carry overdose recovery drugs like Narcan, while many Kentucky police departments are still weighing the drug’s benefits against its costs and possible dangers. What’s more, Ohio is poised to pass more measures ensuring addicts leaving prison get the anti-addiction medication they need. Will the two states ever get on the same page? Unclear.

• The Ohio Democratic Party on Saturday officially endorsed former Gov. Ted Strickland in his campaign for U.S. Senate, tilting the party’s primary further away from Cincinnati City Councilman and Strickland primary opponent P.G. Sittenfeld. That wasn’t entirely unexpected — Strickland has statewide name recognition, polling that shows him trouncing incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman by nine points at this early point in the campaign, and the endorsement of former president Bill Clinton — but it stings all the same. Especially brutal is what Strickland said at a meeting of the state party’s executive committee of delegates Saturday.

“This isn’t a Little League Baseball Game,” Strickland said, probably muttering a condescending “son,” under his breath. “This is a U.S. Senate race.” Dang. It’s getting heated in this thing.

• Is cursive making a comeback in Ohio? No, no, not Cursive, the band I spent many of my angst-ridden teen years rocking out to. I’m talking about the squiggly script students used to be required to master in grade school. These days, districts decide whether or not they teach the handwriting method, but that could change with a new proposed law that would make it a mandatory part of public education. I’m against it. Art is hard and so are those loopy letters. Full disclosure, however, my handwriting is absolutely awful.

• Quick, but important and kind of scary: Remember last summer when we had that gross toxic algae thing in the Great Lakes, in part due to industrial fertilizer runoff? It shutdown Toledo's water supply for a minute, and it could be a big problem again this year.

• Finally, Hillary Clinton is officially running for president again after her Sunday campaign rollout. The former secretary of state and Democratic frontrunner is already on the campaign trail, hitting up Iowa as we speak, reportedly road-tripping in a black van she’s dubbed “the Scooby Doo Van.”

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

Hello Cincy, let’s talk about the news today.

The big story, of course, is the death of Lauren Hill, the 19-year-old Mount Saint Joseph freshman who very publicly and courageously battled inoperable brain cancer. Hill inspired many across the country, continuing to play basketball with Mount Saint Joe even as her illness weakened her. Through her advocacy, she raised $1.4 million for cancer research with nonprofit cancer research agency The Cure Starts Now. Hill passed early this morning.

• Cincinnati’s next big brewery has set its opening date. Northside’s Urban Artifact brewery, located in the historic St. Pius X church on Blue Rock Street, will have its grand opening two weeks from today on April 24. The space will also be a concert venue, and has a unique business model: live music every night of the week that will be recorded, if the artists wish, and streamed on the space’s website. Eventually, Urban Artifact will offer a restaurant at the location as well.

• Local high school students in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren Counties will be able to take a free college class and get a textbook free of charge this summer at Cincinnati State Technical Community College, the school announced yesterday. The offer is open to 2015 graduates and those who will be freshmen in the fall at Cincinnati State as well. Cincinnati State President O’dell Owens says it’s a way for the school to give back to the community while hopefully enticing area students to enroll at the school in the future. 

• Cincinnati schools are making strides in terms of educational achievement by students, but those gains aren't universal and highlight glaring racial and economic gaps, a new study from Cincinnati's Strive Partnership has found. You can read the full study here. Look for more coverage on educational inequality in Cincinnati from us in the near future.

• There’s a pretty interesting wrinkle in the race for the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Rob Portman in Ohio. Democratic challenger Ted Strickland has polled nine points ahead of Portman and many points ahead of his primary foe Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. But Strickland has actually raised less money for his campaign than either of them. Portman has raised over $2 million for the race, Sittenfeld has raised $750,000 and recent campaign filings show Strickland has pulled in about $670,000. That’s not far off from Sittenfeld, and Strickland has much more name recognition from his stint as governor of Ohio from 2007 to 2011. Strickland announced his campaign later than Sittenfeld, a fact his campaign manager says explains why he’s trailing right now.

• Here’s a really informative rundown on the upcoming Supreme Court battle over marriage equality that centers around Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and gay marriage bans in several other states. The case will almost certainly be precedent-setting, and momentum is on the side of marriage equality; many federal circuit courts have struck down other states’ bans, but the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has upheld bans in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Tennessee. That’s created a conflict in federal court rulings, something the Supreme Court will have to sort out with its decision. The nation’s highest court already struck down a federal ban on gay marriage two years ago, and now advocates on both sides are holding their breath for this decisive battle. Arguments before the court kick off April 28.

• Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to announce her candidacy for president Sunday in New York City, according to a number of national news outlets. Clinton is the decided front runner for the Democratic nomination; so much so that some have accused her of a rather blasé approach to the campaign thus far. Clinton has a strong fundraising network and big support from high-level Democrats, though. But she has already had to tussle with a potential scandal: the revelation she used her personal e-mail account for State Department business while she served in that position. That wasn’t illegal at the time, and Clinton has turned over thousands of those e-mails, but critics say there’s no way to know whether she has turned over all of them. Despite these early stumbles, there are few other Democrats who seem feasible challengers. Those on the left in the party have been pushing Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run, but she so far has declined to entertain the idea. More recently, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with Democrats, has made noises that he might be interested in the race. It’s unclear, however, how Sander’s very progressive politics (he’s an avowed socialist) would play with the mainstream Democratic base.

• Finally, a measure designed to prevent businesses who contract with the federal government from discriminating against LGBT individuals kicked in Wednesday. The law, which stems from an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in July, means that those companies can’t consider sexual orientation when they hire. Outside this measure, which only applies to companies who do business with the federal government, there are not laws against employment discrimination against LGBT individuals federally or in Ohio.

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

Good morning y’all. How are you? I’m feeling great today because I just polished off a 6,000-word draft for an upcoming cover story that you’re definitely going to want to read. That’s always a great feeling, and a short-lived one — soon comes the editing process. But let’s stay focused on the here and now, shall we, and talk about the news today.

Could $40 million in new development, including a sought-after grocery store, be coming to Avondale? It’s becoming more and more of a possibility. Developer The Community Builders is looking at expanding development plans associated with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods program, which seeks to improve individual and neighborhood-level outcomes in low-income communities. Developers and the Avondale Community Council and Community Development Corporation have received $30 million from that program, and by using that money to attract other investment have turned it into $100 million for development in the neighborhood. So far, that money has gone to rehabilitating existing structures, but it could soon be used to build new developments, including the so-called Avondale Town Center, a key mixed-use development including a grocery store Mayor John Cranley mentioned in his State of the City speech last year. The development is still in the planning phases, and no grocer has been selected yet, but so far 118 units of affordable and market-rate housing and 80,000 square feet of retail space are on the table as goals.

• More legal troubles could be in the works for the former officials from a local charter school in the West End. Former Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy Superintendent Lisa Hamm and Treasurer Stephanie Millard were implicated in the misspending of more than $500,000 in a 2013 special audit by the state. On Tuesday, State Auditor David Yost released another report saying the two misspent money even as that audit took place, opening up the possibility more charges could be filed.

I want to make a special note about this story. The Cincinnati Enquirer has called the Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy a “magnet school” in at least two articles I’ve seen about it, including the one linked above. That doesn’t appear to be the case at all. Magnet schools are themed public schools run by local districts like Cincinnati Public Schools. (See also: the Department of Education's description of magnet schools.) Charter schools aren’t accountable to local school districts, even if they’re publicly funded. Part of the scandal around CCPA is that its controlling board, which is not the city’s Board of Education, didn’t approve the spending in question. The existence of that stand-alone board shows that CCPA is a charter, not a magnet. The school doesn't appear in CPS' magnet school listings, for instance, because it isn't a magnet under CPS.

Am I missing something? Correct me if you have more insight. In the meantime — why does the distinction matter? Because charter schools have had serious accountability problems in Ohio in the past few years, and we should call CCPA what it is — another charter school with lax oversight and a problematic power structure. To call it a magnet school is to saddle Cincinnati Public Schools with at least one more big problem it doesn’t actually have anything to do with. OK, sorry. Onward.

• Greater Cincinnati developer Jeffery Decker is facing a federal court filing over an insurance claim on a multi-million dollar mansion that burned down in Indian Hill in January last year. Decker filed a lawsuit asking Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to award his family millions for an insurance policy from Chubb National Insurance Co. The Decker family received an advance $700,000 payment on the insurance policy before the insurance company filed a counter claim asking for the money back after Decker’s phone records revealed he was at the house much later in the day on the day the fire happened than he initially claimed — up until about 15 minutes before smoke was reported on the property. Chubb is alleging that Decker misrepresented his whereabouts the day of the fire in his initial claim and therefore invalidated the insurance policy.

• The Ohio Democratic Party could endorse former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland in the state’s 2016 Senate race over primary foe Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. So far, the party has stayed neutral on the race, at least officially, though some high-level Democrats have asked Sittenfeld to bow out of the race. Strickland is the favorite, having garnered an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton and having the advantage of massive name recognition in the state that propelled him to take a nine-point lead over incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman. 

• President Barack Obama yesterday called for an end to so-called "gay conversion" therapy in the wake of the December death of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn. Alcorn, whose given name was Joshua, committed suicide late last year after her parents barred her from getting gender transition treatments and instead took her to Christian-based counseling to try and convince her to give up her transgender status. The Obama administration's call to end the therapy method came in response to a Whitehouse.gov petition that received more than 120,000 signatures.

"We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth," the response reads. "As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors."

• Finally — ah, the nostalgia. By the time I got around to hitting up Forest Fair Mall as a youngin, it was already a creepily empty shell that housed a Guitar Center, a food court with flickering florescent lights and not much else. Now there are discussions about revitalizing the hulking indoor mall in Forest Park, perhaps with a mixture of uses beyond mall retail. Sounds interesting, though honestly, I’m a bit more entertained by the creepy, zombie apocalypse vibe of the place as it stands. Hm. Do I smell a Walking Dead theme park opportunity? I think so.

That's it for me. I'm done writing things for the next half hour at least. In the meantime, hit me up. Email  me or tweet at your favorite exhausted news dude.

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

Good morning y’all. Let’s get right to the news.

Are million-dollar homes coming to Over-the-Rhine? At least one of the city’s big movers and shakers thinks so. Reds owner Bob Castellini made that prediction last night during a speech at Music Hall for the Over-the-Rhine Chamber’s annual Star Awards, which spotlights the neighborhood’s growth and its business leaders. Castellini is on the board of 3CDC, the developer that is approaching $1 billion in projects completed in the neighborhood and downtown. He’s bullish on the idea that the once-neglected neighborhood will continue to see high-price new developments. He highlighted condos in 3CDC’s Mercer Commons development that have sold for more than $400,000 as one example of growing interest in high-end living in OTR. Following new development, median household incomes and property values have been going up in the historically low-income neighborhood in the last few years. That’s caused a lot of fanfare, but has also stoked fears about gentrification, apprehensions that came up again recently when a developer proposed $400,000 single-family homes in the neighborhood’s less-hyped northern area. Some advocates in the neighborhood say there isn’t affordable housing there.

• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is shifting gears in his campaign for U.S. Senate. Sittenfeld’s campaign manager Ramsey Reid has left the Democrat’s team, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Sittenfeld’s campaign says his departure was planned from the beginning and that a new campaign manager and other new hires will be announced shortly. Sittenfeld recently ramped up his team, hiring a spokesman, a finance director and a polling specialist in his underdog primary battle against former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. Strickland is a heavy favorite to win the primary. He’s garnered an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton and is currently polling nine points ahead of Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman. Sittenfeld has been steadfast about staying in the race despite pressure from some Democrats to bow out.

• If you need proof that the weather here really is a bummer and that you’re not just a big whiner, here it is. A new study by a popular meteorology blog called Brian B’s Climate Blog shows Cincinnati is ranked 5th in the country for major cities when it comes to dreary weather. The city tied for that… err, honor… with Cleveland and Lexington. Buffalo took the top spot, followed predictably by Seattle, Pittsburgh and Portland. The climate blog considered three factors in its rankings: total number of days with precipitation, total annual precipitation and total annual cloud cover. If you need more anecdotal evidence, just find your nearest window.

• A new bill in the Ohio House would allow concealed carry in the state without a license if passed. The
bill, proposed by State Rep. Ron Hood of Ashville, has 20 cosponsors and support from State Rep. Ron Arnstutz, the second-most powerful Republican in the House. Lots of dudes named Ron are into this idea, which makes me think of the ultimate Ron. Anyway, the bill would do away with licensing and training requirements for those who want to carry concealed weapons, limiting concealed carry only to those below the age of 21 or people who aren’t permitted to have guns due to their criminal background or other legal reasons. Five other states, including Kansas, have already approved unlicensed concealed carry, and 10 more states are considering similar measures. Gun rights groups have applauded the bill, but opponents, including law enforcement groups, say it will make the state less safe.

• With bicycle commuting on the rise, both nationally and, I’m hoping, in Cincinnati, do we need better data collection practices from police when it comes to cyclist-car accidents? It seems that way, according to a study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The study, summarized in this CityLab post, suggests that most data collection methods used by public safety agencies around the country are outdated and don’t consider the differences between cars and bikes and don’t make allowances for the different situations in which the two could collide. Better data could lead to safer bike infrastructure, the authors of the study say.

• Finally, it’s almost becoming a sentence in which you can just fill in the blanks with the latest shooter and deceased. Michael Slager, a white police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina shot an apparently unarmed black man named Walter Scott over the weekend. The police incident report says that Scott had the officer’s taser and that Slager feared for his life. But a video taken by a bystander contradicts all of that, showing Slager firing eight rounds at Scott as he ran away. After Scott fell to the ground, Slager appears to casually drop something next to him. More officers soon arrived, though none are seen administering the CPR the police report alleges took place. Scott died at the scene. The incident has drawn national attention and a murder charge for Slager — a rarity perhaps brought about by the graphic and shocking video taken by a witness.

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

Hey all! Upside today: The Reds won last night. Downside today: It’s really gross outside. Now that I’ve covered the perfunctory topical conversation points, let’s get on to the news, eh?

Investigations continue into a deadly drive-by shooting that happened over the weekend near the Walnut Hills YMCA. Seventeen-year-old Kelcie Crow died in that shooting and two other teens were injured. Police say a fight broke out at a birthday party at the Y, after which a white van drove by and fired at least 60 shots at the large crowd of teens. Police say they don’t currently have any suspects in the shooting. The shootings and Crow’s tragic death have drawn a lot of attention around the city, including from Cincinnati City Council. City Council Law and Public Safety Committee Chairman Christopher Smitherman vowed the city would find and bring to justice the perpetrators. He also placed some blame for the lack of leads so far on what he calls a “no snitching” mentality among some in the community.

• Over-the-Rhine based business accelerator The Brandery has announced a unique project with developer Urban Sites that will provide housing in the neighborhood for entrepreneurs coming to Cincinnati as part of the group’s yearly class of new startups. The Brandery has signed a lease with the developer for two buildings on Walnut Street with 14 two-bedroom apartments that will become a housing option for participants in The Brandery’s accelerator program, which connects young startups with funding, branding and design help as well as potential corporate clients. The accelerator’s fifth class wrapped up in October last year. Each year the accelerator accepts 10-12 startups from around the country and worldwide for its four-month program. About half of these companies stay in Cincinnati after graduating from the program, the group says. The apartments will be somewhat subsidized for participants, the group says, and are a way to meet the needs of entrepreneurs while they’re in town focusing on growing their businesses.

• Cincinnati’s Red Bike, a nonprofit bike sharing program that started last year, just got its first big sponsor. UC Health will pay to put its logo on the nonprofit’s bikes for three years, the hospital system announced yesterday. Red Bike is looking for other sponsors as it continues to grow. Currently, the bike share has 33 stations spread around downtown, Over-the-Rhine and uptown. An expansion in Northern Kentucky is planned as well. The bike share was kick-started last year by a $1 million grant from the city.

• At first, I thought this was just today’s weather forecast, but it turns out it’s a real thing. This summer, a Cincinnati street will turn into a giant waterslide for a day when Slide the City brings its 1,000-foot slide to Jefferson Avenue near UC. You can slide on the street, but it’ll cost you: )ne slide costs $20, three times will cost $35 and unlimited slides will set you back $60. But you also get a tattoo, a mouth guard, a bag and T-shirt with that. So yeah.

• Ah, my alma matter never fails to embarrass me at least once a year. Police at Miami University are investigating a slew of racist and homophobic graffiti in a residence hall there and have also discovered similar graffiti at two of the school's frat houses. You can read more about it at the link above. I'm going to go burn all the Miami spirit wear I own, though I actually bought it from a thrift store a few years after I graduated because it was super-cheap and I was broke.

• A nearby university wants to play host to one of the 2016 presidential debates. Wright State University in Dayton has applied to host a debate next year and is one of 16 sites vying for the opportunity. The school has played a role in presidential campaigns in the past. In 2008, Republican candidate John McCain announced Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate at Wright State, and President Barack Obama has also campaigned at the school.

• Speaking of the election, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky officially announced his candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. Paul is vying with a crowded field of GOP contenders for the party’s nomination, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who announced his campaign a couple weeks ago, and others who have yet to formally declare their intentions, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. As we talked about yesterday, Paul has tried to distinguish himself by playing on the Libertarian legacy of his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who ran for president several times himself. The younger Paul is trying to walk the line between his father’s rabid followers and the more traditional GOP establishment, where big donors and powerful endorsements are to be had.

Another area where Paul has distinguished himself from the pack is in presidential campaign merchandise. Please, please, please do yourself a favor and check out these hot items, including this Ladies Constitution Burnout Tee which, as the website says, is “soft and gauzy… wears well, looks great and sends the statists a message.” Yes. There’s also the NSA spycam blocker (a small plastic piece that slides over your computer’s built-in camera), the Real Rand Woven Blanket (for those times when you want to be all wrapped up in the warm embrace of something other than the nanny state) and something called the Rand Paul Bag Toss Game. I didn’t click on that one. Oh yeah, and you can also get an autographed copy of the constitution for a cool grand, which is probably the most libertarian product ever. 

That's it for me. Tweet, email or comment with your favorite swag from a presidential contender — or to get my shipping address so you can send me the giant Rand Paul birthday card you're going to send me in November.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Hey all! Today is Opening Day. You already know this. What you don’t know is that it’s my first Opening Day back in Cincinnati after a few years of missing them. So let’s resign ourselves to the fact that half of the news blog today will be dominated by stuff around this most momentous of holidays.

All kinds of stuff is going on in connection with the game. Here are the highlights: Cincy’s opening day parade has been happening for oh, 96 years now and will kick off at noon at Findlay Market, heading down Race Street through downtown. Taft’s Ale House in Over-the-Rhine right off the parade route has its grand opening today, and from what I’ve heard, it’s already packed. There are also big screens and food vendors in Washington Park so you can enjoy the game there as well.  

The Reds are playing the Pittsburgh Pirates, a pretty common foe on our first game of the year. We’ve played them 27 times in our season opener, and the Reds' first Opening Day in 1882 was played against their predecessors, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (we lost). I hate to tell you this, but we have a pretty bad record against our rivals to the east. They’ve won 19 times when the teams go head to head on opening day. Take a look at the full history of Reds opening day here, including records of our losses against the terrifyingly named Cleveland Spiders in 1891 and the tragic Chicago Orphans in 1900.

In case you’re wondering, here’s what the ballpark is looking like heading up to the game. Oh, wait, my bad, that was the Reds/Pirates Opening Day game from 110 years ago. The reds lost 4-9, bee tee dubs. But we’ll win this time, right? Also btw, more than 18,000 people attended that game. Incredible.

• On to non-baseball related news. Cincinnati ranks among the country’s most affordable cities for housing, according to a study by real estate website Zillow.com. I’m usually pretty wary of these kinds of website-conducted studies, but this one does have some interesting data points. According to the Zillow study, Cincinnati has the seventh-most affordable mortgages of the cities it measured across the country, and the sixth-lowest amount of income spent on rent of cities across the country. Keep in mind these are relative rankings, and that Cincinnati ranks rather well comparatively because it’s not growing as fast as some other cities.

However, the country as a whole is in the middle of an affordable housing conundrum. As the report says, “Rental affordability is as bad as it's ever been across the U.S., in part because there are not enough new, affordable units to meet demand.”

On related note: Though it may not be booming the way Austin or San Francisco are, Cincinnati is again growing, rather than shrinking, in terms of population size. The city saw a slight bump in population over the past couple years, and is projected to top 300,000 people again sometime around 2020.

• This is kind of shocking to me: Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat, is currently out-polling incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Rob Portman by nine points in a Quinnipiac University poll on the 2016 Senate race released today. Portman is running for his second term in the Senate representing Ohio. He’s raised boatloads of money, has the backing of much of the GOP and is unbothered (thus far) with a primary challenger. The only issue that could keep conservatives away is his embrace of marriage equality, but I can’t imagine dyed in the wool Republicans swinging over to a liberal Democrat or staying home because of that. Still, Strickland leads Portman 47 percent to 38 percent among likely Ohio voters. Strickland announced his campaign last month. He’s facing Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in the Democratic primary.

• Here’s a less-shocking poll: a slim majority of Ohioans favor marijuana legalization. Another Quinnipiac poll released recently found 52 percent of Ohioans say they favor legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Forty-four percent opposed legalization, and four percent were undecided. That’s almost identical to a poll by Quinnipiac last year. However, that doesn’t mean ballot initiatives like those put forward by legalization group ResponsibleOhio would pass if presented to voters in November. The poll measures general sentiment, not the sentiment of those likely to vote. Off-year elections are notoriously thin when it comes to voter turnout, and that could derail legalization efforts. Also complicating the picture is ResponsibleOhio’s particular proposal, which would limit commercial growing to 10 sites around the state. That’s been a controversial provision, with both conservative critics and other legalization advocates saying it amounts to a monopoly on the crop.

• Let’s do a really brief presidential campaign roundup before I bid you adieu for the day. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who many hold as a frontrunner in the GOP 2016 presidential nomination contest, described himself as Hispanic on his voter registration in 2009, the New York Times reports today. While Bush speaks fluent Spanish and his wife was born in Mexico, he himself does not have Hispanic roots. Bush has built his platform in part on his appeal to Hispanic voters, whom the GOP desperately need as they attempt to expand their base beyond old, male white people. But uh, nominating yourself as a member of a minority group on official documents may not endear you to that group. A spokesman for his campaign could not explain the error, but Bush has shrugged about the revelation on Twitter, laughing it off as a slip of the pen.

• Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has been getting a lot of press lately, and there are reports he may announce his presidential campaign tomorrow. Paul’s walking a tightrope between the deeply Libertarian politics of his father, Ron Paul, and the kinds of proposals needed to cuddle up to establishment Republican donors. Paul’s been working to reach out to crowds outside the traditional GOP power base, talking about justice system and drug law reform and other issues that have become hot points with minority and traditionally progressive voters. Meanwhile, he’s also been trying a less isolationist tack on foreign affairs issues, calling for increased funding to America's military, among other proposals. As Paul dances, the press has tried to pin him down. He’s alternately described as a radical seeking revolution in the GOP and a candidate going moderate as he seeks the party’s nomination. Is he turning into just another Republican suit, or a fed-abolishing Libertarian constantly asking himself “What Would Ayn Do?” My guess is he’s not sure yet himself. Love him or hate him, Paul will make the race interesting in the coming year.

Tweet at me, email me, comment: get at me with your news tips and best opening day celebratory revelry ideas.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Good morning y’all. I cannot wait for this weekend so let’s get to it.

Are you a businessperson in Indiana steamed about the state’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act? A lot of people are. In the wake of controversy around Indiana's law, which as written allows businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals on the basis of religious beliefs, Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black is making a pitch to Indiana businesses: Come to Cincy. We’re more accepting, and that’s good for business, Black says. Black has already written to companies like Yelp who had planned to expand in Indiana but are now pulling back thanks to the new law signed by Gov. Mike Pence last week. Many businesses have balked at such RFRA laws, both in Indiana and elsewhere, saying they’re morally objectionable and bad for business. Pence and Indiana lawmakers announced a fix to the law earlier this week that they say would prohibit discrimination. But many of the law’s critics, including big business, say the fix isn’t enough. Now Cincinnati is looking poach some of that business expansion for its own.

• Another day, another embarrassing streetcar argument. At yesterday’s City Council meeting, Mayor John Cranley lashed out at the city’s streetcar team, saying it had “secretly” spent $200,000 on studies for the transit project’s potential second leg into uptown. It turns out that last February, the team, led by project executive John Deatrick, spent about $70,000 out of a fund set aside for streetcar studies in 2008. The team authorized the full $200,000 in contracts to two firms to do budget and cost benefit analyses but paused the work when it became clear focus on the current phase of the streetcar was the priority. Cranley says the 2008 City Council resolution creating the original $800,000 pot of money for studies didn’t specifically authorize the streetcar team to use the money and that the studies are an example of a “culture of secrecy” around the project. The team says it was unaware it had to ask for special permission to undertake the analyses for phase 1b. Phew. City Manager Harry Black, who has the power to discipline city personnel, says there appears to be no grounds to punish members of the streetcar team. Can we just stop the fussin’ and the feudin’, please?

• Parking rates are changing in Over-the-Rhine and downtown Tuesday. The shifts, which are tied to usage in the areas, have been planned for a year and were given final approval by Cincinnati City Council yesterday. Rates will go up or down by a quarter in various parts of the downtown/OTR area. In general, rates will go down or stay the same west of Vine Street, ranging from $2.00 an hour south of Sixth Street to $.75 an hour north of Central Parkway. East of Vine Street, rates will go up; it will now cost $2.25 an hour to park south of Central Parkway and $1.25 an hour north of it. The city has watched usage rates in various parts of downtown/OTR since January to come up with the new rates, a kind of makeshift “dynamic parking” effort. In other cities, sophisticated data crunching can change parking rates on meters according to demand on an hourly basis. That won’t happen here, but by shifting rates according to the parking market, city leaders hope to incentivize parking turnover in busy areas and encourage drivers to park in less-used locations. Some of the funds from the parking boost will go to the streetcar, and some to the general fund, City Manager Harry Black says.

• I grew up in Hamilton, where the grisly legacy of James Rupert is hard to escape. On Easter Sunday 40 years ago, Ruppert murdered 11 members of his family in a house on the corner of Minor Avenue in Hamilton’s Lindenwald neighborhood. At the time, it was the largest mass-murder in U.S. history. Yesterday, Rupert had a parole hearing. The parole board’s decision hasn’t been announced yet, but the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office is strongly objecting to his release.

• Hey, here’s a weird one. Need some new nude photos in front of Music Hall? There’s a guy who may be able to hook you up on Opening Day, when he comes to Cincinnati to shoot nude photos of folks in front of local landmarks. He’s done it in a number of big U.S. cities, sometimes with getaway drivers nearby due to the illegal nature of being naked in public. I can’t avoid comment on this quote in the Enquirer, so here it comes:

“I am looking for Americana, the history of the United States,” Harvey Drouillard says. “I am looking for the crown jewels." Crown jewels indeed.

• A few days ago, I told you about how the Ohio General Assembly floated a proposal that required college students and other somewhat transitory voters to register their car in Ohio if they wanted to vote here. Many Democrats have likened that measure to a poll tax; it would cost most students $75 to re-register their cars and if they don’t and try to vote, their current registration would become invalid. Gov. John Kasich apparently agreed with the detractors, vetoing the measure Wednesday. The provision was tucked into Ohio’s transportation budget legislation, which moves forward without the voter registration law.

• Finally, U.S. negotiations with Iran over that country’s nuclear program have made big headlines lately, with a lot of politicking going on around the fact that we’re negotiating with the country at all. But according to some sources, those negotiations have taken a fruitful and promising turn lately. Here’s the latest on where things stand with U.S. efforts to keep Iran from developing nukes. The whole process is fascinating and terrifying stuff.

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

Hey all. I’m hyped for the season’s first thunderstorm, which is officially rolling in as I type this. As far as I’m concerned, it’s finally spring. On to the news.

Residents displaced by the King Towers fire in Madisonville last Thursday will be able to stay in their extended stay hotel in Blue Ash for another two weeks, but after that their fate is uncertain. The 20-plus residents can’t move back into the building until it is investigated and cleaned, a process that could take months. Many have lived in the building for a long time and don’t have access to cars to get around. The fire injured several and killed firefighter Daryl Gordon, whose funeral drew thousands from across the country yesterday to downtown Cincinnati.

• A proposal by Cincinnati developer North Pointe Group in Over-the-Rhine would build 21 single-family homes on some city-owned vacant lots on Main Street north of Liberty Street. It would also redevelop a vacant building there into eight so-called “workforce apartments.” North Pointe says the houses will sell for around $400,000 to $600,000 each. The apartments will all be approximately 630 square feet and cost about $800-$950. The plan has drawn some controversy, which we explore in our news feature this week. North Pointe says it will need to tear down popular basketball courts on the land. After some residents complained, the developer agreed to keep two of the six hoops standing. But some are still skeptical of the proposal, saying it could change the character of the neighborhood.

• Cincinnati-based news giant E.W. Scripps Co. is officially out of the newspaper business for the first time in its 135 year history as of Wednesday. In a merger with Journal Communications, based in Milwaukee, Scripps has traded off its remaining newspapers for 12 TV stations and 34 radio stations across the country. The company has said it’s looking to expand its presence in TV and to own radio stations in the markets where it also broadcasts TV news. That could mean Scripps could eventually acquire radio stations here in Cincinnati.

• Suspended Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter would like the Ohio Supreme Court to remove her ongoing felony trial from the county’s court system. Hunter is being retried on a felony count of misusing a court credit card after a technicality kept a jury from considering evidence for that charge when Hunter was tried late last year. A jury hung on eight of nine felony counts in that trial, convicting her of one count related to information she allegedly gave her brother, a county court employee, about an inmate.

Hunter and her attorney, Clyde Bennett II, say Hunter can’t get a fair trial in the county thanks to acrimony between her and many of the judges here. Bennett says prior decisions by Hamilton County Judge Patrick Dinkelacker, who is currently presiding over the case, were used as evidence in Hunter’s earlier trial, causing a conflict of interest. Judge Norbert Nadel presided over Hunter’s original trial, but he retired earlier this year and Dinkelacker was elected to replace him. Dinkelacker previously presided over an appeals court where he made the rulings in question about Hunter’s case.

• Another local connection to the weed-legalization efforts led by ResponsibleOhio: Cincinnati-based developer David Bastos is an investor in the ballot initiative, which aims to legalize the sale of marijuana and restrict commercial growth to 10 marijuana farms around the state. Bastos is a partner in Bridge Property LLC, which would establish one of those farms in Lucas County. ResponsibleOhio needs to collect 300,000 signatures by this summer in order to get their amendment to Ohio’s constitution on the November ballot. Should it pass, Ohioans over the age of 21 would be allowed to buy marijuana, apply for a marijuana vendor’s license (similar to a liquor license) and grow small amounts of the drug for personal use, a late concession to opponents of the measure’s limit on commercial growth.

• The Cincinnati Reds are on track to break their season ticket sales records, thanks in part to the MLB All-Star Game coming to the city July 14. The Reds’ previous record at Great American Ballpark is 15,648. Last year they sold about 14,500 and they’re on pace to reach more than 16,000 sales this year. There’s a clear incentive for baseball nuts to make the big commitment: Season ticket holders are automatically offered the opportunity to purchase All-Star Game tickets, which are a hot item. Both half-season (40 games) and full-season (80 games) ticket holders get a crack at the All-Star Game tickets.

• The 2016 Senate race in Ohio is heating up. Republican Senator Rob Portman, nearing the end of his first term in the Senate, will have to fight off either Gov. Ted Strickland or Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, both Democrats, in that contest. But he’ll have a lot of ammunition. Portman reported he’s raised $2.75 million in the last 90 days for his campaign. Portman has steeled himself for a primary challenge from the right — he angered some conservatives with his pro-marriage equality stance after his son came out as gay — but so far, no challenger has materialized and Portman has netted big cash and big endorsements. Portman could face a big challenge from Strickland, who is Ohio’s former governor and who has been endorsed by former President Bill Clinton. All this alignment of cash and big-name endorsements shows how crucial Ohio will be to the 2016 election, when the presidency and control of the Senate will both be on the line.

That’s it for me. Tweet at me, comment or email me with your news tips.

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

Hello Cincy. Let’s get straight to the news.

The weather is beautiful and perfect for honoring a hero, even if the occasion is incredibly sad. Today is the funeral for firefighter Daryl Gordon, who died last week after falling down an elevator shaft while fighting a fire at an apartment building in Madisonville. Large crowds of fire officials and civilians gathered downtown this morning to pay their respects to Gordon, whose funeral service began at 10 a.m. at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral on West Eighth Street. Support has come from across the state and, really, from across the world. Firefighters from Columbus (which is sending nearly 200), Anderson Township, Covington, Deerfield Township, Delhi Township, Springfield Township and Sycamore Township will be manning Cincinnati’s fire stations so firefighters here can attend the ceremony. Firefighters from as far away as London and Montreal have traveled here to attend the service. Flags are flying at half-mast across the state in Gordon’s honor on the order of Gov. John Kasich. Gordon was a 26-year veteran of Cincinnati’s Fire Department.

• So I’m getting a serious aversion to the word “streetcar.” Not because I’m opposed to the controversial transit project, necessarily (though my personal feelings about it are admittedly complicated) but because it’s becoming Exhibit A when it comes to how our city struggles ludicrously with big decisions. Yesterday’s Cincinnati City Council Transportation Committee meeting is a good, or really, bad, example of this.

The two-and-a-half-hour meeting was the stuff of migraine sufferers’ nightmares, with back and forth arguments about whether or not to ask SORTA to use union employees to staff the streetcar (more on this in our print edition), a motion demanding that SORTA hand over bids it has received from companies interested in operating the streetcar, whether or not to study possible ways to pay for the project’s next phase, whether or not cost estimates for moving utilities for the project’s next potential phase were hidden from council for a year and more.

Having a number of tough decisions to make in a meeting is one thing. Not making any of them is another all together. The committee made no progress on any of those questions and has tabled a number of the motions it discussed until later this month. Awesome. When I was out of town, I watched the initial drama unfold over the streetcar project with a mix of jealousy that I didn’t get to cover it and gratefulness that I didn’t have to. Now I’m just tired of hearing about it. Like it or hate it, the tracks are in the ground. Stop politicking, both sides, and just get it done already.

• Elsewhere, part of council did decide one thing yesterday: The Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee would like to see Pete Rose reinstated into Major League Baseball so he can be inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame. The league’s new commissioner Rob Manfred has signaled that he’s willing to talk with Rose about reinstatement, though he’s not making any promises. Council made a similar resolution nearly two decades ago, but members now see a new opportunity for Rose in Manfred’s statements. While it was passing a resolution about baseball, the committee also asked  MLB to recognize black baseball players from the Negro League in the days before baseball was integrated, allowing them to be eligible for the Hall of Fame as well.

• Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by Gov. Mike Pence March 26, has been making scorching national headlines because it seems to allow businesses to discriminate against the LGBT community. Could a similar bill come to Ohio? It doesn’t seem likely. Interestingly, Ohio lawmakers tried briefly to pass a similar law last year. The bill was killed early over concerns that it would allow discrimination, and lawmakers say they won’t be trying to pass similar legislation anytime soon.

But Gov. John Kasich has indicated in recent statements that he’s interested in something of a compromise bill — one that offers language both guaranteeing protection of religious freedom and prohibiting discrimination against gays. Ohio does not currently have a law prohibiting hiring or housing discrimination against LGBT people. Meanwhile, following the intense criticism Indiana has received, Gov. Pence has walked back a bit on the law and is now calling on the Indiana State House to clarify it with language making it clear businesses are not allowed to discriminate against gays in the name of religious freedom.

• Meanwhile, Arkansas has also jumped into the “discrimination in the name of religious freedom game,” passing its own RFRA law yesterday. That’s drawn a sharp rebuke from an unexpected source — corporations in the state. Walmart has asked Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto the bill, and Hutchinson has in turn asked lawmakers to make changes to it. Congress passed a federal RFRA law in 1993, and now 21 states now have some form of RFRA law. Importantly, these vary in whether they stipulate that businesses are included in the protection of religious freedoms and whether they can use the law as a defense in lawsuit proceedings. Texas, Indiana and Arkansas are among the few states with this language in their laws. Many legal experts believe these bills are popping up lately in response to the continued march of pro-marriage equality rulings in federal courts as well as the legalization of gay marriage in many states. Thirty-seven states now allow gay marriage. Ohio is arguing before the Supreme Court next month in defense of its 2004 gay marriage ban.

• Finally, here’s a crazy-alarming but really well-executed infographic showing the rise of incarceration rates, by state, throughout the United States from 1978 to 2012. Prepare to be highly depressed. Ohio is well up there in terms of prison population percentage, with 440 inmates per 100,000 people in the state. That’s not as high as some states — Louisiana has almost 900 per 100,000. Still. Yikes. The rise comes from a number of factors, including America’s war on drugs, the advent of the private for-profit prison and other factors. Great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey all, here’s the news today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey all. News has happened. Here it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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