by Nick Swartsell
65 days ago
Posted In: News
at 10:22 AM | Permalink
Council passes streetcar plans; Northside's Mayday bar goes up for sale; tell me where the chili is
Before we get to news this morning, I have a query for readers. I want to venture away from the safe world of our ubiquitous chain Cincinnati chili restaurants for a day, lovely as they are, and try a smaller, more obscure chili parlor in town for lunch. Where should I go? I’m thinking about this place, but I’m open to suggestions. I’ll report back my findings tomorrow morning.Ok, on to business. A bunch of stuff happened yesterday in City Council, but it was all stuff we sort of expected would happen, right? Council passed a streetcar operating agreement and funding mechanism, a bit of a landmark achievement for the project. After a couple years of fighting, hand-wringing and politicking, it seems like this thing is actually going to happen, funded by a roll back on property tax abatements in Over-the-Rhine, a parking meter increase there and of course rider fares. “Three months ago, I didn’t know if we’d be here today with a revenue stream,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray, who chairs Council’s transportation committee, yesterday during the meeting. Murray was opposed to the project originally, but voted for the measure along with the rest of Council minus Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman. Smitherman said he still had serious concerns about the project’s financial prospects, saying no one is sure what ridership will be like.• Who will be greeting those riders is still in question, though. A fight had been brewing over whether to employ SORTA’s unionized employees to run the streetcar or bid the work out to a private company. Consultants for the transit authority say a private company could save the city as much as $300,000 a year, though Democrats on council and representatives from SORTA’s union debate that number. Council sidestepped the argument for now by passing a resolution stating that SORTA should bid the job out to see what kind of offers it can get, but that the final decision on staffing will be voted on by council, which has so far leaned toward hiring SORTA employees. One possible arrangement: SORTA workers do the actual driving, so to speak, while a private company performs the managerial side of operating the streetcar. • Council also voted to co-name Third Street downtown Carl H. Lindner, Jr. Way. The vote was unanimous, but not without its own bit of controversy. Councilman Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly-gay councilmember, said the vote required some deep soul-searching on his part. Lindner was a big funder of Citizens for Community Values, a group that pushed for Cincinnati’s harsh Article XII anti-gay charter amendment in the 1990s. Lindner also had some other dark moments during his career, though those didn’t enter into the street-naming conversation in Council.“As a gay person, I don’t want to be judged solely on my sexual orientation,” Seelbach said. “There’s a lot to me besides my sexual orientation. And there’s a lot to Mr. Lindner besides his anti-gay history and positions. And a lot of that is really wonderful, from the jobs he created to the nonprofits he supported. Those things make me see him as a more whole person than just his anti-gay past.”Despite Seelbach's yes vote, his comments drew an angry response from Councilman Charlie Winburn, who said Lindner was something of a mentor to him.“I think it’s shameful of you to make a comment like that when a man has died and has given so much to Cincinnati.” Winburn said. Lindner passed away in 2011. “You should keep your vote. Your vote is not received." • Well then. On a less awkward note, Council also approved a liquor license request for Nick and Drew Lachey’s Lachey’s Bar in Over-the-Rhine, which is hoping to open before Thanksgiving. So there’s that. • A judge has turned down suspended Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s first two requests for a new trial. Hunter filed three motions asking for a new trial after jury members recanted their guilty verdicts. The jurors said they were pressured into their decisions. Those motions would have been heard in court today."Once a jury has returned a verdict, and that jury has been polled, a juror may not rescind their verdict," Judge Norbert Nadel wrote in his decision. Hunter was tried on nine felony counts last month, and convicted on one — a charge stemming from her allegedly passing on documents about her brother, a court employee accused of punching a juvenile inmate. The jury hung on the other counts. A judge will hear Hunter’s final motion for retrial Dec. 2. • Business opportunity alert: did you know Mayday is for sale? For $285,000 you get the bar and all of its inventory. Not a bad deal. Owners Vanessa Barber and Kim Mauer are moving on to other opportunities after five years of running the bar, which was known as the Gypsy Hut prior to their tenure there. I have a lot of fond memories playing music and billiards there, as well as climbing onto the roof of that building under both its names, so I hope someone snatches it up. I’d buy it, but I’m just a little short on cash. About, oh, $284,000 short. No worries, though, the bar will stay open until a new owner comes along.• Speaking of opportunities… if you’re a fellow scribe, heads up. The Cincinnati Enquirer is hiring in tons of positions, many of them reporters to replace those it lost during a Gannett-wide restructuring process.• Finally, our most esteemed Twitter friend John Mattress is at it again. Bacon is expensive indeed.For chili tips, or heck, even if you want to throw some news my way, hit me up on Twitter or at email@example.com
by Nick Swartsell
79 days ago
Posted In: News
at 10:39 AM | Permalink
Streetcar funding puzzle coming together; Lacheys' bar set for December; $2 million will get you the ultimate punk collector's item
All right all right! Before we get to what’s going on today, I want to talk for a minute about yesterday’s print issue, which we’re pretty proud of. Our copy editor/news person Samantha got her first news feature in, and it’s super-interesting look at new developments with the Wasson Way bike trail. Check it out. Also, yesterdays’ cover story is a long piece I worked on for weeks on the plight of coerced sex workers in Cincinnati. I was blown away by the stories sources shared and the immense strength of people who go through that world. Take a look.• It looks like the streetcar funding puzzle may finally be coming together. Yesterday afternoon Councilman Kevin Flynn presented a new plan to fund the transit project’s operations, and this one could go all the way. Flynn proposes a three-pronged attack to cover the annual $4 million or so shortfall for streetcar operating funds. One funding source would be an adjustment on commercial property tax abatement in downtown and Over-the-Rhine. The arrangement would ask commercial property owners to agree to a 67.5 percent abatement instead of the now-standard 75 percent deal. That would net about $200,000 the first year and up to $2 million a year a decade from now. The second source would be a boost in parking meter charges to a maximum in some areas of $2.25 an hour downtown and $1.25 an hour in OTR. About $1.5 million gained from that boost would go to the streetcar. Finally, the city’s counting on about $1.4 million a year from riders paying to ride the streetcar. The plan has a good shot. A majority of Council has signed on, including Transportation Committee Chair Amy Murray. Even Mayor John Cranley has indicated he won’t oppose the funding framework, despite the fact it cuts out the residential parking permit scheme he’s been pushing. The scheme elicited only minor grumbles from the streetcar opponent.“I appreciate a plan that won’t dip into the General Fund of the City and the hard work that went into crafting it,” he said in a statement yesterday evening. “I still think the streetcar is not the best use of these resources, but I look forward to moving past this debate.”• While we’re talking about City Hall stuff, City Manager Harry Black today announced the launch of the city’s Performance and Data Analytics Office. The office will set performance management goals with each city department, start an innovation lab to research operational problems the city is experiencing and design and run something called Citistat, which will utilize data analysis to find and address areas where the city’s services are underperforming. The office will be lead by Chad Kenney, Jr., who last led the city of Baltimore’s data analysis office. “I had the opportunity to work closely with Chad in Baltimore,” Black said in a statement. “I am confident that he is the right man for the challenge here in Cincinnati.”• Here are a couple news bits related to the ole’ al-key-hol. Nick and Drew Lachey, Cincinnati’s most famous singing brothers, have set the opening date for their bar, which will also be a reality show because that’s how things work now, for mid-December. It will be at 12th and Walnut and will be called… Lachey’s Bar. I really hope they didn’t pay a branding firm for that name.• Also in beer-related news, a new brewery on Harrison Avenue in Westwood is in the works. The 2,200-square-foot Bridgetown Brew Works will start by offering five brews, with more coming as business grows. The owners are currently working on construction of the space now. They say they’re hoping to avoid relying on financing and have turned to online crowd-funding site Kickstarter to raise money for the venture. Even if that campaign fails, however, they’re determined to open next year.• The fight over Common Core rages on. A bill to repeal the federal education standards in the state has made it out of committee and will now be considered by the Ohio House of Representatives. Opponents of the standards say they amount to a federal takeover of education, while supporters say they simply ensure students are being taught essential skills for the modern workplace. • Local college freshman Lauren Hill, who has an inoperable and likely terminal brain tumor, has become a deservedly celebrated figure around Cincinnati. She’s faced her disease with courage and grace, and last week she got to live out a dream when she scored two baskets in a college basketball game for Mount Saint Joseph at Xavier’s Cintas Center. She’s also gotten her picture on a Wheaties box and received national accolades. Yesterday, she was also the subject of this really incredible piece about sportsmanship published by Grantland. You should check it out.• Finally, if you need any more proof that punk is long-dead and that gentrification is alive and well, here it is. If you've got $2 million lying around, you can buy the house where seminal hardcore band Minor Threat played its first show. The house now features lux amenities like granite counters, a two-car garage and all sorts of other swank stuff. This time last year I was living in Washington D.C., paying an unspeakable amount to rent a room in a house with five other people. This house, which is actually kinda cheap for that neighborhood, I think, was a 15-minute walk toward the swanky side of town from where I lived.
by Nick Swartsell
87 days ago
Posted In: News
at 09:04 AM | Permalink
Insurance minimums, trip logs and driver background checks among requirements
City Council yesterday voted to approve rules governing ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft, the first time since the companies came here in March that they’ve been regulated by the city.“I don’t know if it will ever be perfect, but in other cities, they’ve outright banned Uber and Lyft,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray, the transportation committee chair. “I think we’ve put together a perfect plan for this point in time, where we’re managing safety in Cincinnati without over-regulation. If we don’t have anything, there’s nothing on the books.”The new regulations classify the ridesharing companies as “transportation network companies” and require them to carry a license with the city costing $10,000 a year. License requirements include $100,000 in liability insurance, keeping trip records for six months, as cab companies must do, requirements for background checks on drivers and minimum requirements for vehicles. When rideshare companies first came to town, cab companies in the city cried foul at the lack of regulation the tech-savvy newcomers enjoyed. Representatives from cab companies protested outside City Hall and lobbied for rule changes. Some rules placed on cab companies, like regulations when drivers can wear shorts, are arcane and burdensome, companies say. Murray said the rules are due for an adjustment.“Certainly this brought out some things in our taxi regulations right now that have not been updated in a while,” she said. “We need to look at that, and our committee will be doing that.”Uber and Lyft have said they’re fundamentally different from taxi companies and shouldn’t be regulated the same way.Uber Ohio General Manager James Ondrey told CityBeat in July that Uber doesn’t oppose all regulations, since the company does some of the things required of cab companies anyway. But he also said the company isn’t the same as a taxi company.“Uber is a technology company,” Ondrey said. “We’ve built a mobile platform that connects users with drivers giving rides. They’re not employees. They’re independent contractors who pay a small fee to us to use our platform.”Many of the regulations Council passed yesterday are things the companies already do voluntarily. Vice Mayor David Mann had some reservations about the regulations and voted against them, saying they didn’t go far enough in terms of insurance and holding ride sharing companies accountable for the fares they’re charging.He said the $25,000 in insurance the companies will be required to carry for accidents where they’re not at fault is too low and could leave citizens under-covered if an uninsured driver hits a ride share car. He also said the companies aren’t transparent enough with the city about their rates.“We are letting them operate on our streets under the license we issue,” Mann said, “and we have no way to direct, easy way to make sure we’re comfortable with what they’re charging.”The companies generally show the rates on their apps, but the rates are variable due to peak pricing schemes, which some have found confusing.Overall, however, Council was supportive of the regulations, which have been in the works for five months and have gone through six versions in Council’s transportation committee. Mann was the only dissenting vote.“This is as close as we were going to get to perfect,” Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said. “I think it’s a show that Cincinnati is open to business and that we’re working to be the big, great city we already are.” Simpson pointed out that cabs still have cabstands and can be hailed. “Uber and Lyft don’t have that,” she said.
Balanced budget, pension reform among tough tasks facing incoming council members hoping not to raise taxes
1 Comment · Tuesday, November 26, 2013
of newly elected council members say they’re committed to structurally
balancing Cincinnati’s operating budget — a promise repeated by
Mayor-elect John Cranley on the campaign trail and following the Nov. 5
by German Lopez
Conservative group has history of anti-LGBT causes
Mayoral candidate John Cranley says he would reject an endorsement from the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes
(COAST), a conservative group formed in 1999 with a history of anti-LGBT causes.“I don’t want it. I’m not a member of COAST,” Cranley says.
The response comes just two days after COAST on Oct. 8 tweeted that it supported Cranley and council candidates Amy Murray, Chris Smitherman and Charlie
Winburn for a “change of direction.” The group later claimed the tweets weren’t endorsements, but not before
progressives called on candidates to reject COAST’s support.Councilman Chris Seelbach responded to COAST’s apparent interest in influencing the mayoral and City Council races on his Facebook page: “Regardless of the politics involved, anyone who wants my
support should make it clear: COAST is a hate-driven, fringe
organization that should not be apart (sic) of any conversation on how
to make Cincinnati a better place.”CityBeat couldn’t immediately reach
Murray, Smitherman or Winburn for comment on whether they would accept
COAST's support for their campaigns. But Smitherman, who is president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) when he’s not campaigning, often teams up with COAST on local issues.
Seelbach, who has been a favorite target of COAST, tells CityBeat there’s no doubt the group’s vitriolic opposition is at least partly based on hate.
“Without question, I believe COAST targets me because I’m
gay,” Seelbach says. “In some ways, I’m a symbol of everything that they
hate, which is LGBT progress.”Cranley agrees the group is hateful. He points out that some COAST members have criticized him over the years for supporting LGBT causes, including hate crime legislation in 2003.
In the 1990s, Chris Finney, chief legal crusader for
COAST, authored Article XII, the city charter amendment approved by
voters in 1993 that barred the city from deeming gays a protected class
in anti-discrimination statutes.
In a June 1994 Cincinnati Post article,
Finney said landlords should not be legally required to rent to gay or
lesbian tenants. Finney explained, “Because there may be some who don’t
want their family dining next to a homosexual couple whose actions they
find offensive.” To critics, the remarks seemed fairly similar to
arguments leveled in support of racial segregation in the 1960s.COAST chairman Tom Brinkman and member Mark Miller were also part of Equal Rights Not Special Rights, which defended Article XII in court in 1997.
When City Council passed hate crime legislation protecting
gays and lesbians in 2003, Brinkman criticized the Catholic members of City Council at the time — including Cranley, who sponsored the legislation — for sending “the message that you openly approve of homosexuality.”Back then, Cranley responded, “We have a little something in this
country called the separation of church and state. Mr. Brinkman asked
me to read the Catechism. I ask him to read the U.S. Constitution.”
Around the same time, Seelbach prepared and then helped lead the 2004
campaign that did away with Article XII. For Cincinnati, the repeal of
the city charter amendment, just 11 years after voters approved it,
exemplified the more tolerant, open direction the country was moving in regards to the LGBT community.
But while the country has embraced greater equality for
LGBT individuals, Seelbach says COAST hasn’t done the same. Even though
Seelbach voted against the parking plan that COAST also opposes, the
conservative organization has regularly targeted Seelbach in blog posts
and emails criticizing the plan, which leases the city’s parking meters,
lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority.
In March, COAST sent out a doctored image that compared
Seelbach to Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ in the Christian
religion, for approving an emergency clause on the parking plan that
effectively exempted the plan from a voter referendum. Seelbach voted
against the parking plan itself when it came to a vote.
“I don’t believe in running our city by referendums,”
Seelbach says. “What we currently have is a representative democracy. We
elect people that we hold accountable by either re-electing them or
not, and we trust the people that we elect to research the policies and
make informed decisions. I think that’s the best system.”
Most recently, COAST went after Seelbach for his trip to
Washington, D.C., where he received the Harvey Milk Champion of Change
award for his efforts to protect and promote Cincinnati’s LGBT
community. The city paid more than $1,200 for the trip, which COAST
called into question with legal threats. Even though City Solicitor John
Curp, the city’s top lawyer, deemed the allegations frivolous, Seelbach
agreed to reimburse the funds to stave off a lawsuit that could have
cost the city more than $30,000.
At the same time, media outlets, including WCPO and The Cincinnati Enquirer,
have closely covered COAST’s allegations and commonly turned to the
group to get the conservative side of different issues, ranging from the
streetcar project to the pension system. Both media outlets have
characterized COAST as a “government watchdog group,” ignoring the organization’s history of conservative activism and crafting legislation.
The favorable attention might be turning around. The Enquirer recently scrutinized COAST’s lawsuits against the city, which revealed the group, which frames itself as an
anti-tax, anti-spending watchdog, could cost the city more than $500,000
in legal fees. The city solicitor also estimated his office puts the
equivalent of one full-time employee on COAST’s cases, with the typical
city civil attorney making about $65,000 a year, according to The Enquirer.
Seelbach acknowledges the vast differences between the
black and LGBT civil rights movements, but he says a group with a
similarly discriminatory past wouldn’t get the kind of media coverage and
attention COAST does, at least without the proper context.
“If there was a group that had a history of fighting for
segregation, … there is absolutely no way anyone, much less media, would
quote or accept support in any form,” Seelbach says.This story was updated at 5:09 p.m. with more context.
by Kevin Osborne
Winburn, Murray will speak after Mallory's speech
In a replay of the Republican kerfuffle after President Obama’s State of the Nation address last year, there will be dueling GOP responses tonight to Mayor Mark Mallory’s State of the City address.The Hamilton County Republican Party sent a press release this afternoon announcing that Amy Murray, an ex-Cincinnati City Council member, would provide the GOP’s formal response to Mallory’s speech.A Democrat, Mallory will give his seventh State of the City address at 6:30 p.m. It will be presented in the Jarson-Kaplan Theater at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, located at 650 Walnut St., downtown.After the press release about Murray’s response arrived at 2:55 p.m., however, current City Councilman Charlie Winburn sent a notice from his council office at 3:39 p.m. In the notice, Winburn announced he “will be available to give the Republican response” immediately after the mayor’s speech.Winburn’s release helpfully noted that he is “the only Republican on Cincinnati City Council,” in case anyone wasn’t sure.The concurrent responses are similar to what occurred after Obama’s speech in January 2011. At that time, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was selected to give the GOP’s official response to the address. But U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), then a rising star in the Tea Party movement, decided to give her own response.At the time, House Speaker John Boehner (R-West Chester) called the move "a little unusual." Bachmann’s performance was widely lambasted, as she didn’t look directly at the camera but off to the side, and appeared disconnected and halting during her remarks. Bachmann later sought the GOP’s presidential nomination but dropped out of the race early after several disappointing primary finishes.Murray is a former Procter & Gamble employee who now owns a consulting firm that tries to attract Japanese companies to Cincinnati. The party’s release stated she would give her response immediately following Mallory’s address in the Fifth Third Bank Theater’s lobby at the Aronoff Center.A Hyde Park resident, Murray ran unsuccessfully for Cincinnati City Council in 2009, finishing in 12th place out of 19 candidates. She then was appointed by party leaders in January 2011 to fill the remainder of Councilman Chris Monzel’s term, but lost election in her own right the following November. In that election, Murray again finished 12th, this time out of 22 candidates.
2 Comments · Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Forget about those last-minute summertime picnics, Labor Day fireworks and Halloween hayrides. I wish November would hurry up and arrive. That’s because it’s still 76 days away from the elections for Cincinnati City Council and the level of grandstanding by incumbents already has reached irritating proportions.
City Council challengers say change is crucial for Cincinnati
1 Comment · Wednesday, October 14, 2009
With Cincinnati facing a potential $51 million deficit in 2010 due to stagnant tax revenues and a City Council narrowly divided by one vote on most major issues, the outcome of this fall's election could have a huge impact on the city's future. Of the current nine members of City Council, only one isn't seeking reelection because of term limits. If history is any indication, the incumbents are all likely to succeed, yet this might be the year when some challengers crack through and displace a few.
Endorsements for local elections and ballot issues
6 Comments · Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Scaring voters shitless is a classic political tradition. Whether it's convincing us to fear crime, poor people, public transportation, African Americans, foreigners, gays, nuclear power or the flu, politicians often win elections by playing to the darkest human instincts. "Vote for me or die" is the underlying message of these sorts of campaigns. Instead, if you value hope over fear and progress over the status quo, you'll join us in rejecting political candidates and organizations that prey on our fears. Plan to vote the CityBeat ticket.