by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 11:40 AM | Permalink
Today's news and our top daily/weekly stories of 2014
Hey all! In a minute, I’m going to hit you with the list: the biggest, the most interesting and the most disturbing stories we covered this year on a daily or weekly basis. We’ve already given you our favorite news cover stories; those long-form pieces which we spent weeks or even months putting together. Now it’s time for the everyday stuff. But first, let me just throw a couple things your way that are making news on the last day of 2014. Memorials are planned for Leelah Alcorn, the Kings Mills 17-year-old who committed suicide on I-71 Sunday after suffering with lengthy depression and isolation due to her transgender status. These memorials include a candlelight vigil in front of Kings High School Saturday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. In other news, the city came to an agreement with unions over its pension obligations last night. The deal, which took 10 months of negotiations, including a nine-hour marathon talk session between the city, employees and retirees, is complicated, but here’s the upshot: The agreement will allow the city to stabilize the pension fund, to which it owes $862 million, by whittling down retiree health benefits over time while putting $200 million from the health care trust fund into the pension fund. The city will also make a $38 million payment into the system next year. On to the list. It’s a bit absurd to do these end of the year lists, right? I mean, ongoing stories don’t conveniently bookend themselves on New Years Eve, but tend to linger on and on (see: streetcar fight). But we have to stop somewhere and brag about our coverage, and the day we run out of calendar seems as good as any. So here are some of the big stories we covered in 2014:1. Police Shootings and Race: A Familiar StoryCincinnati is no stranger to controversy surrounding police shootings. So the unrest around an August incident in Ferguson, Mo., where a police officer shot an unarmed teenager named Michael Brown felt very close to home. The incident sparked civil unrest in Ferguson and across the country. Just days before, a similar incident occurred in a Beavercreek Walmart, where police shot 22-year-old John Crawford while he was holding a pellet gun sold in the store. We watched the Crawford case closely from the beginning. His shooting as well as a number of others around the country that came to light afterward were especially pertinent in Cincinnati, bringing back memories of the 2001 shooting of Timothy Thomas by police in Over-the-Rhine. We covered the parallels between 2001 and now, followed local reaction to the recent police shootings and delved deep into racial tensions in Beavercreek. New incidents of questionable use of force by police officers continue to emerge, suggest this story is far from over. We’ll be following it just as closely in 2015.2. Icon Tax DebateTwo of Cincinnati’s favorite buildings need big help. But getting the money to renovate historic Music Hall and Union Terminal has been a political struggle. An initial proposal by business leaders would have levied a .25 percent sales tax increase over time to fund renovations on both buildings. But Republican Hamilton County commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann balked at including Music Hall in that arrangement, opting instead to shorten the duration of the tax increase and only fix Union Terminal. That left supporters of OTR’s major landmark angry and triggered a campaign to unseat Hartmann in the November election, though that effort fizzled. Meanwhile, Music Hall may get the fixing up it needs after all: the building was awarded $20 million in tax credits in December that will go a long way toward needed renovations.3. The Battle Over Cincinnati’s Last Abortion Clinic After lawmakers passed restrictive new laws requiring clinics that provide abortions to have transfer agreements with area hospitals, and then turned around and barred state-funded hospitals from entering into those agreements, things looked bleak for the region’s two remaining clinics. The situation got even worse over the summer when the Ohio Department of Health revoked the license of one of those clinics, Women’s Med in Sharonville, after refusing to grant the clinic an exception to those new rules. The area’s last remaining abortion provider, the Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center in Mount Auburn, got a similar warning from the state in November. The clinic had been waiting a year to hear back from the state about its request for a variance to the rules on the grounds that its doctors have individual admitting privileges with area hospitals. Planned Parenthood, which runs the clinic, sued the state, claiming Ohio’s laws are unconstitutional and present an undue burden to women seeking abortions. The state blinked, providing the clinic with a variance and keeping Cincinnati from becoming the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortion services.4. Transit: Fights and Forward MovementFrom ongoing streetcar drama to fights over bike lanes to efforts to bring better rail service to Cincinnati, how we get around got a lot of attention this year. In the spring, a battle flared up over Mayor John Cranley’s diversion of funds away from on-street bike lanes to bike paths, and further controversy arose over a new bike lane being built on Central Parkway. One business owner concerned about a few parking spots temporarily ground that project to a halt before the city agreed to spend thousands of extra dollars accommodating the parking concerns. There was some other progress on bike-related projects this year as paths on the city’s east side, including plans that could also someday include light rail, continued to take shape. Bickering about how the city will pay for the streetcar dominated the daily news, with new panics about the project’s yearly operating budget and construction contingency fund cropping up constantly. Meanwhile, in a project of a much larger scale, a group of advocates launched a campaign this year to get daily rail service going between Cincinnati and Chicago. Unlike the streetcar, that effort has been surprisingly bi-partisan. That level of agreement has been rare in transportation fights. But all the back and forth is good on one level — it means Cincinnatians are actively thinking about and engaged in conversations around transit alternatives. 5. Cincinnati’s Big Developments: Concerns and QuestionsThere’s no denying Cincinnati has had a huge year in terms of development. Over-the-Rhine continues to change at a rapid pace and other neighborhoods are quickly following suit in their own ways. But developers and the city administration that courts them are powerful folks, and it’s always good to ask questions when millions are getting thrown around like Monopoly money. We delved into concerns over Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation’s move into northern OTR, where the city awarded it decision-making power over a whole swath of neighborhood surrounding Findlay Market even as residents and the OTR Community Council expressed serious concerns about the deal. We talked to residents and businesses in Clifton Heights, where the city enacted zoning changes and tax deals for an out-of-town developer who will build a large, student-centered apartment complex despite protests from some long-time residents there. And we took a deep look into what the new I-71 interchange means for Avondale and Walnut Hills, both largely black communities whose members have historic reasons to distrust highway projects. Will development surrounding a new highway on and off ramp in these historically neglected and low-income neighborhoods lift up residents there, or will it bulldoze them? The questions around Cincinnati’s big-budget developments remain, and we’ll continue asking them in 2015.6. Charter School Drama2014 was the year things got weird at Ohio charter schools. VLT Academy in Cincinnati shut down after a long, messy fight by the school to secure a sponsor organization over protests from the Ohio Department of Education. A charter high school in Dayton, along with several others run by Chicago-based Horizon schools, came under scrutiny from federal authorities after former teachers made multiple reports of records forging and sexual misconduct. Overall, multiple studies, including a CityBeat review of state education data for Cincinnati charters, found that charters don’t seem to perform any better on the whole than public schools, and in many cases, perform worse. Meanwhile, charters are held to lower standards than public schools. All that begs the question: what are taxpayers getting for the diverted funds that pay for these often for-profit schools?7. The Persistence of Poverty We covered a number of issues surrounding poverty in Cincinnati, from former staffer German Lopez’s excellent cover story on the city’s poverty problem to more specific issues like affordable, subsidized housing, increases in homelessness in the city and a proposed hate crime law that would protect the homeless. There was also some good news, as Lower Price Hill, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods received free Wi-Fi so students and residents could connect to the outside world. As one of the city’s biggest, most complex challenges, Cincinnati’s high poverty rate works its way into a number of other issues such as sex trafficking, the heroin crisis and others, meaning we’re just getting started in our coverage. Expect much more in 2015.This is by no means an exhaustive list. Some other big stories we checked out this year include German Lopez’s great piece on efforts to legalize marijuana in Ohio and our coverage of the court battle over Ohio’s gay marriage ban. When you’re all bored and hungover tomorrow, peruse our coverage from the last year. Then hit me up with what you’d like to see in the new year. What’s important to you that Cincinnati media is neglecting? Find me at email@example.com and @nswartsell on Twitter.
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 09:26 AM | Permalink
The fight over pitbulls continues, Central Parkway bike lanes progressing, COAST says no way to tax hike
Long weekends mean lots of news. Let's get caught up.Another incident involving pitbulls this weekend has some in Cincinnati calling for the city to reintroduce a ban on the breed. Over the weekend, a pitbull attacked a Jack Russell Terrier in East Price Hill, which has led its owner and others to demand action. The controversy around the dogs flared up in June when 6-year-old Zainabou Drame was severely injured by two pits in Westwood. Councilman Christopher Smitherman has said he’s working on ways to address the issue in the Law and Public Safety Committee he chairs. He has yet to decide 100 percent what the right course of action is to address the problem, he says, but seems to believe that an outright ban wouldn’t work. He voted to repeal a ban the city once had. Smitherman has said he believes the problem is with irresponsible owners, not just the breed itself.• Here’s some great news — work began today on protected bike lanes on Central Parkway. The first phase of the protected lane will stretch from Elm Street north to Marshall Street. Construction happening now includes striping the new bike-only lanes, putting up new signage, building new bus stops that keep buses and bikes separate and eventually installing plastic poles between the bike lanes and the rest of the road. • Local anti-tax group COAST has raised opposition to Hamilton County Commissioners’ proposed plans to raise either sales or property taxes to help pay for renovations to Music Hall and Union Terminal. The group says the city, not the county, owns the buildings and that it’s unfair for the city to ask county taxpayers to foot the bill for their renovations. COAST supports an alternate idea floated by Commissioner Todd Portune that would raise the money by charging a tax on tickets to events held at the buildings. The group opposes putting the tax increase measure on the ballot so that, you know, the majority of taxpayers could decide for themselves the best way to go about paying for the buildings. At least two of the three county commissioners must approve the tax plan by Aug. 6 for it to go on the ballot.• Filming begins today here in town for Miles Ahead, a film exploring Miles Davis’ reclusive period in the 1970s. Don Cheadle is directing the project, as well as starring as Davis. He chose Cincinnati because it has the architecture and vibe of 1950s and '60s-era Manhattan, which the film flashes back to periodically. Cheadle also cites Ohio tax credits, the city’s film support network and the fact that “this town is a music town,” he told The Enquirer.• Construction began last week on five single-family townhomes in the Pendleton district of Over-the-Rhine. It’s part of a plan to bring suburban-style housing to OTR and the urban core, according to developer Edward Wright of Wright Design. Each of the five houses will have three bedrooms and a two-car garage. Four of the homes are new builds and one is a renovation. All are LEED certified. Five more are planned nearby in the next year. • Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul continues to position himself for a 2016 presidential run. As he does so, he’s reaching out to minority voters and becoming more and more blunt about what he sees as the GOP’s big problem. Last week, he put it in the starkest terms yet. “If we’re going to be the white party, we’re going to be the losing party,” he said July 2 at a ceremony in Kentucky honoring the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Paul has made trips to low-income, predominantly minority communities in Kentucky and other states. But Paul has problems of his own to overcome, including past statements expressing doubt about some elements of the Civil Rights Act and the fact that both he and his father have some racially tinged baggage. Rand will be in Cincinnati July 25 speaking at the National Urban League conference.
3 Comments · Thursday, May 2, 2013
To cyclists, it’s a given that Cincinnati
desperately needs more bike lanes. But recent research shows bike lanes
don’t just pose advantages for cyclists; they can also help local
economies and public health.
1 Comment · Thursday, May 2, 2013
The gears are always shifting in
Cincinnati’s ever-evolving bike community, but here’s a quick progress
report that proves Cincinnati cyclists are doing a whole lot more than
spinning their wheels.
3 Comments · Wednesday, March 13, 2013
City plans to create bike lanes on Spring
Grove Avenue from near Hopple Street to Bank Street are facing some
opposition from the Camp Washington Business Association.
by Kevin Osborne
Cincinnati officials appear ready to ignore the recommendations of city staffers and allow a project that would add a bicycle lane along an East End road to proceed. The city's Transportation and Engineering Department had wanted to delay the bike lane on Riverside Drive for up to two years while construction was occurring to reconfigure a portion of I-471 in Northern Kentucky. Engineers were worried that motorists would use Riverside as an alternate route to avoid 471, and any work there might cause rush hour bottlenecks. But a Cincinnati City Council majority indicated Wednesday it doesn't agree with the assessment. Council members will discuss the issue again at a committee meeting in two weeks.Cincinnati officials are mulling whether a 118-year-old pump station and water tower behind Krohn Conservatory in Eden Park could be sold and converted into a micro-brewery. The Cincinnati Beer Co. approached the city to redevelop the 7,000-square-foot property so it could make small batches of beer there to sell to local restaurants. The buildings are now used for storage.E.W. Scripps Co. gave more than $4.4 million in cash and stock awards last May as a severance deal to the person who once managed the firm's newspaper division. Details on severance payments to Mark Contreras were disclosed in Scripps' proxy statement to shareholders on Monday. Contreras was a senior vice president for six years until he was fired on May 25, 2011. The Cincinnati-based media giant wouldn’t say why Contreras was terminated. During Contreras’ tenure, Scripps eliminated 2,500 newspaper jobs, including those lost when The Cincinnati Post was closed in 2007.Oxford police say two Miami University students who were left bloody and battered in an altercation probably were attacked because they are gay. Michael Bustin told police he was walking home from a local bar near campus and holding hands with a male friend when four men approached them, yelled a slur, then began hitting them. That's when other students intervened and stopped the attack. The university responded swiftly, Bustin said, sending a bulletin to the campus community.Meanwhile, an LGBT group in Lexington, Ky., has filed a discrimination complaint against a T-shirt printer after the company refused to honor a bid to produce apparel for an event. The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization filed the complaint Monday with the city’s Human Rights Commission. The group's president said it chose Hands On Originals to print t-shirts for a local gay pride festival, but the company refused to take the order. A Lexington official said the firm is subject to the city’s human rights ordinance because it deals in goods and services to the public.In news elsewhere, the U.S. government blocked a court case arising from a multimillion-dollar business dispute so it could conceal evidence of a major intelligence failure shortly before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, British officials were told this week. David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, said the FBI planned to begin eavesdropping on all telephone calls into and out of Afghanistan in 1998 to acquire intelligence on the Taliban, but the program was delayed more than a year in a turf war with the CIA. It finally was implemented on Sept. 8, 2001. When a related court case was filed in New York, it was blocked and all records removed from the courts' public database on the grounds of the State Secrets Privilege, a legal doctrine that permits the U.S. government to stop litigation on the grounds of national security.New claims for unemployment benefits fell to a four-year low last week, according to a government report that indicates an economic recovery is underway. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 359,000, the lowest level since April 2008, the Labor Department said today.A police detective told the father of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin that his son initiated two confrontations with the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot him. Tracy Martin, describing the police version of events Wednesday to The Washington Post, said he didn't believe the official account, which was conveyed to him two days after his 17-year-old son was killed Feb. 26.In related news, police surveillance video of the teenager's killer, George Zimmerman, appears to contradict portions of Zimmerman's version of what happened that night. The video shows no blood or bruises on Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who says he shot Martin after he was punched in the nose, knocked down and had his head slammed into the ground. The video, obtained by ABC News, shows Zimmerman arriving in a police cruiser. As he exits the car, his hands are cuffed behind his back. Zimmerman is frisked and then led away, still cuffed.A major influence in Bluegrass music died Wednesday. Earl Scruggs, the banjo player whose hard-driving picking style influenced generations of players, died in a Nashville hospital at age 88. Although Scruggs had a long and critically acclaimed music career, he is perhaps best known to the public for performing the theme song to the TV sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies, with his guitar-playing partner, Lester Flatt.