by Nick Swartsell 02.24.2015
Posted In: News at 10:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

3CDC proposal could increase number of bars downtown; Mount Airy morgue/crimelab deal dead; DeWine rejects initial weed legalization ballot initiative

Hey all, here’s the news this morning.Have you ever thought there should be more bars downtown? I hadn’t really thought about it before, but then I’m not a huge bar person. 3CDC, on the other hand, has and would like the city to take steps to increase the number of liquor licenses in two specific areas downtown. One, which would be called the Downtown West Community Entertainment District, would be near the convention center and Fountain Square, and another, called Downtown East, would  encompass the rest of downtown. Designating an area a community entertainment district makes it eligible for more liquor licenses from the state. Currently, Cincinnati is maxed out, but the proposed scheme would add up to 21 new licenses in the two districts. Ten other neighborhoods in the city have this designation, including Over-the-Rhine, Price Hill and CUF. 3CDC would control all liquor licenses granted to the western district under the plan, which has the support of a majority of council and Mayor John Cranley. Supporters of the plan say it will attract more residents to the districts as well as increase tax revenue. Council looks to vote on the measure soon. • A local man has filed a lawsuit against LA Fitness after he claims he was prohibited from praying in the locker room of the chain’s Oakley location. Mohamed Fall, a Muslim, worked out at the gym on a regular basis for more than a year. After his workouts, he would stand with his eyes closed in an empty corner of the locker room and pray without speaking.  Recently, three LA Fitness employees approached him while he was praying and told him he had to stop and that he should not pray in the locker room again. Fall says he was afraid he would be kicked out if he did not comply. • Hamilton County Commissioners have officially signaled they will not be pursuing a plan to move the Hamilton County morgue and crime lab to a currently vacant hospital in Mount Airy that Mercy Health offered to donate to the county. While the building would be cost-free, the build out necessary to move the morgue, crime lab and other offices there is cost-prohibitive, commissioners have said. They’ve estimated it could cost as much as $100 million to retrofit the building. The decision comes as the county’s morgue and crime lab continue to sound alarms about their current cramped and outdated workspace. • Legislation that would move the embattled Brent Spence Bridge replacement project another step toward reality is expected to pass in the Kentucky State House today. The bill would allow the state to use a public-private partnership to fund the project, specifically through tolling on the bridge. Officials in both states have struggled to find the necessary $2.6 billion to fund the bridge replacement project. Opponents of the current plan proposed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear say the project doesn’t need to cost that much, and that tolling will represent a huge burden on businesses and workers in both states. Northern Kentucky politicians and activists have been especially adamant about preventing tolling on the bridge. • A petition drive to get legal weed on the November ballot in Ohio suffered a blow yesterday when Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected summary language for the petition. DeWine had several quibbles with the details, and lack thereof, in a summary of the proposed ballot language filed with his office by ResponsibleOhio. That group wants to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would create 10 marijuana grow sites in the state controlled by the group’s investors. The proposal would make marijuana legal to sell with a license, and anyone over the age of 21 could purchase it. Ohioans would also be allowed to grow a small amount of the drug at home, a change in position from the group’s original proposal. The group has until July to collect 300,000 signatures and file the petition with the secretary of state. DeWine and other statewide Republican officials have been vocal opponents of the idea, saying that it will increase drug use and that it constitutes a state-run monopoly. Ohio voters passed a similar constitutional amendment allowing four casinos in the state in 2009. • On a somewhat related note, recreational weed became legal in Alaska today. I used to think I would never move to Alaska because IT GETS BELOW ZERO there, but, well... It’s also legal in Colorado and Washington state and will become legal in Oregon in July and in Washington D.C. later this week. • Veterans Affairs head and former P&G president Bob McDonald is drawing some criticism after he made a claim that he  once served in special forces. McDonald is a veteran who attained the rank of captain in the U.S. Army and attended Ranger training school. But he did not actually serve with the elite force. He told a homeless veteran in L.A. during a point-in-time count of that city's homeless population last month that he did serve in the special forces, however, a claim that has caused controversy. McDonald has apologized for the statement, saying it was a mistake. That does it for your news wrap-up today. Tweet at your boy (@nswartsell) or send me a good old fashioned email at nswartsell@citybeat.com. Things I'm keen to get your thoughts on this week: news tips (of course), interesting parts of the city for an urban photography buff (me) and recommendations on cool sneakers (I'm due for a new pair).
by Nick Swartsell 02.02.2015
Posted In: Transportation, News at 02:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sens. Paul and Boxer Team Up on Transportation

Bipartisan proposal would use tax cut to lure corporate bucks back home for highway fund

It sounds a little like an episode of a zany sitcom: a tea partying conservative from Kentucky and a classic California liberal team up to clean up some roads. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced Jan. 29 that he and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., would introduce a bill seeking to shore up the nation’s federal Highway Trust Fund. The announcement comes as fights over what to do about the nation’s looming infrastructure needs hit close to home. The federal fund that helps pay for highway, bridge and transit projects could face insolvency this year if Congress doesn’t find new sources of money for infrastructure. In Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, local and state officials are currently wrangling over the $2.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge replacement project. The bridge is more than 50 years old and carries 160,000 cars a day — four times more than it was designed to hold. Cincinnati’s 83-year-old Western Hills Viaduct will also need to be replaced in the next decade at a cost of $240 million. Studies by engineers have found that both bridges are structurally obsolete, though not immediately unsafe. Federal funds could go a long way toward making those projects reality. "I am pleased to be working with Senator Boxer on a bipartisan solution to a tax and highway spending problem,” Paul said in a statement. “The interstate highway system is of vital importance to our economy. All across the country, bridges and roads are deficient and in need of replacement.”Paul and Boxer’s bill proposes what is, in effect, a corporate tax cut: lowering the U.S. repatriation rate, or tax rate for foreign earnings, in order to incentivize U.S. companies to bring money back into the U.S. economy from foreign tax shelters. The proposed law would allow companies to voluntarily repatriate some of the estimated $2 trillion in off-shore corporate profits at a discounted tax rate of 6.5 percent. The program would require companies use that repatriated money to help build the economy. The money must be used for hiring or research and development, for instance, instead of executive raises. Taxes from the repatriated funds would go into the federal Highway Trust Fund for roads, bridges and other transit projects.Paul did not mention regional projects like the Brent Spence Bridge specifically in statements about the proposal, though he has been active in the past in working to secure funding for replacing the bridge. It’s unclear if and when such projects would see a benefit from the bill, or exactly how much money it would raise should it pass into law.A U.S. Chamber of Commerce study conducted on a similar proposal in 2013 found that the move could boost America’s economy by more than $400 billion, according to a white paper released by the senators. President Barack Obama put a similar plan in his budget proposal, which he unveiled Feb. 2. There are other proposals for shoring up infrastructure funds, both on the national level and here in the Tristate. Some in Congress have called for raising the gas tax, which currently helps pay for federal road and bridge maintenance. The rate hasn’t been raised since the early 1990s. But congressional Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner, have signaled they won’t support an increase.On the state level, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear have drafted their own plans for replacing the Brent Spence Bridge here. The two say the project can’t wait much longer — they cite an estimate by engineers saying that the project gets $7 million more expensive every month — and that the federal government won’t come to the rescue any time soon. Their proposal involves a public-private partnership that would necessitate tolls, however, something that has caused bipartisan consternation in Northern Kentucky. Many officials there are dead set against tolls, which they say will hurt workers and businesses. That’s tipped Northern Kentucky United, an anti-toll group, toward Paul’s idea.“There are details yet to be worked out, but the similarities between what the President has suggested and the bipartisan proposal out of the Senate gives us good reason to be optimistic,” said Marisa McNee of Northern Kentucky United. “There is simply no reason to continue a rush to toll the Brent Spence Bridge when the White House and Congress appear to be moving towards an agreement on the Highway Trust Fund.”Kasich, on the other hand, likened counting on funds from the federal government to waiting on the tooth fairy in a news conference last week on his proposal. Paul and Boxer are a surprising team. Paul, a tea party favorite and potential candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, usually takes highly conservative, libertarian stances on policy and spending matters. Boxer, on the other hand, is one of the chamber’s most liberal members. In her 32-year career in Congress, first as a representative and then as a senator, she fought for tighter gun control, more environmental protection measures and pro-choice causes. Boxer, who is 74, announced last month that she will not seek re-election. “I hope this proposal will jumpstart negotiations on addressing the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which is already creating uncertainty that is bad for businesses, bad for workers and bad for the economy,” Boxer said in a statement about the bill. “I will also be working … on other proposals to pay for rebuilding our nation's aging transportation infrastructure."
by Nick Swartsell 01.28.2015
Posted In: News at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
brent spence bridge

Morning News and Stuff

Greater Cincinnati employment rates up; group confronts Mayor Williams at Norwood Council meeting; Kochs plan big political spending spree

Hello Cincy. There’s a lot happening today, so let’s get it going. Later today, Mayor John Cranley and the Economic Inclusion Advisory Council he appointed last year will present the results of a study on ways to make the city more inclusive for businesses owned by minorities and women. The EIAC has been tasked with finding ways to get more minority-owned businesses included in city contracts, and the board came up with 37 suggestions, including ordinances that make diversity a priority in the city when it comes to contracts it awards. Cincinnati, which awards a very small number of contracts to minority and women-owned businesses, has already tried twice to find ways to boost that number, but Cranley is confident the EIAC’s recommendations will make the city a “mecca” for minority-owned businesses.• Here’s some (qualified) good news for Greater Cincinnati: Unemployment in the region has fallen to 4.1 percent, the lowest it’s been since 2001. Though the region lost 2,000 jobs in December, numbers are up overall from this time last year, as we’ve added more than 21,000 jobs in the last 12 months. The Greater Cincinnati area’s unemployment rate at that time was 6.1 percent. Cincinnati’s fairing better than Ohio and the nation on the jobs front. Ohio’s unemployment rate is 4.8 percent, and the country’s as a whole is 5.4 percent. All those numbers have been trending downward. But there’s a caveat to all that good news: Wages have remained stagnant. More folks may have jobs, but folks aren’t necessarily making more or enough money at those jobs.• Are we getting closer to a replacement for the Brent Spence Bridge? Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear are expected to announce a plan for the bridge at a news conference in Covington later today. Here’s what they’re expected to put on the table: a 50/50 split on costs between the two states, tolls that cost as close to $1 as possible with a discount for frequent commuters and ideas to make the $2.6 billion project more affordable. Kentucky owns the bridge and gets final say in the plans. A bill seeking a public-private partnership for the replacement project will more than likely be introduced in the Kentucky state legislature this session, though what happens after that is unclear. Kasich and Beshear have been working together on rehabbing the bridge, a vital link in one of the nation’s busiest shipping routes, since 2011. But Beshear will leave office after this year due to term limits. Meanwhile, Northern Kentucky officials and lobbying groups are pushing against tolls on the bridge, fighting it out with other, pro-toll business groups. • The proposed Wasson Way bike trail through the city’s east side could stretch all the way into Avondale, supporters of the project say. The trail, which has been one of Mayor Cranley’s top priorities, is slated to go from Bass Island Park near Mariemont into Cincinnati along an unused rail line mostly owned by Norfolk Southern. Original plans had the trail stopping at Xavier, but a new 1-mile extension would carry cyclists all the way into uptown, near big employers like the city’s hospitals and University of Cincinnati. There is still a long road ahead for the trail, including securing right of way on land the trail passes through and an argument about whether to leave room for a future light rail line. Costs for the project range from $7 million to $32 million depending on that and other considerations. • A group angry over Norwood Mayor Thomas Williams’ letter decrying “race-baiting black leaders” spoke at a Norwood City Council meeting yesterday evening asking for an apology. At least 14 people spoke out against the mayor’s letter, which he posted on social media last month in solidarity with the city’s police department. Among those who packed council chambers were Norwood residents, members of Black Lives Matter Cincinnati, a group we talk about more in this story, and activist and Greater Cincinnati National Action Network President Bishop Bobby Hilton."It was stabbed right in the heart ,” Hilton said at the meeting, referring to the letter. “I humbly ask if you would please retract that statement and we'll stand with you in supporting your law enforcement."• A coalition of teachers, parents and progressive organizations in Ohio has banded together to ask the state board of education not to renew the charters of 11 charter schools in the state run by Concept Schools, Inc., including the troubled Horizon Academy in Dayton. That school is being investigated after former teachers there reported attendance inflation, sexual harassment, racism and other issues last year. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also investigating several schools in Ohio run by the Chicago-based Concept after reports of misuse of federal money and other violations. Concept denies any wrong doing. • Hey, this is a fun tidbit. The Koch brothers, those modern American captains of industry who make billions of dollars a year, mostly in the energy sector, are planning on spending big cash in the 2016 election. That in and of itself isn’t news — the Kochs have been dumping obscene amounts of cash into local, state and federal elections for years, aided recently by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. But just how obscene the amount of cash could be in 2016 is noteworthy. The brothers’ political organization has set a goal of spending more than $889 million in the next presidential election cycle. That’s a lot. A whole lot. To illustrate how much, that amount is more than the $657 million the Republican National Committee and congressional campaign committees spent in 2012. Democrats spent even more, but not as much as the Kochs are planning to spend in 2016. Dumping that much cash into the election would more or less match the sky-high projected expenditures by Democrats and Republicans for the next presidential election. So basically, at least when it comes to political spending, we have a third party we didn’t vote for made up entirely of the Koch brothers and their rich donor cronies.  Awesome.
by Nick Swartsell 12.23.2014
Posted In: News at 10:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
brent spence bridge

Morning News and Stuff

Delay in Brent Spence replacement could cost $7 million a month, Ky. Gov. says; Beavercreek protesters charged; Economy grows at fastest rate in 11 years

Hello all! I’m here to give you one more news roundup before the holidays start in earnest. It’s pretty much the only reason I’m working today. Well, that and our holiday party. But that’s later. News is now.It’s always rough when the authority figures in your life fight during the holidays. So it’s good news that the city and the county won’t be in court just yet over ongoing disagreements about how to tackle the region’s looming $3 billion sewer upgrade. Hamilton County owns the sewer system, but the City of Cincinnati runs it. And in the midst of a massive court-ordered upgrade after lawsuits from the EPA, environmental groups and homeowners, the two haven’t exactly seen eye to eye on how to get out of the mess. But in a meeting yesterday, the two governments agreed, at least in principle, to stop all the fussin’ and the feudin’ and work together to get things figured out. Early next year, the city and county will go through an independent mediation process to work through some of the issues around the revamp that have in the past landed them in court. That’s the holiday spirit!• Meanwhile, just across the river, there’s another fight over billions of dollars still raging. Delays to a Brent Spence Bridge repair or replacement will cost taxpayers $7 million a month, Kentucky Governor Bill Beshear said yesterday at a Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce meeting in Covington. Beshear arrived at that number by considering the total cost of the project and government projections for inflation of construction costs. The obsolete though structurally sound bridge will cost $2.6 billion to replace and Beshear wants to talk about public-private partnerships as a way to get to that dollar amount. But those partnerships would probably mean tolls on the bridge — something many in Northern Kentucky are dead-set against. Opponents say tolls will adversely impact commuters who must cross the bridge every day. Anti-toll group Northern Kentucky United would like to see tolls off the table before any plan for the bridge goes forward. Beshear, on the other hand, wants to keep the option to use tolls open. He will meet with Ohio Gov. John Kasich in January to hammer out a plan for funding the bridge.• An appeals court has denied former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s request for a suspension of her six-month sentence, meaning she will more than likely have to report to jail Dec. 29. Hunter was convicted on one of eight felony counts this fall for having unlawful interest in a public contract. Prosecutors charge she improperly interceded on behalf of her brother, a juvenile jail employee charged with hitting an underage inmate. Judge Norbert Nadel sentenced her to the six months in Hamilton County jail last month. Hunter has appealed her conviction, and hoped to delay punishment until after that appeal was heard. Hunter's attorney also objected to a strongly-worded, one might even say snarky, letter from the Hamilton County Prosecutor's office calling for jail time for Hunter. The letter noted that Hunter had once promised to do anything for the children that came through her court, including go to jail. The letter suggested it was time for her to keep her promise.• Four protesters arrested Saturday at a demonstration in the Beavercreek Walmart where police shot unarmed 22-year-old John Crawford III have been charged with trespassing and obstructing official business. The four, who are from Fairborn, Springfield and Wilberforce, pleaded not guilty and have been released on bond. The demonstration was a “die-in” where protesters laid on the ground in the Walmart. Management at the store decided to close in response to the protests over what they called safety concerns. Police officer Sean Williams shot Crawford Aug. 5 as Crawford walked around the store with a pellet gun sold at the Walmart.• The U.S. economy saw the fastest growth its had in 11 years after a 5 percent boost in the third quarter of this year, according to the federal government. The U.S. Department of Commerce released the figures yesterday, which surprised many with their robustness and may indicate a deeper, more dynamic economic recovery is occurring. The growth came from an increase in consumer spending. The economy hasn’t grown so fast since this time in 2003, according to the report.• Finally, a little year-end close-out question I'll be asking again next week: what were the biggest and most important stories this year? What did we miss? What did we get right? What do you think needs more coverage? We'll be hitting the ground running in 2015. Give us some juicy news tips.Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, or tweet at your boy at @nswartsell. Or you can e-mail me: nswartsell@citybeat.com
by Nick Swartsell 11.11.2014
Posted In: News at 10:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

City initiative seeks to boost veteran employment; study finds Ohio's charter schools low-performing; Obama takes on net neutrality

Hello all. Hope you’re ready for some news, because I’ve got a bunch for ya.First, happy Veterans Day! Here’s a timely bit of news: Cincinnati City Council members Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young announced an initiative yesterday to track the number of veterans employed by the city in an effort make Cincinnati the most welcoming city in the country for veterans. The initiative will require contractors working on city projects to report how many veterans are employed on those projects, as well as keeping track of how many the city itself employs.“This data will show how your tax dollars help grow opportunities for our veterans and keep their families employed and growing in our region,” Seelbach said in a statement. After the data is collected, the city will work with contractors and veterans service agencies in the city to improve veteran employment opportunities. In the years after 9/11, unemployment for vets has remained stubbornly high, even as unemployment for the general population starts to fall.• The Human Rights Campaign, one of the biggest LGBT rights advocacy groups in the country, has chosen Cincinnati as the place it will unveil its 2014 Municipal Equality Index, which measures how welcoming cities are to members of the LGBT community. They’ll release the results tomorrow at Memorial Hall. Check out our brief piece here for more details. • Mayor John Cranley and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune want to explore the possibility of the city and county sharing certain services in an effort to boost efficiency for both. You can read more in our blog post from yesterday, but here’s the short take: It’s not a new idea, and there are a lot of political hoops to jump through that have kept shared services from happening in the past. But there’s also a lot of interest in the idea, and Cranley and Portune say their proposal will work. They’ll be asking City Council and county commissioners tomorrow to approve the creation of a task force that will meet regularly to oversee city-county cooperation.• Downtown’s Horseshoe Casino last month had its lowest-grossing month since opening in March 2013, taking in just under $14 million. A crowded field of gambling options in the region, including neighboring Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, Indiana has contributed to the low earnings. • While we’re talking about Indiana: Will the default of a major tollway in that state make financing the Brent Spence Bridge replacement more difficult? It’s a possibility, some investment experts say. A company contracted to manage the $3.85 billion Indiana Toll Road went bankrupt this fall, which could have ripple effects for a similar Brent Spence project, spooking investors who might otherwise be interested in it. Another interesting wrinkle in this story is that the Indiana project fell behind financially because of declining traffic on the Indiana toll road, a result of fewer folks using cars to get from point A to point B. • Ohio’s charter schools are some of the lowest-performing in the country, a recent study found. The Stanford University research shows that after a year in an average Ohio charter school, students lag behind public school pupils in reading and math. Ohio’s schools were the fourth-lowest out of 26 states studied in terms of performance. An analysis by the Akron Beacon Journal suggests that for-profit charter schools are the reason for much of the performance disparity, with 14 of the state’s 16 lowest-performing charters run by for-profit companies. Eight of the top 12 charter schools, meanwhile, are run by non-profits. The analysis notes there are some exceptions to the rule, however, including three suburban Columbus charters run by New York-based company Mosaica Education. You can read the whole report here.• Days after the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals here in Cincinnati upheld the region’s same-sex marriage bans, the Supreme Court has put a temporary delay on removal of a similar ban in Kansas. After a district court there struck down the state’s ban, Kansas requested the Supreme Court put that decision on hold. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked for response from same-sex marriage advocates to the state’s request, and in the meantime has temporarily delayed the removal of the state’s ban on gay marriage. The district court’s ruling was set to go into effect at 6 p.m. today, allowing same-sex couples in the state to wed. The ruling is just a temporary delay, however, and doesn’t signal whether the Supreme Court will ultimately rule in favor of the state.• President Obama has made some of the most definitive statements of his presidency lately in regard to his support for net neutrality, saying yesterday that measures to ensure that Internet service providers treat online content equally is "a big priority of mine." The statement seemed like a bit of surprise to FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, a former telecom executive appointed by Obama. He's responded that the FCC is an independent agency and will do what it sees fit. The question, of course, is why Obama nominated a telecom exec to be FCC chair in the first place, but yeah. The battle over net neutrality was already raging well before Obama took office but has intensified in recent years as telecom companies seek to create what opponents describe as "fast lanes" that give faster service to some kinds of content over others. Obama is pushing to reclassify ISPs as utilities instead of communications companies, which would give the federal government more power to regulate them and enforce rules about equal treatment of data flowing through ISPs' networks. • A Deer Park man claiming he was Jesus has been taken into custody for mental evaluation, police there say. The man apparently made threats to a locally based, national-level politician and authorities are assessing what kind of risk he poses to others. Mental health is a serious issue, of course, but I really have to point out the epic one-liner this guy got off during a 911 call about his condition."I'm messed up," the man said to a 911 operator. "Can you tell my father I'm OK?""OK, where is your father at?" the operator asked."Uh, everywhere," the man claiming to be Jesus responded. Zing.
by Nick Swartsell 11.07.2014
Posted In: News at 10:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
brent spence bridge

Morning News and Stuff

Court upholds Ohio same-sex marriage ban; McConnell says likely no tolls for Brent Spence; this 100-year-old transit map is crazy

Hey all. Here’s what’s going on around the city and beyond this morning.The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled yesterday to uphold same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee. You can read more right here about that ruling, and whether it means a Supreme Court case on same-sex marriage.• Freshly reelected Sen. Mitch McConnell has weighed in again on the Brent Spence Bridge dilemma. The bridge, which is 50 years old and functionally obsolete, though still structurally sound, will need replacing. That comes with a hefty $2 billion price tag, however, which neither Kentucky nor the federal government seems eager to pay for. One solution proposed has been a toll road over the bridge, but that idea has met with stiff opposition from a cadre of Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati-area politicians, business leaders and others. McConnell said yesterday that opposition isn’t likely to fade anytime soon, but that there may be a possible solution… corporate tax breaks. He sees the potential for more highway funds that could be used for projects like the bridge through a corporate tax fix that he says could lure more companies back to the U.S.• McConnell’s fellow Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul dreamed up that highway funds proposal, and McConnell says he’s “intrigued.” There’s another news item here entirely, and one perhaps more interesting on the national stage. McConnell and Paul, who have had some cold relations in the past, have been pretty warm to each other lately, and McConnell has signaled he’d be supportive of a Paul presidential bid in 2016.• A bill to simplify Ohio’s tax system may also cost the state’s municipalities a ton of cash. The potential law would change the way businesses like construction companies are taxed, possibly cutting into municipal tax receipts. Mayor John Cranley, along with other regional political leaders, are fighting the bill, and may try to introduce a statewide ballot initiative should the bill pass in the Ohio Statehouse. • Kentucky’s Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson is on his way out of the state, heading for the White House. He’ll be a deputy assistant to President Obama, helping the prez and the federal executive branch coordinate with other governmental bodies, including state, county, city and tribal governments. Given the huge ideological divide between supporters of local and federal power, that sounds like a really, really fun job.• A small group of protesters have gathered outside the Hamilton County Courthouse today to draw attention to what they say is a serious problem: drug overdoses in area jails and prisons. Many attendees are members of anti-heroin groups who have had family members of friends die of overdoses. They’re questioning how the drug is able to make its way to people behind bars. The region is suffering from a severe heroin crisis, with overdose deaths increasing significantly in the past few years.• So, now that Republicans control the Senate, will the new top Senator on science be Texas' Ted Cruz, a noted climate-change denier? Could happen. Cruz looks to be next in line for chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space. Republican Sen. James Inhofe, another doubter when it comes to climate change science, looks likely to chair the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, which is also going to be a big change-up.• Finally in our truncated Friday edition of morning news, I have a confession: There are many things in this world I’m a huge dork about, but history, maps and public transit are all near the top. That said, I just want you to take a look at this amazing, 100-year-old 3-dimensional transit ridership map from Germany. Dang man.
by Nick Swartsell 10.21.2014
Posted In: News at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
brent spence bridge

Morning News and Stuff

Tracie Hunter suspended by Ohio Supreme Court; COAST, labor unions jump on anti-toll effort; Cincinnati one of the best cities for Halloween

So it’s not Monday anymore, which is a plus, but still. This week is the first week in my mission to give up caffeine and donuts. It’s going to be a long, long haul. Anyway, on with the news.The city administration yesterday described in more detail a parking plan for Over-the-Rhine that’s been floating around for a bit now. The plan would charge $300 a year, or $25 a month, for residents to park in the neighborhood as a way to raise funds for the streetcar. Increased rates and hours for parking meters are also part of the plan. Currently, you have to feed the meters from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Sunday. The new hours would stretch from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday thru Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Mayor John Cranley has championed the plan. Council would need to vote on the residential permit part of the plan, which would be the highest parking fee in the country if enacted. City officials stressed at the Monday Neighborhood Committee meeting that they were still in the planning phases of the proposal, that a final proposal was contingent on continued feedback from residents, and that they weren’t asking for any decisions to be made yet.• It’s not very often labor unions and conservative anti-tax groups get together on an issue. But it seems like proposed tolls to fund the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge may just be the one issue that… uh oh… bridges the usually wide ideological divide (see what I did there?) Advocacy group Northern Kentucky United, which has campaigned against tolls for the Brent Spence with its “No BS Tolls” initiative, announced that both Teamsters Local 100 and the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes have hopped on board the effort.  You may remember COAST as the folks who stamped their feet and threw a temper tantrum over Cincinnati’s streetcar project. The two groups are the first Ohio organizations to support the anti-toll group, which claims to have 2,000 members. The group is totally against those BS tolls, that much we know. Less certain is what alternate proposals the group does back for the crumbling 51-year-old bridge’s replacement. It will cost something like $2.5 billion to replace, and federal and state officials have said government dollars are not in the cards for the project.• Embattled Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter today was suspended from practicing law by the Ohio Supreme Court, meaning she cannot practice law anywhere or represent anyone in a courtroom. Hunter was convicted on one felony count in a high-profile trial last week. Hunter was accused of forging documents, misusing a court credit card, improperly intervening for her brother, a court employee accused of punching a juvenile inmate and other charges. She was convicted on the charge she illegally gained documents for her brother, though the jury was hung on the other eight felony counts she faced. Hunter faces up to a year and a half in prison. Sentencing in the case will begin Dec. 2. • Oh man, this is terrifying. What would you do if a county prosecutor’s office mistakenly put your picture in a newsletter as someone who had a recent heroin conviction? That happened to Dana J. Davis of Covington. Davis was temporarily put out of work, mistrusted by neighbors, and even shunned by family after an electronic newsletter contained his picture and a blurb that he’d pleaded guilty to a heroin charge and had been sentenced to prison time. But it was a different Dana Davis, and the Kenton County Prosecutor’s office grabbed the wrong photo. Oops. Now Davis is suing over the mistake, looking to be compensated for lost wages and damage to his reputation. The prosecutor’s office is arguing they shouldn’t have to pay because the newsletter does a public good, and because the prosecutor’s office is immune from that kind of lawsuit.  The case is headed to court.• Here’s something I can get behind. Cincinnati is the second best city in the country for Halloween, according to a new ranking released by lifestyle site mylife.com. The rankings took into account number of costume shops per capita (we ranked second), vacant houses (we also ranked second), local Twitter mentions of Halloween, as well as interviews with local ghosts camped out in abandoned costume shops tweeting about Halloween (not really).  The rankings do give a shout out to the city’s rich history, though, as well as Pete Rose for some reason. If you’re curious, number one was Las Vegas. Florida and Arizona were represented heavily in the top 10, which makes sense. Both are terrifying places.• A minimum wage job in Ohio won’t pay for a college education, a new story from data reporters at Cleveland.com finds. I guess the shocking news in this is that it ever did. Apparently, in 1983, you could work a minimum wage job full-time during the summers and school breaks, work ten hours a week during school, and make ends meet. That seems so quaint now! It would take a wage of $18 an hour to make that possible today, and working minimum wage will leave you more than $11,000 shy of the average tuition, room and board at a university in the state. In my day, I worked two jobs, crashed at my mom’s house and commuted an hour each way my senior year, sometimes sleeping in my car, and sold blood and the rights for my first-born child to pay for my degree from Miami University. Ok, maybe not all of that, but it was kinda rough. Alls I’m saying is, kids these days should have to do the same.• A new study finds Ohio has benefited greatly from its expansion of Medicaid. More than 367,000 Ohioans are now enrolled as of August 2014, according to the report by Policy Matters Ohio. The report claims that the expansion has lowered health care costs and improved health outcomes for low-income people. You can read all the details here.
by Nick Swartsell 10.09.2014
Posted In: News at 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
brent spence bridge

Morning News and Stuff

Winburn, Thomas debate; Ky. Senate candidate Grimes draws crowds in Newport; who's trolling over tolling?

Good morning! Apparently two tuba players are dueling with chainsaws outside our window, or at least it sounds like it. I’m going to try and fight through the distraction to give you the morning news. Today’s update is mostly a politics sandwich, but stay with me here, because things are getting interesting as we speed toward Nov. 4.Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn will do anything for your vote as he runs for state Senate in a heavily Democratic district encompassing much of Cincinnati — but he won’t do that. I told you yesterday about Winburn’s recent evolutions on issues near and dear to most liberal hearts and minds. He’s pulling for expungements for folks who have marijuana convictions under a now-rescinded Cincinnati law, and though he says he’s pro-life, he recently lost endorsements from right to life groups after he signaled some reconsideration on women’s choice issues. Last night during a debate with state Senate opponent Democrat  Cecil Thomas, Winburn made the case that he’s “an independent thinker,” willing to listen to his potential Democratic constituency but also able to use clout gained with the GOP as a long-time member of the party and reformed hard-core right winger. But one place he’s not bending: same-sex marriage rights. While Thomas, who was once opposed to gay marriage, has changed his tune on the issue, Winburn’s staying put on that one. “Let me be clear about what I believe,” he said during the debate. “I do not support gay marriages. Period.” Tell us how you really feel, Charlie.• Former Mahogany’s owner Liz Rogers has a new deal she wants the city to think about. Rogers, who recently threatened the city with a lawsuit if it didn’t forgive a $300,000 debt she owes on her former restaurant at The Banks, now wants the city to cut that debt almost in half and suspend payments until July 2016. Rogers has proposed paying $800 a month for 12 years, interest free, to pay back the loan. City Manager Harry Black has passed the proposal along to City Council for a final decision.• There’s another big development project happening in Walnut Hills. Developers Model Group are working with the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation on a $9 million project to renovate 3 buildings along East McMillan Street in the neighborhood. The buildings will house about 7,200 square feet of retail space and 30 market-rate apartments. The aim is to attract residents interested in urban living who can’t afford or don’t want to pay downtown or Over-the-Rhine prices.• Who’s trolling over tolling? Was the head of the OKI, the region’s planning office, being overly provocative when he said yesterday that drivers who avoid the crumbling Brent Spence Bridge are “realists?” Those opposed to tolls on the bridge, who call themselves by the equally provocative name "No BS Tolls," say OKI head Mark Policinski should publicly rescind his statement about the safety of the bridge, calling it “unacceptable” and calling him out for fear-mongering. Policinski says he’d didn’t say the bridge was going to collapse tomorrow, just that reports show it is degrading. The battle rages on.
• It’s one of the most-watched 2014 races in the country, and yesterday the clash came to Northern Kentucky. A big throng of supporters, along with a healthy group of national press and local press, came out to hear Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Democratic candidate for Senate, make her pitch to the area. Grimes came to Newport yesterday to talk about two of the region’s biggest concerns: the aforementioned Brent Spence Bridge conundrum and the burgeoning heroin crisis. Grimes slammed her opponent, Senate Minority Leader and 20-year incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell, saying he didn’t have a plan for either issue. She promised she could secure funding for a replacement for the Brent Spence Bridge by closing some of the state’s corporate tax loopholes. She also pledged to use some of that money to hire more law enforcement officers and fund drug treatment programs. McConnell’s campaign shot back against Grimes’ speech. McConnell said he has floated the idea of rolling back state rules that require companies working government contracts to pay the prevailing wage in an area. The campaign says the savings from that move could be used for the bridge. He’s also laid out plans for increasing the number of counties under scrutiny as drug trafficking areas, though he hasn’t mentioned Northern Kentucky specifically. A recent poll commissioned by the Louisville Courier Journal put Grimes ahead by two points in the race, though other polls have her trailing McConnell. • Finally, the Greater Cincinnati area ranks lowest in the region, and very low nationally, in terms of public transit and job accessibility. It’s very hard for people to use public transit to get to their jobs in Cincinnati, according to a new University of Minnesota study. The area came in 41st out of 46 cities, well below Columbus (27), Cleveland (26), Indianapolis (38), Pittsburgh, (22), Louisville (36) and Detroit (34). Bummer.
by Nick Swartsell 10.08.2014
Posted In: News at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Winburn's changes of heart; Official: those who avoid Brent Spence Bridge are realists; someone paid $37,000 for Willie Nelson's braids

Hey all. Check out what’s going on right now. Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn is having a lot of changes of heart lately, all of which surely have nothing to do at all with him running for state Senate in a largely Democratic district. Winburn recently softened his stance on abortion (he once was a hardliner, now he says he wouldn’t interfere with women’s rights, which has caused pro-life groups to pull support for him) and the streetcar (he voted against it last year, but now says “a streetcar is not a bad situation” if it’s part of a larger regional transit plan). He’s also floated a proposal that would allow Cincinnatians with convictions under the city’s harsh anti-marijuana law, passed by Winburn’s state Senate opponent Cecil Thomas in 2006, to seek expungements for those convictions. Winburn seems to be expunging some of his own previously held right wing convictions and drifting more to the center. But, as the Business Courier reports, he’ll need to pull out some even more adept political maneuvers should he make it to the statehouse, where the GOP rules. • Closing statements in the trial of Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter should wrap up today, leaving the case to the jury. It’s been a dramatic 21 days in court for Hunter and the state’s prosecutors, who allege she committed nine felonies, including forging documents, improperly using a court credit card and intervening on behalf of her brother, a court employee fired after allegedly punching a juvenile inmate. Hunter’s attorney says the case is designed to drive Hunter from the bench because she has tried to change the juvenile court system. Though the charges against her carry a maximum penalty of 13 years in prison, prosecutors have indicated they will not ask for jail time for Hunter.• It’s still unclear whether a Noah’s Ark theme park run by Northern Kentucky religious group Answers in Genesis slated for Williamstown, Kentucky will get state tax credits. Job listings for the park currently stipulate potential employees sign a statement of faith, provide a statement affirming they’ve been saved and affirm that they believe in creationism. That’s a direct conflict with state policies that stipulate employers who receive state money can’t engage in discriminatory hiring practices. Attorneys for the park say the job listing is for parent organization Answers in Genesis, which does not receive state money, not the theme park, which is a separate entity and which they say will abide by all state and federal policies around the tax credits. Kentucky’s Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet sent a letter to the group warning that their tax credits are in jeopardy due to the listing. Officials for the religious group say they’re still discussing the matter with the state.• If you’re nervous about driving across the Brent Spence Bridge, you’re a “realist,” according to the leader of the region’s planning authority. Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments head Mark Policinski says recent maintenance reports detailing the bridge’s deteriorating condition are a wake up call. There has been a lot of controversy about what to do with the 51-year-old bridge, which Kentucky officials say is obsolete but still structurally sound. It will take $2.5 billion to replace the span. • As the sagas in Ferguson, Mo. and Beavercreek continue to unfold, issues around law enforcement, violence and race have gotten increasing attention. The latest case to come to light involves two people in Hammond, Indiana, near Chicago, who are suing police for alleged use of excessive force. The two say an officer shattered a car window and tazed passenger Jamal Jones during a routine traffic stop Sept. 26. Jones and the driver, Lisa Mahone, who are black, allege the officers violated their civil rights. The officers say they saw Jones reach into the back of the car multiple times and were afraid he had a weapon. Two children were in the back seat of the car, one of whom filmed the episode with a cellphone, capturing the officer smashing the window. • Finally, we all get a little weird sometimes about our favorite entertainers. But this is next level: Someone paid $37,000 for a pair of Willie Nelson’s braids the singer clipped from his head in 1983. No word who the bidder was. All I can think about is that it’s going to take a lot of Willie Nelson impersonator gigs to make a profit on those 30-year-old locks.
by Nick Swartsell 09.15.2014
Posted In: News at 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
brent spence bridge

Morning News and Stuff

Mahogany's seeks deal with city; Kentucky felons could regain voting rights; journalists are the most caffeinated

 Hey Cincinnati! Here’s your news for the day. Mahogany’s at The Banks is closed, but the controversy continues. The restaurant closed Friday after its landlord asked it to vacate The Banks due to state sales tax violations and back rent the restaurant owed. Yesterday, owner Liz Rogers and her attorney presented the city with a proposal via a multi-page letter to City Manager Harry Black. The letter said that Mahogany’s had indeed closed its location at The Banks, but suggested a seven-point compromise between the city and the restaurant. That compromise includes forgiveness of a $300,000 debt Rogers owes the city and a $12,000 payment from Rogers to the city for furniture and equipment purchased with the city loan. The letter charges that the city, while accommodating in some ways, set the restaurant up to fail by not providing conditions necessary to keep the business going and by leaking information about its financial struggles to the press. Rogers’ attorney states that she was told there would be a hotel and other amenities that would draw people to the riverfront development and suggested she could sue the city and her landlord for fraud, defamation of character, discrimination, breach of contract and other charges for not meeting its end of the bargain. It’s a fairly brazen move, considering Mahogany’s has fallen behind on loan and rent payments and that the city of late has been less than interested in making further deals with the restaurant. No word on a response from the city yet, but we’ll be updating as that happens.• When folks say the Brent Spence Bridge is falling apart, they mean it literally. A group of Bengals fans Sunday got a rude surprise when big concrete chunks of an offramp from the bridge plunged from a support beam into the windshield of their car, parked just East of Longworth Hall. They were at the game at the time and no one was injured, but the incident underscores the precarious condition of the vital bridge that carries Interstates 71 and 75 across the Ohio River. An annual inspection of the roadways around the bridge is scheduled to begin today. • Officials in Butler County are mulling converting part of a struggling county-run nursing home into a detox center for heroin addicts. Support for government-run nursing homes has been waning for years, and Butler County’s is one of the last in the state. Officials with the nursing home argue there is a need for the facility and that by extending care to those needing addiction treatment, they can serve another need while staying solvent. But some county officials, including outspoken Sherriff Richard Jones, aren’t convinced the nursing home should continue to exist at all, and they see addiction treatment there as more risk than it's worth. • Kentucky is moving closer to restoring voting for people with certain felonies. Currently, Kentuckians who have served time for a felony need a pardon from the governor to regain their voting rights. Only three other states have this requirement. Three bills proposing an amendment to the state’s constitution are currently being considered in the Kentucky legislature. An amendment, which requires passage by 60 percent of legislators and a statewide vote, would allow felons to cast ballots again after they’ve served prison time and probation. Those convicted of homicide, treason, bribery or sex crimes would not be eligible. One supporter of the proposal is Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has been using justice system reform as a way to reach out to voters outside the traditional Republican base as he positions himself to run for president in 2016.• In national news, the Census Bureau tomorrow will release its 2013 poverty statistics for America, giving us data on how much slow-moving economic recovery from the Great Recession has aided the country’s lowest earners. The news is not expected to be overwhelmingly good: While the unemployment rate has been falling, the poverty rate has barely budged, revealing that simply employing folks in any old (increasingly low-wage) job can’t get us back to where we were before the recession. Jared Bernstein, an economist with progressive think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, sums up his projection of the data thusly: “…if I’m in the ballpark, Tuesday’s release will be another reminder of why many Americans still feel pretty gloomy about the recovery: It hasn’t much reached them.”• Finally, I just have to throw this in here: a new study says that journalists consume more coffee than those in any other profession, drinking an average of four cups a day. I’d say I’m still just a fledgling journalist, and so I stick with one cup, though like my dark, cynical journalist heart, it is always completely black, ice cold and nearly bottomless. No, seriously, I get the biggest one Dunkin Donuts has, which is roughly the size of a small wastebasket.