by Nick Swartsell
97 days ago
Posted In: News
at 10:08 AM | Permalink
OTR parking rates, hours going up; activists protesting racial disparities expand their focus; coming next decade (maybe): an 800-mph transit system
Good morning y’all! Let’s get down to business so we can get through this short holiday week and arrive as quickly and painlessly as possible at the moment when we open our presents. If you park in Over-the-Rhine, be prepared for change. Or, well, not needing change. The city has installed new “smart” parking meters in the neighborhood, as well as downtown, that accept credit cards. But that convenience comes at a price in OTR — rates are going from 50 cents to $1 an hour. The times when you’ll be required to feed the meters in OTR and downtown have also been increased. Starting Jan. 1, the meters will run from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Meter prices downtown will stay at $2 an hour for now, though City Council has given the OK for City Manager Harry Black to raise them as high as $2.15 an hour. The funds from the increase will go toward operating costs for the streetcar.• Demonstrations continue over police killings of unarmed black men, including John Crawford III, shot this summer in a Beavercreek Walmart. Activists in Beavercreek Saturday briefly caused store management to shut down that Walmart after they staged a “die-in” at the store to protest the fact that the officer who shot Crawford was not indicted. Four of the protesters were arrested. • Meanwhile, some activists here in Cincinnati have begun expanding their focus, taking the issue from the streets to the classroom. On Saturday, more than 120 people packed into OTR’s Peaslee Neighborhood Center for an hour-and-a-half-long teach-in and discussion on issues around race and police use of force. A number of speakers gave presentations on systemic racism, ways to make change and other topics. The teach-in was put together by an informal group of Cincinnati activists who say they will stage more events like it in the future.The issue of police use of force has only gotten more contentious in recent days. On Saturday, a gunman shot and killed two New York City police officers while they were sitting in their squad car. The man earlier shot his girlfriend in Baltimore and fled the city. He had also recently posted threatening messages on social media about killing police officers.Police officials have tied the killings to the large, ongoing demonstrations in New York City and to New York Mayor Bill deBlasio, who has been critical of police since taking office last year. They say the violent act was inspired by ongoing protests. Activists, however, say their movement has nothing to do with the shooter, who may have been suffering from a mental illness. • Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman will be on a taskforce convened by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to study police-community relations and training procedures. Smitherman is one of 16 officials to join the task force, which will focus on making sure officers are trained to know when a situation requires deadly force and how to police racially diverse communities. • Ohio’s minimum wage will be inching up in the new year. The state’s minimum wage level is tied to a consumer price index and will go from $7.95 to $8.10 on Jan. 1. The state has used the index to automatically determine its minimum wage since 2006 as an effort to keep the wage level in line with inflation and other consumer cost increases. Ohio’s rate is already above the national average of $7.25, though it is not high enough to raise most working a minimum wage job full time above the poverty line. • Common Core has lived to fight another day in Ohio. A bill to repeal the federal education standards didn’t even make it to a vote in the Ohio House, which just ended its session. But you know there’s a sequel coming for this epic struggle. Republican State Rep. Andy Thompson from Marietta has vowed to reintroduce legislation killing Common Core next session, and he’s says he’s got backup coming. Several new House members campaigned on keeping Ohio out of the federal standards. Supporters of the new education goals say they help students learn critical thinking skills. Conservative opponents say the standards strip control from the state and local school districts and amount to a federal takeover of education. Other, more left-leaning critics of the standards decry Common Core’s reliance on standardized testing. Grab some popcorn. This drama is going to go on longer than those Lord of the Rings movies. • Finally, do you want to travel around the country at 800 miles an hour? Don’t have enough cash to buy your own fighter jet? Tesla founder Elon Musk may have the answer for you. It’s called Hyperloop: a high-speed land-based transit system that would, in theory, zip people across a nationwide network of routes. Cincinnati and Columbus are both on a map that is included in a 76-page description of the project, though Cleveland got dissed. The first leg of this sci-fi transportation network would be built in California between San Francisco and L.A. for the low, low bargain price of $7 billion. Scientists hired by Musk to draw up the plans say raising the money will be the only big problem — they claim the science already exists to make 800 mph speeds a reality. Musk, who by the way is the same guy who started a company to shoot people into space for profit, has predicted the first hyperloop could be up and running in a decade. Meanwhile, I can’t help thinking about this.
by Nick Swartsell
129 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: Campaign Finance
at 10:19 AM | Permalink
Suit alleges improper donations, questionable contracts
The Cincinnati Elections Commission will hold a hearing June 23 on City Councilman Christopher Smitherman’s campaign finances after Nathaniel Livingston Jr., a well-known Cincinnati radio personality and former City Council candidate, filed a rather colorful complaint against him. The complaint filed with the Commission says Smitherman exceeded campaign contribution limits during his 2013 campaign and unfairly gave city contracts to family members.But it also says so much more. Livingston goes after Smitherman with the gloves off. He starts off his complaint with some choice words about the councilman, calling him “an arrogant politician who is closely aligned to the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.” Livingston goes on to say that “Smitherman has publicly stated that his life goals are to become a decamillionaire and President of the United States. Chris will do anything to obtain money and power.”Dang. That’s harsh. With the first name and everything. But Livingston’s just getting warmed up.“He basically makes money by selling mediocre insurance products to gullible individuals,” the complaint continues, questioning Smitherman’s credentials as a financial advisor.Call out someone for their alleged tea party affiliation, sure, but casting aspersions on the value of a man’s insurance products is another thing entirely.Low blows aside, the complaint says that Smitherman broke campaign finance laws when his brother, Albert Smitherman, gave him a total of $2,200 and his sister-in-law, Liza Smitherman, chipped in $2,700 for his campaign. The limit for individual donations between city council elections is $1,100. The complaint is made on a bit of a technicality; both Albert and Liza gave their first contributions just days after the 2011 elections, and didn’t donate any other money in that earlier election. Cincinnati Election Commission rules do allow for carryover of funds from previous elections under certain circumstances.Another donation of $500 by Liza Smitherman under the name Brewster Pumping LLC is also flagged in the complaint. That donation was made in October 2013, and the address listed for the contribution is that of Liza and Albert’s business, Jostin Construction LLC.Livingston says this is evidence of corruption, and that Councilman Smitherman has been actively working to get jobs for the company. Jostin was subcontracted for $22,000 worth of work on the city’s streetcar project in November 2013, but later declined the job.Livingston himself has been in trouble for campaign finances. In 2009, the Ohio Elections Commission sued him for $43,000 for not filing campaign finance information for his 2001 City Council bid. That suit was later dismissed.
0 Comments · Wednesday, February 19, 2014
The group heading a supportive housing
project in Avondale announced Feb. 14 that it will initiate monthly
“good neighbor” meetings to address concerns about the facility.
0 Comments · Tuesday, December 31, 2013
City Councilman Christopher Smitherman went on a legit
Twitter rant last weekend, calling University of Cincinnati Trustee Rob
Richardson Jr., a communist and defending the claim to The Enquirer despite the fact that McCarthyism was ridiculous the first time it came around 60 years ago. CINCINNATI -1
4 Comments · Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Bill Nye to debate anti-science creationist, Chris Finney gets kicked out of law firm and more in the worst week ever.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 12:28 PM | Permalink
Gang-related activity driving increase in violence, according to police
Heads of the Cincinnati Police Department testified in
front of City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee Monday to
address the local increase in homicides.
The city’s homicide rate hit 25 per 100,000 residents in 2013, compared to the U.S. rate of 4.7 per 100,000 in 2012, following a spike in homicides in
Over-the-Rhine, downtown and the west side of Cincinnati, according to
“The concern has been the sheer number of homicides we
experienced in 2013 and the number of juvenile victims we had this
year,” said Assistant Chief Dave Bailey.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman also highlighted the
high levels of black-on-black crime, which Chief Jeffrey Blackwell
agreed are unacceptable across the country.
“My fear is that my son, who’s African-American … is
going to be killed by another African-American,” Smitherman said.
“That’s what those stats are saying.”
The key driver of the increases, according to police, is
gang-related activity, particularly activity involving the Mexican drug cartel that
controls the heroin trade.
“If our theory is correct, most of these homicides involve narcotic sales, respect and retaliation,” Bailey said.
Chief Blackwell explained the increase in homicides
appears to be particularly related to disruptions in criminal organizations and their
“Criminal territories have been disrupted, and we’ve seen
an increase in turf wars and neighborhood situations between young
people,” he said. “Most of the homicides are personal crimes between two
known victims. Very rarely are they random in nature.”
Councilman Kevin Flynn asked what council could do to help remedy the situation.
“We are significantly short of police officers, so we
desperately need a recruit class,” Blackwell responded. “We need to
improve our technology platform here in the police department.”
Blackwell cautioned that there’s not a direct correlation
between more police officers and less homicides, but he said another
recruit class could help the city meet basic needs.Flynn claimed council is very willing to meet those needs, given the importance of public safety to the city’s prosperity. “If we’re not safe and we don’t have the perception that
we’re a safe city, none of the rest of the great things we do as a city
are going to help,” he said.How council meets those needs while dealing with fiscal concerns remains to be seen, considering Mayor John Cranley and a majority of council members ran on the promise of structurally balancing the city’s operating budget for the first time in more than a decade. City officials have vowed to avoid raising taxes and cutting basic services, which makes the task of balancing the budget all the more difficult. Advancing promises of more spending for the police department further complicates the issue, even if it’s politically advantageous in a city seriously concerned about public safety.Cincinnati Police will hold several town hall meetings in
the next week to hear concerns from citizens. The meetings will span
across all local districts:• District 2: Jan. 7, Medpace, Inc., 5375 Medpace Way.• District 3: Jan. 8, Elder HS Schaeper Center, 3900 Vincent.• District 1 and Central Business District: Jan. 9, River of Life Church, 2000 Central Parkway.• District 5: Jan. 13, Little Flower Church, 5560 Kirby Ave..• District 4: Jan. 14, Church of the Resurrection, 1619 California Ave.Correction: The local homicide rate for 2013 was 25 per 100,000 residents, contrary to the 15.5 per 100,000 rate cited by police officials to City Council.
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
3 Comments · Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Support for the uptown interchange project reveals the hypocrisy of streetcar opponents.
by Andy Brownfield
Resolution promises no bus funds used on streetcar
In hopes of quashing rumors, City Council on Wednesday
passed a resolution promising not to use Metro bus money on the
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit authority had voted
Tuesday on an agreement with the city that contained a provision saying
money from the $42 million transit fund that pays for bus operation
can’t be used on the streetcar.
The agreement needs to be signed by the city as well in
order to release millions of dollars in federal grants to help fund the
streetcar. The city has pledged to match those grants with local funds.
SORTA wants to make sure the transit fund isn’t used for that purpose,
but the city wants to have the freedom to use that money on any
At least one council member questioned the necessity of passing the resolution.
Chris Seelbach said that nobody on council or in the city
administration had proposed or would propose using transit money on the
“I don’t understand why we would need a provision in any
contract that would make us not be able to, when nobody’s proposing that
we do it,” he said.
The resolution has no legal standing preventing council
from later coming back and using transit funds for the streetcar, but
Qualls said she hoped it put citizens’ minds at rest regarding their
Mayor Mark Mallory on Monday published an editorial in The
Enquirer promising that the transit money wouldn’t be used for the
He went further on Wednesday and said during council’s
meeting that he as mayor would never approve the use of transit money
for the operation of the streetcar.
Council also passed a one-month budget for SORTA, requiring that they come back next month to pass another one.
Councilman Chris Smitherman accused Mallory of trying to
flex political muscle in the budget to strong-arm SORTA into taking out
the provision disallowing the use of transit funds for the streetcar. He
questioned the timing of passing a SORTA budget the day after the
transit authority voted to prevent transit funds being used for the
Councilman Charlie Winburn — council's sole Republican — walked out of a Budget Committee meeting in advance of the vote.
However Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said it made sense to
pass the one-month budget because it forbid SORTA from using taxpayer
money to sue the city.
City Solicitor John Curp said it was SORTA’s position in
the lawsuit that it should be the one deciding how transit funds are
used, not the city.