by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 11:03 AM | Permalink
Proposed welfare reforms could make "one stop shops" for services; is Miley Cyrus planning a Leelah Alcorn benefit concert?; Bush campaign operative resigns after offensive online comments
Good morning! This week is going crazy slow but it’s half over now, so that’s awesome. But the news isn’t going slow, and it’s never half-over. It’s always hurtling forward. Always changing. Growing. Watching. Ok. Maybe not watching. But those other things. Sorry. I didn’t get much sleep last night. Let’s get to it. Gov. John Kasich yesterday came to Cincinnati to detail his plans for reforming the state’s welfare program to leaders from a number of county social service agencies. Kasich says his plan will simplify welfare services in Ohio, which can currently sometimes be a complicated array of various service providers clients must navigate to get help. Kasich would like to gather as many services as possible under a single roof, saving the state money. Those agencies that don’t go along with the plan could lose state funding. But some providers are wary of too much consolidation, as various agencies in different counties often serve very different populations. Kasich called those concerns “turf battles,” though some providers see the issue differently. Kasich has yet to release all the details of his proposed changes.• The debate over what to do about Hamilton County’s morgue and crime lab is turning into something of a shouting match. Republican Hamilton County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann clearly hit a nerve last week when he called Hamilton County’s crime lab “a luxury item.” Now Democrats are firing back at the assertion. Yesterday, Hamilton County Democrat Chairman Tim Burke berated Hartmann in a letter suggesting the commissioner is playing politics with the crime lab and morgue, which have been at the center of a county budget debate. Both offices, which share a building on University of Cincinnati’s medical campus, are in need of extensive upgrades. “I’m sorry, but the need for a modern morgue and crime lab is so clear that I can only conclude that your failure to fulfill the Commissioner’s duty to provide that must be due to the fact that our County Coroner is a Democrat who you don’t want to see succeed,” Burke said in the letter.All parties agree the lab needs updating. Republican Commissioners Hartmann and Chris Monzel, however, say retrofitting a former hospital in Mount Airy donated to the county will be too expensive at $100 million. They’re suggesting the possibility of partnering with neighboring governments to create a regional lab. Conditions in the current building are so cramped that neither the crime lab nor the morgue has room for the extra employees it needs to process the increasing amount of work it must undertake. Other issues include an outdated electrical grid that won’t allow all the lab’s equipment to be plugged in at the same time and an insufficient plumbing system beneath the building that causes the build up of autopsy debris.• Sticking with news about the county for another beat, 100 Hamilton County poll workers have been dismissed from their jobs for not voting in the last election. Officials with the Hamilton County Board of Elections have said they want to encourage voting, and if their employees aren’t doing it, it sends the wrong message. I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s kind of like wearing American Apparel when you work there or tweeting your articles when you’re a reporter — probably a good idea, but mandatory? Seems a little harsh. • A quick bit of gossip and speculation: is Miley Cyrus planning a benefit concert in memory of Leelah Alcorn? Could be. Recent social media posts by Cyrus show rehearsals for an upcoming project and a notebook that says “Leelah set list,” the Columbus Dispatch reports. Alcorn, a transgender teen, died Dec. 28 after throwing herself in front of a truck on I-71. She left a suicide note on social media explaining the isolation she felt when her family did not support her transgender status. • Three people were killed this morning in Chapel Hill, North Carolina after a gunman entered their home and shot each in the head. The alleged gunman, forty six-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, turned himself in immediately following the shooting deaths of Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, all local university students. Though no official motive has been determined, the killings may have involved the fact the three were Muslim. Hicks, an outspoken atheist, had recently put photos of guns on social media as well as writing anti-religious posts.• Finally, a high-level campaign operative for potential presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush resigned today after racially and sexually charged comments he allegedly made online recently came to light. Ethan Czahor was chief technology officer for Bush’s Right to Rise political action committee. In Twitter posts before he was hired in January, Czahor made disparaging remarks about gay men and called women “sluts.” One grade-A post from 2009 reads, “new study confirms old belief: college female art majors are sluts, science majors are also sluts but uglier." Wow. Bush’s campaign initially called the tweets inappropriate but let Czahor stay on. He resigned yesterday after other racially insensitive statements attributed to him were found on a website for a radio show he worked on in 2008.
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 11:04 AM | Permalink
Hartmann: county-level crime lab a "luxury item"; for Pete's sake, new MLB commissioner may reconsider ban; Kasich budget will double drug treatment funding for Ohio inmates
Morning y’all. Here’s what’s going on in Cincy and the wider world today.Is a county-level crime lab a luxury item? That’s a comment Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann made yesterday during the annual “state of the county” speech attended by many high-level county officials. Hartmann made the statement in response to a question about moving the county’s morgue and crime lab to a vacant hospital in Mount Airy. We checked out the alarming condition of the morgue and crime lab in December. Most, including county commissioners, agree that Hamilton County’s crime lab and morgue are outdated and that the county will soon need to find new options for both. But they say moving to the Mount Airy hospital would be prohibitively expensive, and they’ve paused the idea as they look for private partners to go in on the $100 million retrofitting project. Hartmann argues that a regional crime lab put together by several counties in the region would be a more efficient option. But his comments continue a long-running rift between conservative commissioners and Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco, who called the statement ridiculous. “A luxury? As in maybe his fancy cars that are maybe a luxury?" Sammarco said. "Name one person in this county that thinks public safety is a luxury item. Public safety is not a luxury.” • Did flaws in demolition plans for the old Hopple Street offramp over I-75 cause its collapse last month? Some experts think so, though Kokosing Construction, the company hired on a $91 million contract to carry out the demolition, contests that. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, last minute changes were made to the demolition efforts as detailed in plans acquired through public information requests. Those changes, an independent expert says, could have caused the bridge failure that killed one construction worker, injured a truck driver and shut down southbound I-75 for hours. The expert says some calculations in the plan were flawed; Kokosing says they were checked by multiple experienced technicians. Experts have also criticized the wider method by which the bridge was being demolished, saying that the middle section should have been removed first. • After a quarter century, will Pete Rose finally be eligible to enter the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame? New MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred may open a window for the 73-year-old to enter the hall after all. Rose, who was banned from baseball in 1989 after he was caught gambling, holds the all-time record for hits in the MLB with 4,256. Fans have actively campaigned for Rose to be reinstated, but outgoing commissioner Bud Selig was steadfast in his refusal to allow Rose back. Manfred, however, says he’ll be having conversations with Rose and his attorneys about the possibility. • John Crawford, Jr., the father of the young man shot by police while holding a toy gun in a Beavercreek Walmart in August, is still struggling with the incident and the loss of his son, he says in an op-ed published in the Hamilton Journal-News today. John Crawford III lived in neighboring Fairfield. Crawford III, 22, was killed in the Walmart after another shopper called 911 to report him brandishing a weapon. It turned out to be a pellet gun sold in the store. Security footage doesn’t show Crawford handling the toy in a threatening manner, though officers said he was ordered to drop it several times. A grand jury declined to indict Officer Sean Williams, who shot Crawford. “John lll was an amazing father, loving son and awesome friend,” Crawford, Jr. says in the piece. “He was just starting to discover who he was, what his passion was, what he wanted to pursue in life and now he’s gone. It makes no sense to me how a simple trip to Walmart ended in the death of my son. I was further shocked when a grand jury refused to indict the officer responsible for my son’s slaying. But now, six months after this horrific tragedy, we want the world to know just how much we love and miss him.”Crawford, Jr. goes on to advocate for new laws that could prevent future tragedies, including new requirements for toy weapons in stores like Walmart. Crawford, who lives in Tennessee, has been active in seeking justice for his son, showing up at rallies, including a recent teach-in in Cincinnati, and filing a lawsuit against the Beavercreek Police Department.• More about Kasich’s new budget proposal: Under the suggested two-year budget, funding for prison-based addiction services will double, and the state will spend $58 million more on community-based sentencing options that could keep some first time offenders out of prison. These reforms are designed to cut down on Ohio’s prison population and expenditures over time. Studies suggest up to 80 percent of Ohio’s prison population has a history of drug abuse. Currently, only 15 to 20 percent of Ohio inmates receive drug addiction treatment, however.• Finally, the economy added more than 257,000 jobs last month, according to job reports released today. That marks the 11th straight month job growth has been above 200,000, a streak that hasn’t been seen in more than two decades. In a rare moment of agreement, both the White House (well, duh) and high-ranking GOP officials applauded the news. Of course, the Republican response came with the requisite grousing about how the job gains weren’t good enough. “We're thankful to see that Americans were able to go back to work in January,” said GOP Chairman Reince Priebus. “But before the White House spikes the football, they need to come to terms with a troubling fact: There are millions of Americans who are struggling to find jobs.”Going unmentioned in the politics is a big cause for concern: Despite growth in the number of jobs available, wages for workers have remained stagnant, meaning that the economic recovery is still tepid and incomplete for many across the country.
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 11:19 AM | Permalink
Shocker: Boehner says redistricting reform not necessary; Gannett reaches out, gets spurned; Cleveland cop who shot 12-year-old was deemed "unfit" at last police job
Hello all, hope you’re doing well this morning. I’m having a bit of trouble getting started today, maybe due to CityBeat’s Bourbon and Bacon event last night. The party at Newport’s New Riff Distillery (which is amazing, by the way) featured nearly unlimited amounts of bacon-infused items. Bacon is one of my favorite things. I’m also a big fan of whiskey, which was also available in seemingly endless quantities. I’m still recovering. Anyway, news time. Usually, we think of the staunch conservatives in our state House of Representatives, bless their souls, as lovers of the smallest government possible. So it’s surprising that GOP state lawmakers have been working on a bill to pick cities’ pockets by reverting tax receipts usually going to municipalities to the state government. That bill got a little less pernicious yesterday, when a revised version passed the Ohio Senate. Mayor John Cranley touts the bill as a better deal for Cincinnati than it could have been. The proposal, which amends and allegedly simplifies Ohio’s tax rules for cities and other local governments, would cut the amount of money municipalities receive from businesses doing work in their jurisdictions. Many agree the current system is incredibly complex and makes it difficult for businesses to operate in multiple municipalities. But opponents of the original bill proposed by GOP lawmakers say the cuts to municipal tax receipts were too deep and, taken with other recent cuts to tax receipts, could hamper cities’ abilities to provide services. Cincinnati could have lost as much as $3 million a year from those cuts. The compromised bill minimizes some of those losses by keeping the municipal tax on items a company ships to places where it doesn’t have a storefront. • A slightly fictionalized Hamilton County Christmas play in one act:Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil:Hey guys, can I get a Harley? Maybe two Harleys? I want them for Christmas. They get better gas mileage than cars and the city taught us how to ride them.Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel: I don’t know. Ask Greg Hartmann.Sheriff Neil: He wrote me a letter. He said I have to wait.Hartmann: Jim, I can’t believe you’re asking for this right now. You know money is tight and we can’t afford two Harleys. We’ve gotta tighten our belts, you know. Have you thought about a nice used Suzuki? Or maybe some bicycles? Red Bike is big right now.Sheriff Neil: But everyone else is asking for cool wheels, too.Monzel: We’ll just have to wait and see what Santa brings. We already gave you those cars you asked for. • Surprise, surprise: House Speaker John Boehner, who is camped out in his safely Republican district just north of Cincinnati, doesn’t want any changes to the way Ohio draws its congressional districts. He says that having one party dominate the process isn’t a problem because both parties have done so over the years and that everyone working on rule changes for redistricting should see what shakes out in Arizona. The Supreme Court is currently hearing challenges to that state’s constitutional amendment cutting the state legislature out of redistricting in favor of an independent panel, a similar arrangement to some proposals for reforming Ohio’s redistricting process. But let’s not be hasty about working to change the process that has created Ohio’s ridiculously gerrymandered districts, Boehner says."For 40 years the Democrat Party had the pencil in their hands, and for the last 20 years we've had the pencil," Boehner told The Enquirer yesterday. "When you've got the pencil in your hand, you're going to use it to the best of your advantage." • CityBeat contributor Ben Kaufman, who writes our "On Second Thought" column and "Curmudgeon Notes," tipped me off to this great exchange. Apparently, Enquirer parent company Gannett is reaching out to veteran journalists seeking help recruiting “leaders for the newsroom of tomorrow,” whatever that means. Gannett has been sugar-coating layoffs with this newsroom of tomorrow thing for a while and has even gone so far as to make reporters reapply for their jobs in a Hunger Games-esque battle for employment. A recruiter got a less than favorable response from three-decade veteran journalist Rick Arthur, who has been an editor at major newspapers and magazines. Arthur responds to the missive, which is, after all, not recruiting him but simply asking for help in recruiting others, with the following:“I would never refer anyone to Gannett, an organization that has such disdain for copy editors and that treats its employees so shabbily, and whose executives, publishers and editors willfully deny that there are problems while creating — for the second time in a decade — the laughably Orwellian 'Newsroom of the Future.'All the best, Rick”Ouch.• Finally, there’s continued anger around the nation over unarmed people, especially people of color, dying at the hands of police. Two brief developments: A grand jury in New York yesterday declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for his role in the death of Eric Garner, who Pantaleo put in a chokehold. Pantaleo died moments after the confrontation in an ambulance and can be heard on a video of the incident telling officers repeatedly he couldn’t breathe. The grand jury decision has sparked protests in New York City.In Cleveland, there are new revelations in the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who police shot on a playground. The officer involved in that shooting, Timothy Loehman, was asked to leave another police force in the small town of Independence, Ohio, in 2012 after being deemed unfit to serve there. Loehman reportedly had an emotional breakdown on a shooting range and was “uncommunicative and weepy” during the incident, reports on his dismissal say. The report also calls his performance with a weapon “dismal.”
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 09:40 AM | Permalink
Ferguson seethes as no indictment comes; man freed after spending 39 years in prison on false conviction visits Cincinnati; someone stole a 400-pound Sasquatch
Your morning news today is gonna be a little grim and heavy. Sometimes that's how the news goes, folks. A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Mike Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. The incident has been highly racially charged from the start and caused months of unrest between protesters and police in Ferguson and surrounding communities. Brown was black and Wilson is white. St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch delivered the grand jury’s decision in a highly unusual, and perhaps highly unwise, 9 p.m. press conference, despite the fact the grand jury reached its decision much earlier in the day. The rambling, 20-minute announcement lead with a strong condemnation of social media, the 24-four hour news cycle and other seemingly unrelated forces before getting to a strong defense of Wilson from the prosecutor. It’s exceedingly unusual for a grand jury to not hand down an indictment, unless that indictment is for a police officer who has killed someone in the line of duty. The announcement was followed by waves of anger from already-gathered protesters, and civil unrest quickly spread through Ferguson. Police and National Guard troops on the scene began firing tear gas and smoke bombs shortly after the decision was read. Reports on the ground relayed some peaceful protesters as well as incidents of looting and vandalism. Several buildings and at least two police cruisers had gone up in flames by this morning, and St. Louis Police Chief Jon Belmar said he had heard at least 150 gunshots throughout the night. President Barack Obama sounded a skeptical note about the decision but called for peace in Ferguson. Brown’s family released a statement expressing their extreme disappointment with the verdict but also called for protesters to remain peaceful. Calmer demonstrations have sprung up in many cities around the country, including Los Angeles, Seattle and New York. A peaceful demonstration organized by the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the National Action Network will be held in Cincinnati today at 5 p.m. at the U.S. District Courthouse downtown. • Last week, Cleveland native Ricky Jackson was released from prison after spending 39 years there for a murder he didn’t commit. Today at noon, Jackson will be in Cincinnati appearing at UC’s School of Law to thank the school’s Ohio Innocence Project and others who helped free him. Jackson’s story was first unearthed by the Cleveland Scene and taken up by the Innocence Project shortly thereafter. He was convicted based on the sole testimony of a 12-year-old boy who later admitted he had made up his statements. Jackson is the 18th person freed by the program. • Over-the-Rhine's newest brewery and tap house is almost ready for guests. Taft's Ale House, which is on 15th and Race, received its fermenters and brewhouse yesterday. They were lowered in with a crane, which is pretty epic. The owners say they'd like to be open by Reds Opening Day next year.• If someone offered you a free building, would you take it? Hamilton County commissioners aren’t sure they will. Mercy Hospital has offered to donate their former facility in Mount Airy to the county. A number of the county’s offices, including the county’s cramped coroner and crime lab, could move there, but the new location won’t be cheap. It could cost up to $100 million to retrofit the building for its new tenants, money commissioners say they don’t have, especially after their vote yesterday to approve a relatively skinny $201 million budget. Republican Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann have both indicated the county may not take the building after all. Democrat Commissioner Todd Portune is also skeptical about moving county services to Mount Airy, though for other reasons. He says the county’s board of elections, which was also proposed as a tenant at the site, should stay downtown.• Finally, as if my faith in humanity needed more testing this week, there’s this story. Someone stole a Sasquatch statue out of a family’s yard in Delhi. The thing weighs 400 pounds, so it’s an impressive bit of thievery, though also pretty heartless. “I want squashy back,” the statue’s owner told Channel 12 News. “We've got to dress him up for Christmas. We can't have Christmas without Squashy."
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 10:08 AM | Permalink
A Kentucky beer battle is brewing; NAACP could tap Cincinnati for 2016 convention; Miami students protest conservative columnist over sexual assault remarks
All right. Let’s talk about this news stuff, shall we?In just 12 days, voters will decide whether or not to back a plan put forward by Republican Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel for fixing Union Terminal. But the details still haven’t been worked out completely, as this Business Courier article discusses. The tax increase proposal, an alternative to another scheme drawn up over a number of months by a cadre of the city’s business leaders that also included Music Hall, has been a kind of plan-as-you-go effort by the commissioners. The 5-year, .25-percent sales tax increase won’t provide all the money needed for the project, and it’s still a bit up in the air where the rest will come from. The structure of the deal will hold Cincinnati Museum Center, which occupies the building, accountable for cost overruns or revenue shortfalls, which they’ll need to make up with private financing or donations. A new nonprofit entity might also need to be created to officially lease the building from the city in order to qualify for state and federal tax credits, a possible stumbling block that will require city-county coordination. All of which is to say there’s a long way to go before the landmark is on its way to renovation.• The NAACP is ready to tap Cincinnati for its 2016 national convention pending a site visit in November. That’s a bit of a surprise, as many assumed Baltimore, where the organization is headquartered, would get the nod for its presidential election year convention. Cincinnati also hosted the NAACP convention in 2008. Big political players, including presidential candidates, often speak at the convention during election years. The 2016 election is shaping up to be huge for Ohio, with Cleveland hosting the GOP national convention and Columbus in the running for the Democrat’s big national event.• A talk by award-winning conservative Washington Post columnist George Will at Miami University last night drew a number of protesters unhappy that the school invited him to speak. Will has caused controversy over remarks he made in a column in June criticizing new sexual assault rules on many college campuses. Will has blasted the “progressivism” of the rules, saying they place men accused of assault in a “guilty until proven innocent” situation. Specifically, Will criticized measures that stipulate a person who is considerably inebriated is unable to give sexual consent. Students and faculty who opposed Will’s talk say they collected more than 1,000 signatures from members of the Miami University community asking the school to cancel the event. Will has gained a reputation for his controversial, sometimes outlandish remarks. He has dismissed climate change science, for instance. Most recently, he claimed on Fox News that Ebola could be spread through the air via coughs and sneezes, an assertion contradicted by nearly all scientists who study the disease. • Former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s attorney Clyde Bennett has filed a motion for a retrial, saying that two of the 12 jurors on the case did not vote to find Hunter guilty on a felony charge earlier this month. Hunter was on trial for nine felony counts. The jury hung on the other eight but allegedly agreed that she was guilty of improperly intervening in a case involving her brother, a court employee who allegedly punched a juvenile inmate. Hunter’s sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 8, though a Nov. 13 hearing on Bennett’s retrial motion could change that.• If you live in Kentucky and are hoping Yuengling comes to your neck of the woods soon, you may be disappointed. There’s a battle brewing (haha) over beer distribution in the state as giant Anheuser-Busch seeks to buy a distributor in the Kentucky that could give the company a quarter of the beer market there. That has mid-sized independent companies like Yuengling and some wholesalers saying there may not be room for them. Generally, beer brewers aren’t allowed to own distributors or stores under anti-trust laws, but Anheuser-Busch won the right to own one in Louisville after suing the state in 1978. • In international news, four former employees of Blackwater, the private security firm that the U.S. contracted during the Iraq war, have been convicted for the 2007 shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis. The incident, which happened at a public square in Baghdad, became notorious as an example of U.S. contractors’ misconduct during the Iraq war. A judge in the case ruled that the killings were not an act of war, but a crime. One defendant, sniper Nicholas Slatten, faces life in prison for murder. Three others face 30 year minimum sentences for charges including committing a using a machine gun to carry out a violent crime and voluntary manslaughter.
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 13, 2014
The recent Hamilton County Commissioners’
quarter-cent sales tax dust-up that booted Music Hall from the original
package deal is a perfect storm of class, political finger-pointing and
by Nick Swartsell
County Commissioners leave 136-year-old landmark out of renovation funding plan
Hamilton County Commissioners voted today to axe Music Hall from a proposed sales tax increase designed to pay for renovations to that structure and Union Terminal. Now, only Union Terminal will benefit from the potential tax hike, which county voters will decide on in November. Voters won't get a chance to decide whether a similar hike will pay for Music Hall. Mayor John Cranley and Cincinnati City Council are not happy about the change-up.“As mayor of this city, I’m deeply offended when we’re treated as second-class citizens in our own county,” Cranley said during a vote approving the city’s contribution to renovations at today’s council meeting. “We have done our part. We will pay the tax if it is passed. In no other jurisdiction, not even Hamilton County, is being asked to cut its budget … for these institutions.” Cranley said asking city taxpayers for more money represents a kind of double taxation, since they would also be paying the county sales tax increase. Ostensibly, council was voting to approve annual payments toward upkeep of both Union Terminal and Music Hall for 25 years. The $200,000 yearly commitment to each building adds up to $10 million. Cranley floated the plan last week as a demonstration of the city’s commitment to the landmark buildings. Council approved that money unanimously, but that vote is mostly symbolic now that the fragile plan to fund both renovations with a tax hike, first proposed by a cadre of area business leaders called the Cultural Facilities Task Force, has fallen through. Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel said the proposed contributions, which the city already makes, don’t represent a renewed effort to fix the buildings. The city has also pledged another $10 million toward Music Hall repairs. Those contributions weren’t enough for Hartmann, who had been the swing vote on the three-member commission. He signaled he would not vote for the original 14-year, .25 percent sales tax increase designed to raise much of the $331 million needed to repair the buildings. Instead, he voted with fellow Republican Monzel today for an alternate tax measure that left Music Hall out of the deal, raising $170 million over five years for renovations to Union Terminal only. Democrat Todd Portune, who supported the original plan, voted against the new deal.Former P&G CEO Bob McDonald, who led the task force designing the original deal, said the new plan jeopardizes more than $40 million in private donations, as well as historic preservation tax credits. "The idea that somehow there’s going to be more money falling from space
or that this money will be put forward for an alternate plan is a
fallacious assumption," McDonald told the Cincinnati Business Courier. "That money has been committed to us personally
for this plan.”Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld called the development “frustrating.”“I’m not here to add gasoline to the fire, but I think logic is a fair expectation of our elected leaders, and after people have said repeatedly that plans haven’t been vetted, that questions haven’t been answered, they’ve now moved forward with something that has no vetting,” Sittenfeld said, referring to criticisms of the original plan by anti-tax groups like COAST. “I hope people don’t forget what happened eight blocks from City Hall anytime soon.” Monzel said that the plan's details would
be worked out in the coming weeks, and that he wants to keep the county
from overextending itself. “If we limit the scope and focus on the one building that we do have a
history with and limit it to five years, we limit our exposure and can
be able to handle some of these other issues down the road,” he said. Council members said that the city has stepped up to take care of the buildings in the past. “Going back through the real-estate records, it’s clear that time and time again the city has stepped forward,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn. He highlighted the city’s rescue of Union Terminal from a failed plan to turn it into a mall in the 1980s. The city bought the building from a developer after the plan crashed and burned. Flynn also said the city has made significant contributions to 136-year-old Music Hall's upkeep since the 1800s.
by German Lopez
Officials push to keep early voting downtown, Portune flounders, Ohio joblessness rate falls
Mayor John Cranley yesterday offered free space to the
Hamilton County Board of Elections at the city-owned Shillito’s building
to keep the board’s offices and early voting downtown. The idea comes
in the middle of a debate between Democrats and Republicans on the
Board of Elections over whether they should move their offices — and early
voting — to a Mount Airy facility, where only one bus line runs, to
consolidate county services and avoid the cost
of rent. Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann said there
won’t be enough occupancy at the Mount Airy location if the Board of
Elections decides not to move there. For the county, a certain amount of
occupancy must be filled at Mount Airy to financially justify the move
and the renovations it would require. Without the move, the county will
need to find another location or means to build a new county crime lab.Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune yesterday
refused to announce whether he will actually run against gubernatorial
candidate Ed FitzGerald in a Democratic primary, even though he told The Cincinnati Enquirer
the day before that he already made a decision. At this point,
Portune’s lack of organization and name recognition means his chances of beating FitzGerald are slim to none.Ohio’s December unemployment rate dropped to 7.2
percent from 7.4 percent the month before. The amount of employed
and unemployed both increased compared to the previous year. The
state of the economy could decide this year’s statewide elections, even if state
officials aren’t to credit or blame for economic conditions, as CityBeat covered here.It is perfectly legal to forgive back taxes in Hamilton
County. Supporters argue the practice removes a tax burden that likely
wasn’t going to get paid anyway, but opponents worry it could be misused and take away
revenue from schools and other public services that rely on property
taxes.A Hamilton County court ruled against the legality of automated traffic cameras in Elmwood Place. Officials plan to appeal the ruling.More than 10,000 Ohioans lost food stamps this month after
Gov. John Kasich declined to request a federal waiver for work requirements.
Hamilton County officials estimate Kasich’s decision could affect 18,000
food stamp recipients across the county.A new Ohio House bill delays the transition from the Ohio
Graduation Test to new end-of-course exams. The delay aims to provide
more time to vet the tests and allow schools to better prepare for the
changes.Local home sales improved by nearly 21 percent during 2013, according to the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors.The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
reported 3 percent more passengers and 9 percent more cargo traffic in
2013.Ohioans spent 5.8 percent more on liquor in 2013 compared
to the year before, reaching a new record in yearly purchases of liquor
across the state.The Cincinnati Entertainment Awards return this Sunday.Telling people they slept better than they did improves their performance on math and word association tests.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Board of Elections considering move to Mount Airy facility
Mayor John Cranley on Thursday offered the Hamilton County Board of Elections free space at the city-owned Shillito’s building to keep their offices and early voting
The offer comes in the middle of a contentious debate
between Democrats and Republicans on the Board of Elections over whether
the county should move the board to a former hospital at Mount Airy,
where only one bus line runs.The Board of Elections currently rents its offices from a private landlord. Moving to the Mount Airy facility would place the board on county-owned property and allow the county to avoid paying rent.
Along with the Board of Elections move, the county wants
to establish a new crime lab at the Mount Airy location. Consolidating
the crime lab and Board of Elections at the Mount Airy facility would
provide the critical mass necessary to financially justify the move and
the renovations it would require, according to county officials.
To solve the critical mass issue if the board moves to the
former Shillito’s building instead, Cranley, a Democrat, said he’s willing to look into
moving some city police services, including SWAT operations, to the
Mount Airy facility.But Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican, told CityBeat the offer probably won’t satisfy the county’s needs.
“Without the Board of Elections coming with the crime lab, that’s not enough occupancy,” he said. “There would be some good potential co-location opportunities with the city (at the Mount Airy facility), but not enough to take up 400,000 square feet.”Hartmann said it’s now up to the Board of Elections to accept or reject the Mount Airy facility. If the board declines to move to Mount Airy, Hartmann explained the county would likely drop the Mount Airy plan and the county coroner would go without a new crime lab.
For the city, Cranley’s offer raises questions about what other potential uses exist for the Shillito’s building, given the high property demand downtown. But Cranley said there’s
currently no credible attempt at marketing the facility for other uses.
“The building is vacant, and we spend over $100,000 a year
just to maintain a vacant building,” Cranley said. “I believe that
getting someone in there that takes a significant amount of space is
going to open up the rest of the building, which would be over 200,000
square feet, to make it more marketable. I think long-term it would be
better for the city financially.”
He added, “In the short-term I think there are some things
more important than money. And I think the symbolism of keeping the
Board of Elections and voting downtown is just worth it.”City Council appears to agree with the mayor. Shortly after Cranley announced his offer, council passed a symbolic resolution opposing the Mount Airy move.
From an electoral perspective, part of the issue is which
voting location would favor Democrats or Republicans. Democrats tend to
dominate in urban areas like downtown, while Republicans could benefit
from a facility in Mount Airy that’s closer to suburban voters.
State Rep. Alicia Reece, who joined Cranley for the
announcement, tried to defuse concerns that she, Cranley and other Democrats are
trying to keep voting downtown for electoral gains.
“The reality is the Board of Elections at its current
location has declared both Democrat and Republican winners of
elections,” Reece said. “I think the focus is to just make sure that we
have a facility that everyone can have access to, whether you’re driving
or whether you’re on the bus.”