WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.31.2014 24 days ago
Posted In: News at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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News in Review 2014

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 nswartsell@citybeat.com and @nswartsell on Twitter.
 
 

Goodbye, Cincinnati

3 Comments · Wednesday, March 5, 2014
This is my last article as a staff writer at CityBeat. At the end of the week, I will be leaving Cincinnati for Washington, D.C., to join a new journalistic venture.  

Cranley Opposes Double Dipping

0 Comments · Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Mayor says incoming assistant city manager is only eligible to receive a salary and pension benefits because of policy set by City Council.  
by German Lopez 01.10.2014
Posted In: News, Pensions, Human trafficking, Budget, Prisons at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

City looks at railroad sale, sex trafficking mapped, youth prisons combat sexual assault

Councilman Charlie Winburn, City Council’s new budget and finance chair, suggested selling the Cincinnati Southern Railroad to help pay for the city’s $870 million unfunded pension liability. But other city officials, including Mayor John Cranley, Councilman Chris Seelbach and Councilwoman Amy Murray, voiced doubts about the idea, saying it would cost the city annual revenue when there are other options for fixing the pension problem. Meanwhile, the city and state’s retirement boards appear to be looking into what it would take to merge Cincinnati’s pension system into the state system, although that solution could face political and legal hurdles. A new report from The Imagine Foundation found sex trafficking in the Cincinnati area follows the region’s spine on I-75 from Florency, Ky., to Sharonville, I-275 through Springfield and Fairfield and I-74 to Batesville, Ind. “This is real,” foundation Executive Director Jesse Bach told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “There are women and girls who are being bought and sold for sex in the Cincinnati area. The average person needs to take responsibility for what they might see. To use a sports adage, the average citizen has to be willing to say, ‘Not in our house.’ ” Gov. John Kasich and other state officials yesterday launched a public awareness campaign to combat human trafficking in Ohio at HumanTrafficking.Ohio.gov. “We may not want to admit it — it’s almost too horrific to imagine — but the fact is that human trafficking is real and is happening across Ohio. Over the past two years we’ve improved our laws to fight trafficking and begin getting victims the help they need, but we must do more,” Kasich said in a statement.In light of the public awareness campaign, some activists say human trafficking should be addressed by going after the source of demand: men.The head of the Ohio Department of Youth Services told a federal panel that his agency responded quickly and aggressively to reports of high sexual assault rates at the state’s juvenile-detention facilities. A June report found three of Ohio’s facilities had sexual assault rates of 19 percent or above, with the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility estimated at 30.3 percent — the second highest rate in the nation. Since the report, the agency increased training, hired a full-time employee devoted to the Prison Rape Elimination Act and installed a tip line for prisoners, their families and staffers, according to Director Harvey Reed.A northern Kentucky man was the first flu death of the season, prompting some tips from the Northern Kentucky Health Department.Some national Democrats see Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld as a potential congressional candidate in 2022, assuming the next round of redistricting makes the First Congressional District more competitive for Democrats. The district used to be fairly moderate, but state Republicans redrew it to include Republican stronghold Warren County in the last round of redistricting.Billions of health-care dollars helped sustain Cincinnati’s economy during the latest economic downturn, a new study found.Downtown traffic came to a crawl this morning after burst pipes sent water gushing out of the former Terrace Plaza Hotel. The U.S. economy added a measly 74,000 jobs in December in a particularly weak end to 2013. Dayton Daily News: “Five things you need to know about butt selfies.”If the law catches up, robot ships could soon become reality.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
 
 
by German Lopez 11.06.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Mayor, City Council at 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Voters elect anti-streetcar majority, pension privatization rejected, turnout at record low

Voters last night elected an anti-streetcar City Council majority and mayor, which raises questions about the $133 million project’s future even as construction remains underway. Ex-Councilman John Cranley, who ran largely on his opposition to the project, easily defeated streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls 58-42 percent, while non-incumbents Democrat David Mann, Charterite Kevin Flynn and Republican Amy Murray replaced Qualls, Laure Quinlivan and Pam Thomas on council to create a 6-3 anti-streetcar majority with Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld, Republican Charlie Winburn and Independent Chris Smitherman. Democrats Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young — all supporters of the project — also won re-election. It remains unclear if the new government will actually cancel the project once it takes power in December, given concerns about contractual obligations and sunk costs that could make canceling the project costly in terms of dollars and Cincinnati’s business reputation. Other election results: Cincinnati voters rejected Issue 4, which would have privatized Cincinnati’s pension system for city employees, in a 78-22 percent vote. Hamilton County voters overwhelmingly approved property tax levies for the Cincinnati Zoo and Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County in 80-20 percent votes. In the Cincinnati Public Schools board election, Melanie Bates, Ericka Copeland-Dansby, Elisa Hoffman and Daniel Minera won the four available seats. At 28 percent, citywide voter turnout was at the lowest since 1975, Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke told The Cincinnati Enquirer. Ohio Libertarians are threatening to sue if Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature pass a bill that would limit ballot access for minor parties. Although many of the new requirements for signatures and votes were relaxed in the Ohio House, minor parties claim the standards are still too much. Critics, who call the bill the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act,” claim the proposal exists to protect Republicans, particularly Kasich, from third-party challengers who are unhappy with the approval of the federally funded Medicaid expansion. CityBeat covered the Ohio Senate proposal in further detail here. Meanwhile, the Kasich administration stands by its decision to bypass the legislature and go through the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative panel, to enact the federally funded Medicaid expansion despite resistance in the Ohio House and Senate. The Ohio Supreme Court recently expedited hearings over the constitutional conflict, presumably so it can make a decision before the expansion goes into effect in January. Opponents of the expansion, particularly Republicans, argue the federal government can’t afford to pay for 90 to 100 percent of the expansion through Obamacare as currently planned, while supporters, particularly Kasich and Democrats, say it’s a great deal for the state that helps cover nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade. Across the state, voters approved most school levy renewals but rejected new property taxes. Maximize your caffeine: The scientifically approved time for coffee drinking is between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
 
 

CityBeat: No on Issue 4

0 Comments · Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Even above the City Council and mayoral races, Issue 4 could be the most decisive ballot item in the 2013 election. If voters approve it, Cincinnati could be ravaged by the city charter amendmen  

Private Pension Problems

Conservative study suggests tea-party backed pension amendment would reduce benefits

2 Comments · Wednesday, October 2, 2013
A conservative group’s report helps explain why most of Cincinnati’s political establishment strongly opposes a tea party-backed pension amendment.  
by German Lopez 07.23.2013
Posted In: LGBT, News, Budget, Health care at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
evolution of equality

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio must recognize gay couple, Qualls knocks pension plan, 1.25 million in state uninsured

A federal judge ruled that a state death certificate must recognize the marriage of a newlywed same-sex couple, but the order only applies to James Obergefell and John Arthur. It’s the first time a same-sex marriage is recognized in Ohio. The two men had the case expedited because Arthur is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a deadly neurological disease with no known cure. Al Gerhardstein, the attorney for the two husbands, says the ruling could be the beginning of legal challenges from gay couples inspired by the Supreme Court’s ruling against the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which could put further pressure on Ohio to legalize same-sex marriage. CityBeat covered ongoing efforts to legalize gay marriage in the state here, although the group in charge of the movement is now aiming to put the issue on the ballot in 2014, not 2013 as originally planned. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in a statement called the tea party-backed charter amendment that would revamp the city’s pension system “a wolf in sheep's clothing.” She is also requesting the city administration study the amendment’s consequences and report back to City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Aug. 5. The amendment would funnel new hires into a private retirement plan similar to what’s typically found in the private sector — except, unlike private-sector workers, city employees don’t pay into Social Security and don’t collect Social Security benefits from their years with the city. The amendment was announced less than a week after Moody’s, a credit ratings agency, downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating in part because of the city’s increasing pension liability. A poll analysis from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati suggests more than 1.25 million Ohioans are uninsured, with about 17 percent of the working-age population lacking insurance. It also found that Ohioans are increasingly reliant on public programs to obtain health benefits. The analysis looked at the Health Foundation’s 2013 Ohio Health Issues Poll. The results could spur further efforts to expand Medicaid eligibility in the state, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found would save the state money and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade. Republican legislators rejected the Medicaid expansion in the state budget, citing concerns that the federal government wouldn’t be able to uphold its 90-percent funding commitment. Gov. John Kasich wants to fast track the I-71/MLK Interchange in part by using revenue from the Ohio Turnpike’s tolls. Kasich’s recommendations, which must be approved by the state’s Transportation Review Advisory Council, add up to $107.7 million in state funds. State Rep. Peter Beck, a Mason Republican who’s facing 16 felony charges of fraud, won’t resign his seat. Twenty-eight people have applied to become Cincinnati’s next police chief. With a recent uptick in violence, many have called on the city to expedite the process of replacing James Craig, the former police chief who left for Detroit earlier in the year.Despite rising interest rates, Cincinnati-area home sales in June continued their strong trend up. For-profit entities are opening more online schools in Ohio, with the process set by state legislators to shut out public educators. A previous investigation by CityBeat found online schools tend to do worse and cost more than their peers. The city administration and social media network Nextdoor are partnering up to better link Cincinnati’s neighborhoods with the local government. The network will provide a free website for each of the city’s neighborhoods, which the city says will allow residents to “to get to know their neighbors, ask questions and exchange local advice and recommendations.” City officials plan to use the websites to regularly reach out to local citizens. Computer software from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could make the Internet three times faster.
 
 

Decision Time at City Hall

0 Comments · Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Just like a binging consumer who continues using credit cards to buy new items while making only minimum payments on the bills, Cincinnati officials now face the harsh reality of a financial problem they've tried to ignore for the past decade: properly funding the troubled pension fund for retired city employees.  

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