WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 03.09.2015 22 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Mornings News and Stuff

New home for crime lab?; Seelbach pushes for streetcar plans uptown; is it time to abolish Ohio's death penalty?

Hey all! Hope your weekend was great. I spent my Saturday at the Neighborhood Summit, so mine was super fun because I’m a huge dork. If you’re like me and you’re into community building, urban planning, transit, or anything else at all city related, though, it’s kind of like our Midpoint. Highlights included a three-part panel discussion among Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell, activists Damon Lynch III and Iris Roley and other experts talking about how far the Cincinnati Police Department has come since 2001, as well as another set of presentations about immigration in Cincinnati. Anyway, on to the news. Could labs on Cincinnati’s East Side currently occupied by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health be a new home for the Hamilton County crime lab? County Commissioner Todd Portune says he’s looking into that possibility. Last month, the federal government announced it was providing $100 million to build a new facility for NIOSH to combine the organization’s two labs in Cincinnati into one complex over the next few years. That could free up plenty of lab space for the county’s cramped and outdated morgue and crime labs, currently in a building built in the early 1970s. What’s more, some of that $100 million could go toward renovating the current NIOSH lab so the county crime lab could move in. The idea comes after county commissioners killed a plan to move the morgue, crime lab and other county offices to a former Mercy Hospital in Mount Airy donated to the county for a dollar. Commissioners have said it would cost too much money to retrofit that building for the new offices.• A statewide task force on police-community relations put together by Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the wake of controversy over police shootings is coming to Cincinnati tonight. A public listening session will be held at 4:30 p.m. at the Kingsgate Marriott, 151 Goodman Drive, near the University of Cincinnati. City Locals Councilwoman Amy Murray, Pastor Damon Lynch III and others make up the panel, which will produce a report in April on ways to improve relationships between police and community members. Kasich ordered the task force in December in response to nationwide consternation over police shootings of unarmed citizens of color across the country. In Ohio, the August shooting death of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart and the October killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice on a playground in Cleveland have gotten national attention. Both held toy guns at the time of their deaths, and police say they seemed to pose a threat. But the families of both Rice and Crawford say police were reckless and did not act appropriately. They say the shootings are indicative of a larger cultural problem between police and communities of color.• As political bickering continues to swirl around the streetcar’s first phase, Councilman Chris Seelbach is pushing the city to work on planning the rail project’s next leg. Seelbach has created a motion in council seeking to spur the city to begin work on plans that would take the streetcar uptown toward the University of Cincinnati and many of the city’s hospitals. The motion directs the city administration to give detailed accounting of how much the next phase of the project would cost and how it might be paid for with state and federal grants. Seelbach has also requested the city refine its process for engaging community members along the route to get better input on the project. Originally, plans for the streetcar treated the downtown loop currently being  built and an uptown jaunt as one phase. But then Gov. John Kasich pulled $55 million in state funding for the project, resulting in the current scaled-down scope. Mayor John Cranley, who has been a vocal opponent of the streetcar, has said it’s much too soon to begin focusing on the next phase before the first is even finished. But Seelbach and other supporters say the only way to tap into federal funds and other sources of funding is to have a plan in place and ready to go.• Sen. Sherrod Brown, one of Ohio’s highest-profile Democrats, has endorsed former Gov. Ted Strickland in his run for the state’s other senate seat, currently held by Republican Rob Portman. That’s not a surprise — Strickland is one of Ohio’s other super high profile Democrats — but it does signal the challenge City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has ahead as he challenges Strickland in the Democratic primary for the seat. Sittenfeld, who announced his candidacy last month, has recently said he won’t back down from the race despite his big name competitor. He’s raised at least $500,000 for his run and told supporters last week that he’s all in for the fight. Though Brown endorsed Strickland, he was careful to praise Sittenfeld in his announcement, saying the 30-year-old has a bright future in politics. • In the face of issues around execution drugs, a steady number of exonerations of those on Ohio’s death row and other factors, is it time to consider reforming or abolishing Ohio’s death penalty? Many feel strongly that it is, including unlikely conservative opponents to the punishment. Recent delays to executions caused by Ohio’s struggle to find a source for drugs that will end an inmate’s life humanely have renewed calls for the state to reconsider its death penalty entirely. This Columbus Dispatch story takes a deep look into the issue and is worth a read. • Finally, March 7 marked the 50th anniversary of the violent clash between police and protesters in Selma, Alabama, an event that helped fuel new national civil rights legislation, including the Voting Rights Act. Thousands visited Selma over the weekend to commemorate the anniversary, which was marked by passionate speeches by both President Barack Obama and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder used his speech to question the future of the VRA, parts of which have been dismantled by recent Supreme Court decisions. Here’s a pretty in-depth New York Times piece about events in Selma over the past few days. That’s it for me. You know the drill. Tweet (@nswartsell), e-mail (nswartsell@citybeat.com), comment, send me a telegram or a fax (do people still fax? Is that still a thing?) Here we go. Tweet me about whether you still use a fax machine or even know what a fax machine is. I kind of do.
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 03.04.2015 27 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

3CDC eyes Ziegler Park; streetcar contract drama; an unclear sentence could cost millions their healthcare

Hey all. Let’s get this news thing going before the snow comes once again and grinds everything to a halt. Or just dusts the ground with a little inconvenient powder, depending on how much you trust weather forecasters. Yesterday I told you a bit about 3CDC’s presentation to City Council’s Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee. During that meeting, 3CDC head Steven Leeper said the developer might cross the $1 billion threshold this year for investment made in the basin since it began in 2003. Let’s dig into my notes a bit and talk in more detail about a couple things regarding Over-the-Rhine the developers have planned. One of the noteworthy projects on the group’s radar is a redevelopment of Ziegler Park on Sycamore Street. The park is across from the former SCPA building and just a block from Main Street’s active corridor of restaurants, bars and apartments. 3CDC head Steve Leeper said Ziegler’s revamp would increase the number of basketball courts and other active features currently found there. Removal of the courts at Washington Park during its 2010 revamp by 3CDC caused controversy among neighborhood residents, many of whom used the courts regularly. Leeper promised that while Washington Park’s character is more “passive” in nature, Ziegler would be a much more “active” park.“There will be a lot more athletic activities going on there,” Leeper said, “and hopefully it will attract kids from the neighborhood who can spend their time in those athletic endeavors like we all did when we were kids."• Leeper also outlined progress on three facilities for individuals without homes — two in Queensgate set to replace the Drop Inn Center and City Gospel Mission facilities currently in Over-the-Rhine and a third in Mount Auburn built to replace the Anna Louise Inn downtown. These projects have been controversial — advocates fought hard for years to keep the Drop Inn Center at its location in OTR and a protracted legal battle stretched on for many months between Cincinnati Union Bethel, which runs the Anna Louise Inn in Lytle Park, and Western & Southern Financial Group, which eventually purchased the property against CUB’s wishes. The new spaces are a bit further from the city’s center, though they do have a larger capacity. • Speaking of the Drop Inn Center, its winter shelter will be open the rest of this week in response to dropping temperatures, according to a release sent out by the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Usually, the winter shelter is closed by this time of year, but with winter taking its time going away, the shelter will stay open a bit longer. • Here we go again: More streetcar drama could be coming our way. There is currently a potential fight brewing over who will operate the transit project. Council has set a limit of $4.3 million a year on bids for running the streetcar. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority is taking bids on the contract, and there’s controversy over whether to use union employees for the job or not. Some council members favor that move, even if it costs a bit more, and they’ve asked  SORTA to negotiate with the Amalgamated Transit Union, which also runs the city’s bus service. But ATU has accused SORTA of dragging its feet on contract negotiations and trying to undercut the union by demanding a separate collective bargaining agreement for running the streetcar. SORTA says a separate agreement is necessary because the scale of the streetcar — just 30 employees at most — is much smaller than 750 people who run the city’s bus service. Union officials, however, says that SORTA is trying to get the lowest bid possible out of the union in order to drive other bids down as well. My guess is we’ll be hearing a lot more on this one. A decision must be made on the operator of the project by July. • Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld today said he will stay in the race for U.S. Senate, ending speculation he might bow out after former governor Ted Strickland entered the race last week. Sittenfeld will face Strickland in the Democratic primary. The winner will face incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, unless he is felled by a primary challenger — an unlikely possibility. “Since we launched our campaign, I have been more grateful than I can express for the enthusiasm, encouragement and support we've received,” Sittenfeld said today in a statement on social media and his website. “So I want you — my supporters and friends — to hear it from me directly: I'm all in. Ohio needs a forward-looking leader to replace Rob Portman and the broken culture in Washington that he's long been part of.”
• You might be able to walk around The Banks with a bit of the ole’ alcheyhol on Opening Day. For a while now, lawmakers in Ohio have been trying to pass legislation that would allow cities to designate open container districts where folks can have a beer out in public. It looks like the legislation is good to go, with enough support at the State House, and now local officials are telling the Ohio General Assembly to hurry the dang thing up so we can chug a couple Moerleins in public to celebrate the Reds beating the Pirates April 6. The bill looks likely to pass the House, hopefully with the two-thirds vote margin needed to put it into effect immediately. Local State Sens. Democrat Cecil Thomas and Republican Bill Seitz have introduced a bill in the Senate to speed the process up there as well. Now that’s what I call bipartisanship. If the bill passes, council will have to scramble to create and approve the districts, one of which looks likely to be the area around the stadium. Ladies and gentlemen, you have a month. Get to work.• Hey! Do you want people fracking in state parks? It could happen soon whether you like it or not. Four years ago, Gov. John Kasich signed into law a provision allowing fracking on state land. He then pulled a fast one and declined to fund the commission that would give drillers approval for fracking permits on that land, basically circumventing the law he signed. Very clever. But the Ohio General Assembly, which is currently dominated by pro-fracking Republicans, is working to pass a bill called House Bill 8 that would bypass that commission. Proponents of the bill say it’s meant to help private landowners who want to sell drilling rights to wells that might end up under state land. But critics note that under the current version of the bill, so called “surface impacts,” or drilling directly on state land, are not outlawed and would be permissible if the law passes. The bill heads to committee next week and looks to pass there, after which it will be considered by the whole House. • In national news, Supreme Court arguments begin in King vs. Burwell today, a lawsuit which could revoke health care subsidies for 7.5 million people currently signed up under the Affordable Care Act under the federal exchange. The core of the case is the contention that the language of the 2009 law does not allow the federal government to issue subsidies to people who went through the federal exchange, and that only those living in states that created their own exchanges are eligible for government help with their health care bills. It’s a nitpicky suit turning on a few words in a turn of phrase, but it could completely unravel Obamacare by making it unaffordable for those in the 34 states that did not or could not establish their own health care exchanges online. Many agree that’s the point of the suit, in fact — another attempt to repeal the healthcare system by throwing a legal wrench into its works. Just think! A pedantic semantics debate could leave millions without access to health care. And you thought clear writing wasn’t important.That’s it for me. Hit me with those tweets and those e-mails: @nswartsell or nswartsell@citybeat.com
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 01.07.2015 83 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar fund healthier than thought; Boehner wins speakership again, proposes fruit ladders to the stars; Ferguson grand juror sues St. Louis County prosecutor

Hey all! My colleague, CityBeat arts editor Jac Kern, just got engaged over the holiday and there’s champagne everywhere in the office right now. Congrats! Now I’m going to try to power through the distraction to bring you the news because I’m a soldier like that.So the streetcar contingency budget, which is set aside for unforeseen complications and cost overruns, is healthier than previously thought, officials announced yesterday. Last month, streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced that the worst-case scenarios his office ran had the fund down to about $80,000 after everything was paid out. But after some political blowback, especially from streetcar foe Mayor John Cranley, Deatrick and company went back to the drawing board, reassessed costs and adjusted that figure. The new estimate is that the contingency fund has about $1.3 million left. What changed? Not much. Deatrick says the streetcar team renegotiated some contracts and scaled back a fence around the streetcar substation. That fence was set to be solid brick, but will now be partially steel. Some council members, including Chris Seelbach, expressed concerns that the project was being scaled back due to political pressure, but officials with the project say it will run the same distance with the same number of cars for the same amount of time and that it hasn’t been scaled back in any meaningful way.• As the weather gets colder, demands on area homeless shelters are increasing, straining space available for those with nowhere else to go. While a funding increase council passed last month has given area shelters more money to work with, demand may outpace the increase."The demand for winter shelter has been greater than expected this winter," Strategies to End Homelessness President and CEO Kevin Finn said in a statement. "... Such increased and early demand could exhaust resources that we hope will last us through February."• Local grilled cheese dynamo Tom + Chee is expanding, its founders report, with plans to open five new restaurants in Southern Texas, mostly in suburbs of Houston. The company has partnered with the Tunica-Biloxi tribe to bring the restaurants to the region. The new restaurants will join 13 others in Georgia, Nebraska, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee. • Northern Kentucky residents who have been touched by the region’s heroin epidemic took their concerns to the Kentucky state capitol in Frankfurt yesterday. One-hundred-thirty Northern Kentuckians came to the rally asking for changes to state laws that could cut down the number of heroin overdose deaths. Among the policy changes advocates are asking for: repeal of a law that keeps Kentucky police from carrying anti-overdose drugs like Narcan. Police in Cincinnati and many other cities carry the drugs, which can mean the difference between life and death for overdose victims. A new program in Kentucky will give state funds to three hospitals to provide Narcan kits to emergency overdose patients, including St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Fort Thomas. The hospital was chosen due to the high number of overdose victims it treats. • It’s official. Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, has lived to fight another day as speaker of the house. Boehner held the most powerful perch in the House despite challenges from the far-right wing of the Republican party, who hold that he didn’t do enough to repeal Obamacare and cut the federal budget. Tea party-affiliated reps had a similar mutiny attempt last session, in 2013, when 12 voted against Boehner for speaker. This time, opposition doubled, as 24 conservative House members voted against him. Boehner still coasted to a win, but the drama highlights the continued fissures in the party. Even as it grows more powerful— the 246 seats Republicans hold in the House are the most they’ve had since the 1940s — it’s clear there’s little agreement about what should be done with that power. Perhaps in reflection of this mixed-up mindset, Boehner offered this lumpy, ill-formed bag of metaphors on the House floor after his win.“So let’s stand tall and prove the skeptics wrong,” Boehner said. “May the fruits of our labors be ladders our children can use to climb to the stars.”Fruit ladders to the stars, y’all.Boehner was quick to deal out discipline to members who voted against him, having two Republicans who voted against him kicked off the House’s powerful rules committee, which sets the agenda for the House. • One of the grand jurors in the Darren Wilson case is suing the St. Louis County prosecutor over what he says were misleading statements about the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson. Prosecutor Robert McCullough presented evidence to the grand jury after the August shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown by Ferguson Police officer Wilson. The grand jury member accuses McCullough of misleading the public about the grand jury’s deliberations and is asking to be able to speak publicly about the case in his suit. The juror, who so far has remained anonymous, is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. Brown’s shooting along with other police shootings of unarmed black citizens have triggered civil unrest and activism around the country. • Finally, this isn’t really news related but I have to share it anyway. Here are the ladies of Downton Abby, which just started a new season, playing Cards Against Humanity. Warning: it gets a lil raunchy. Also, you’re welcome.
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.31.2014 90 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.
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.18.2014 103 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Morning News and Stuff

Council passes tax deals; big announcement on Music Hall; this coffee has a little something extra

Hey y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of the news this morning before I have to fly out the door to cover a few things. • City Council yesterday voted to approve a number of property tax-related items we’ve already reported on. But here are the cliff notes. Among the bigger ones was a controversial move to create two tax increment financing districts around properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer. The group has said it will be making big improvements to the area and asked the city to create the TIF districts to fund infrastructure improvements in the districts. Some critics have called this a tax abatement, but in reality, Neyer will stay pay taxes — they’ll just end up in a fund earmarked for public works projects around their buildings instead of flowing into the general fund, where they could be used for police, transit, etc. Council also passed an amendment at the request of Councilwoman Yvette Simpson requiring council approval of all expenditures from the fund. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the TIF districts.• City Council also unanimously passed a 15-year tax abatement for a project in Clifton Heights by Gilbane Development Co. that will bring 180 units of student housing to the neighborhood. The abatement, which could be worth up to $12 million, is for the building’s proposed environmentally-friendly Silver LEED certification. Council voted unanimously for the tax break. This project was also controversial, as a number of residents in Clifton Heights say such developments are changing the character of the neighborhood.• Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots group responsible for pushing the streetcar forward last winter, is holding a rally today to launch an effort pushing council to make plans for the streetcar’s extension into uptown. City administration so far has no plans for such a study until the first phase of the project is complete and can be evaluated. Believe in Cincinnati would like to see the next phase planned soon so that the project can apply for grants and find other funding.The rally will be at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Race and Elder streets near Findlay Market. "Why shouldn't we get those scarce federal dollars for transit instead of another city? If we don't have a plan, we won't be considered," said the group’s leader Ryan Messer to the Cincinnati Business Courier.• Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, Mayor John Cranley will hold a news conference at Music Hall, where he’s likely to announce that the landmark has won an Ohio historic tax credit worth millions. Representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office and the Ohio Development Services Office will also speak at the press conference, along with state Sen. Bill Seitz. The grant is worth up to $25 million. Music Hall has been competing with Cleveland’s Huntington Building and May Co. department store and the former Goodyear Tire Co. headquarters in Akron. The historic hall, which is home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a number of other cultural institutions, needs $123 million in renovations. Funding efforts so far are still $40 million short. The state tax credit could go a long way toward filling that gap.UPDATE: Music Hall will get the full $25 million tax credit.• The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is investigating a grant program for public schools recently put forward by Gov. John Kasich. The Community Connections mentorship program conditions receipt of the grant on public schools’ collaboration with religious institutions, something the ACLU says may be violate separation of church and state under the constitution. The group is investigating the program further. “The First Amendment of the Constitution provides very strong protection against the government imposing religion upon children in public schools,” said Heather Weaver of the ACLU Program on Religious Freedom and Belief in a news release. “This new program appears to disregard those protections and injects religion into our classrooms.”• Continually low wages and changes to federal food assistance programs have been a one-two punch for low-income families in Ohio, a new study finds. The combination of stagnant pay and cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enacted last year mean that Ohioans lost access to the equivalent of 195 million meals since November of last year, according to research by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which provides food assistance across the state. The study showed that 50 percent of households receiving food assistance have at least one member who is employed; it also showed that many of those recipients are underemployed and received no boost in wages from the year prior. Tied to the $265 million cut to the SNAP program Congress enacted last year, that’s left many families worse off than they have been before. The cuts have other repercussions as well, according to the group.“Our network and the people we serve can’t afford to absorb any more spending tradeoffs, reductions, or harmful policy changes,” said OAF Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt. “The loss of $265 million in entirely federally-funded SNAP benefits has already had an astronomical economic impact. Every $5 in federal expenditures of SNAP benefits generates $9 in local spending, so this loss of SNAP benefits has not only impacted the food budgets of low-income families — it has also led to an estimated $477 million in lost revenue for grocers and retailers and lost economic growth.”• If you need a way to boost productivity around the office, well, this is one way to get that done. Or it might just start a ton of fights and paranoid ramblings. Actually, maybe just steer clear of this “enhanced” coffee shipped to Germany recently.
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.16.2014 105 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

City tax deals for developers draw scrutiny; streetcar passes selling briskly; Bush vs. Clinton: the rematch?

Good morning all. It’s like, 8 a.m. and I’ve already experienced utter, terrifying confusion today. Normally that doesn’t happen until at least noon. Earlier, I woke up to a loud, continuous peal of thunder, which stupefied me in my half-awake state because it’s, you know, December and that usually doesn’t happen. I thought my house was falling down or exploding or something. Then I fell back asleep.Anyway, news time. Is the city doing some shady dealing on tax breaks? City Council’s Neighborhood Committee yesterday approved a number of property tax deals city officials say will help spur development and job growth. The committee is made up of all members of Council, so passage here means the measures are pretty much a done deal. Some critics, however, question whether the tax deals are in the city’s best interest. Drawing special scrutiny was a pair of proposed TIF districts in Queensgate and the West End. The narrowly drawn districts would encompass properties owned by Evanston-based developer Neyer, which is mulling some as-yet-unnamed but said to be large-scale improvements to the property. The TIF measures would set aside property taxes paid on those improvements for public infrastructure projects within the districts, instead of that money flowing into the city’s general fund. The measures were last minute additions to the agenda, and some, including downtown resident Kathy Holwadel, are suspicious. Holwadel penned an opinion piece for the Cincinnati Enquirer pointing out that the city doesn’t have any idea what it will use the TIF money for, which is unusual. Others have pointed out that various members of the Neyer family were Mayor John Cranley's second-largest donors during last year's mayoral election, kicking him more than $26,000. Critics ask if the administration is giving the developer special deals.The TIF districts don't represent out-and-out tax exemptions and Council will still have to vote on future uses of the taxes put in the TIF fund.Councilwoman Yvette Simpson at the meeting yesterday raised concerns that the TIF money would only go toward projects that benefit the developer and suggested a larger TIF district that would allow the city to spend the collected money on a wider area. City officials say state laws have limited the amount of money larger TIF districts can accumulate. Simpson abstained on the vote. Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the districts. • The committee also approved a number of other tax deals, including a 15-year, $12 million tax exemption for Gilbane Development Co. on its proposed development project in Clifton Heights. This project has also been controversial, with residents saying there is already too much student-oriented housing like the Gilbane project in the neighborhood. Stay tuned for our in-depth story on that in the print edition tomorrow.• The family of John Crawford III will file a lawsuit against the officers involved in his shooting as well as the Walmart corporation. Crawford was shot by police officer Sean Williams in a Beavercreek Walmart while carrying a pellet gun Aug. 5. The family's attorneys, as well as Crawford's father, will announce more details about the lawsuit at a news conference at 11 a.m. today in Dayton.• The special edition Cincinnati streetcar passes Metro is offering have raised more than $40,000 so far, the department reports. The commemorative metal cards get riders 15, 30 or 60 days of unlimited rides on the streetcar for $25, $50 and $100, respectively. If you’re still thinking about getting one, better hurry — 1,000 of the 1,500 cards produced have already sold.• Would you kayak in the Ohio River? If so, you’ll be excited about this. The Covington City Commission will decide today whether to enter into a partnership with Queen City Water Sports Club to design and build a facility on the former location of Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant where people can rent canoes and kayaks. The boat that housed Waterfront sank in August, and now the city is looking for new uses for the property where it was docked. • Former Hamilton County Commissioner and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper looks likely to become the Ohio Democratic Party’s next chairman after his closest opponent, former lieutenant governor candidate Sharen Neuhardt, dropped out of the race yesterday. Pepper ran for attorney general in the last election but was beaten by incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. If he wins, he’ll replace outgoing chair Chris Redfern, who resigned after the Democrats faced big losses in November.• Nineties nostalgia is so hot right now. Doc Martens are on every foot. People are listening to Soundgarden unironically again. Flannel shirts, etc. If you’re really wanting to party like it’s 1992 again, though, you may soon get your chance. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is looking more and more like he’s going to jump into the race to become the Republican nominee for the presidency. He’s releasing a book. He’s raising some cash. His most likely opponent? Democratic nominee frontrunner Hillary Clinton, of course. If those last names don’t ring a deep, deja-vu inducing bell, don’t worry. Those Bush vs. Clinton tees are going to look great at an Urban Outfitters near you. America: where anyone can become president, but especially anyone from a wealthy political dynasty. Woo!
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.10.2014 111 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar fund may dwindle; Ohio Board of Education nixes "5 of 8" rule; will Congress meet its budget deadline?

Hey all. I’m about to run out and cover a bunch of stuff, but here’s a quick hit list of what’s up today.The streetcar’s contingency construction budget may only have about $80,000 unaccounted for, project executive John Dietrick announced yesterday. It started with nearly $8 million. That low number is a worst-case projection, but with 21 months left until construction is finished, it's a very slim cushion. Part of the problem: The city spent $1 million from that fund covering the costs of delaying the streetcar while fighting over whether to continue the project last winter.• UC students have been staging so-called “die in” demonstrations over the past few days in protest against police shootings of unarmed black citizens. Another one will take place today at noon in the university’s Medical Sciences Building.• Former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter will have to wait for an appeal on her felony convictions from jail, Judge Norbert Nadel ruled yesterday. Hunter was convicted on one felony count of having an unlawful interest in a public contract over allegedly interceding in the firing of her brother, a court employee. A jury hung on eight other felony counts in her trial. Hunter’s supporters say she’s a victim of politics as the county’s first black juvenile court judge. She faces six months in jail.• State lawmakers have squashed, for now, a highly restrictive “heartbeat bill” that would have made abortions illegal in Ohio after a fetus has a detectable heartbeat. A vote on the bill was killed by conservative lawmakers who feel the law may be unconstitutional. They say they fear court challenges to the bill could endanger Ohio’s other abortion restrictions. • The Ohio Board of Education agreed yesterday to strike down the state’s so-called “5 of 8” rule that required schools to hire specialized positions like art teachers and librarians. Boosters say the move gives local districts more control over their budgets, but opponents say it will make it easier for cash-strapped schools to eliminate necessary staff. The bill will next go to the state legislature for approval before coming back to the board for a final vote in March.• We all have deadlines. Congress’ deadline is Thursday, when our current, hard-won federal budget expires. And while it looks like there won’t be a big, destructive fight over the budget this year resulting in a weeks-long shutdown like last year, it also looks equally likely that Congress won’t get the job done in time. While key congressional leaders agreed last night on a trillion-dollar deal, there are still a lot of bumps in the road before the legislation makes it to the president’s desk.
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.09.2014 112 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati police to get body cameras; early streetcar pass available; Ark Park wants to correct "myths"

All right y’all. After a brief delay while I listened to a presentation about health insurance (as captivating as it sounds) I’m here with the news this morning. Cincinnati’s 600-strong uniformed police force will eventually be equipped with body cameras after a seven-month pilot program involving West Side officers wrapped up this week. The move comes as activists around the country call for more police accountability in the wake of recent police shootings of unarmed citizens. Cincinnati’s body camera program will cost anywhere from $500,000 to $2 million depending on which vendor the city chooses. Cincinnati City Council’s Law and Public Safety committee has pledged to help find funds, and Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell will be making a trip to Washington to ask the federal government for some of the money as well. Officers involved in the pilot program said the cameras they tested aren’t perfect and expressed concerns about privacy for victims of crime and whether what is filmed will end up as public record.  Some activists around the country have called for federal rules requiring police wear body cameras, and President Barack Obama announced last week an plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to help equip police departments with the technology. Others, however, question the efficacy of the method, pointing to the death of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a choke hold by police in July. The officer who placed Garner in a headlock was not indicted by a grand jury despite video footage of the incident.• Though the streetcar is months away from being operational, you can still give the transit fanatic (or skeptic) in your life a rail-themed Christmas gift. Starting today, SORTA is offering a commemorative early pass for the Cincinnati streetcar allowing unlimited rides for periods of time after the streetcar opens. You can get the $25 card for those members of your family who are afraid of downtown and with whom you argued about the streetcar this Thanksgiving. Maybe some free rides will change their minds. Or they’ll hate it and give it to you to use. Win-win. They, or you, will be able to ride cost-free for the first 15 days the streetcar is operating. You can step it up for the serious streetcar supporter and get the $50 or $100 cards, which give the recipient 30 and 60 days of fare-free riding, respectively. These are the first physical items issued to the public for the transit project, which I’m sure will be interesting to some folks.• Answers in Genesis, the religious group behind a controversial Noah’s Ark theme park in Grant County, Ky., has launched a billboard campaign it says seeks to correct “myths” about the project. The park has raised eyebrows because it could receive state tax credits even though its parent company makes its employees sign statements affirming their Christian religious beliefs. If the park did the same with prospective employees, it would not be eligible for help from the state. The state’s Tourism Development Finance Authority has preliminarily approved a 10-year tax incentive package for the park that could be worth up to $18 million on the $73 million project. National advocates for the separation of church and state have cried foul at the deal, saying it violates state and federal non-discrimination laws. The Ark group, however, says they’ll comply with those laws for the park. They’re fighting back with 16 billboards in Frankfort, Louisville and Lexington directing people to their website. They’ve also sprung for an electronic billboard ad running in New York City’s Times Square for some reason."With this new billboard campaign, the attention-grabbing wording will get people to visit our website, where they will discover the truth about our full-size Ark and learn how some intolerant people are trying to keep it from succeeding," the group said in an email news release. • The Ohio Board of Education will meet today and discuss eliminating rules that require public schools in Ohio to hire art and music teachers, librarians and other specialized staff. The so-called “5 of 8” rule could be on the chopping block because some local control advocates say it amounts to an unfunded mandate on local schools from the state. However, those who support the rule say it ensures that all schools have faculty who can teach vital subjects and perform other necessary duties. They say eliminating the rule will hurt low-income students, whose cash-strapped schools will be most likely to drop the positions. • State Rep. Alicia Reece formally introduced the so-called “John Crawford’s Law” yesterday, which would require toy guns to be brightly colored to distinguish them from real weapons. The bill aims to prevent police shootings like the one that happened in August at a Beavercreek Walmart, where Crawford was shot while holding a BB gun. More recently, Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old, was shot and killed for holding a toy pistol on a playground in Cleveland. In a puzzling addition, the law would also limit where a person can carry a BB gun, even though Ohio remains an open carry state where you can tote around your real gun almost anywhere you please.
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 12.03.2014 118 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Hunter won't get new trial; Reds bling for sale; Republicans sink tax cuts for low-income

Hey all. Here’s the news this morning.Former Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter won’t get a new trial, a judge has ruled. Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel has denied all three of Hunter’s motions for retrial after she was convicted last month of one of eight felony counts in relation to her time as judge. Since her conviction, three jurors have recanted their guilty verdicts, however, and Hunter’s attorney has alleged procedural mistakes mean she should get a new trial. With those motions denied, Hunter will be sentenced this Friday. She plans to file an appeal on her conviction.• Cincinnati must pay Duke Energy $15 million for moving utilities that stood in the way of the streetcar, a Hamilton County judge ruled Monday. The city already had that money in escrow as it awaited the ruling but plans to appeal Judge Carl Stich’s decision. That’s a good move, according to former city solicitor John Curp. Curp says the way Stich decided the case — by declaring the streetcar an “economic development project” — could set a hard precedent for other Ohio cities in the future. In order for Cincinnati to avoid paying Duke to move the utilities, the project would have to be something that benefits the city’s general welfare. Stich cited cases from the 1930s and the 1950s to justify his decision. Back then, public transit was run by private companies, a much different situation than today. Curp thinks the Ohio Supreme Court might have a different opinion of the streetcar and should hear the case to set a more modern precedent on transit projects.• Do you have about $6,000 just sitting around taking up valuable space that could be used to, say, store an enormous ring? Do you need a sports-themed piece of jewelry so ostentatious no one will ever question your love for America’s favorite pastime? If so, I have a solution to both of your weird, unlikely problems. A Cincinnati Reds 1990 World Series ring has gone up for sale at a local auction house, and for a few grand you can make it yours. But be advised: It’s not Chris Sabo or Eric Davis’ ring. Heck, it’s not even Glenn Sutko’s, who saw action in one game that season. It belonged to one of the team’s part-time accountants, who I’m sure did great work counting the Reds' money. Every position is important on a winning team. Anyway, it’s big, it’s red, it has the logo on it and you should buy the ring. Or, I dunno, you could buy me a nice used car instead. Up to you.• So it’s no secret the state’s Democratic party is hurting after last month’s disastrous statewide election. Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern stepped down after losing his own state representative seat to a guy accused of burglary. Now there’s a scramble to take his spot, and former Cincinnati city councilman and recent attorney general candidate David Pepper is a frontrunner. But he’s got a challenge ahead of him  in becoming the top Dem in the state: Ohio’s powerful Sen. Sherrod Brown has backed one of his opponents, former candidate for lieutenant governor Sharen Neuhardt, for the job. Pepper still sees himself as a front-runner in the contest to lead Democrats in one of the country’s most important swing states ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The new state chair will be decided by a vote within the party Dec. 16.• Chicago City Council voted yesterday to raise the city’s minimum wage to $13 an hour over the next five years. The move was a proposal by Mayor Rahm Emanuel ahead of proposed Illinois laws that could hamstring city governments when it comes to raising minimum wages and February’s Chicago mayoral election. The boost is expected to benefit about 400,000 workers in the city. Other cities like Seattle have passed similar increases recently.• Finally, Republicans have scuttled an extension on tax cuts for low-income and middle class workers while pushing bigger corporate tax breaks. The cuts were part of a $400 billion bipartisan tax deal lawmakers in Washington were working to put together. But President Barack Obama’s announcement last month of an executive action allowing some undocumented immigrants to stay in the country has killed the deal as Republicans pull back from the low-income tax cuts like the Earned Income Tax Credit and double down on the corporate breaks. They say undocumented immigrants will take advantage of the EITC and other credits in large numbers and therefore can’t support the cuts. Translation: Obama made us mad so we’re taking the ball that keeps millions out of poverty and going home.
 
 
by Nick Swartsell 11.20.2014 131 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
todo_lit_theauthentichistoryofcincinnatichili

Morning News and Stuff

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 nswartsell@citybeat.com
 
 

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