0 Comments · Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Cincinnati City Council on Nov. 19 passed
operating and funding agreements for the city’s streetcar, a milestone
for the contested project.
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 10:22 AM | Permalink
Council passes streetcar plans; Northside's Mayday bar goes up for sale; tell me where the chili is
Before we get to news this morning, I have a query for readers. I want to venture away from the safe world of our ubiquitous chain Cincinnati chili restaurants for a day, lovely as they are, and try a smaller, more obscure chili parlor in town for lunch. Where should I go? I’m thinking about this place, but I’m open to suggestions. I’ll report back my findings tomorrow morning.Ok, on to business. A bunch of stuff happened yesterday in City Council, but it was all stuff we sort of expected would happen, right? Council passed a streetcar operating agreement and funding mechanism, a bit of a landmark achievement for the project. After a couple years of fighting, hand-wringing and politicking, it seems like this thing is actually going to happen, funded by a roll back on property tax abatements in Over-the-Rhine, a parking meter increase there and of course rider fares. “Three months ago, I didn’t know if we’d be here today with a revenue stream,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray, who chairs Council’s transportation committee, yesterday during the meeting. Murray was opposed to the project originally, but voted for the measure along with the rest of Council minus Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman. Smitherman said he still had serious concerns about the project’s financial prospects, saying no one is sure what ridership will be like.• Who will be greeting those riders is still in question, though. A fight had been brewing over whether to employ SORTA’s unionized employees to run the streetcar or bid the work out to a private company. Consultants for the transit authority say a private company could save the city as much as $300,000 a year, though Democrats on council and representatives from SORTA’s union debate that number. Council sidestepped the argument for now by passing a resolution stating that SORTA should bid the job out to see what kind of offers it can get, but that the final decision on staffing will be voted on by council, which has so far leaned toward hiring SORTA employees. One possible arrangement: SORTA workers do the actual driving, so to speak, while a private company performs the managerial side of operating the streetcar. • Council also voted to co-name Third Street downtown Carl H. Lindner, Jr. Way. The vote was unanimous, but not without its own bit of controversy. Councilman Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly-gay councilmember, said the vote required some deep soul-searching on his part. Lindner was a big funder of Citizens for Community Values, a group that pushed for Cincinnati’s harsh Article XII anti-gay charter amendment in the 1990s. Lindner also had some other dark moments during his career, though those didn’t enter into the street-naming conversation in Council.“As a gay person, I don’t want to be judged solely on my sexual orientation,” Seelbach said. “There’s a lot to me besides my sexual orientation. And there’s a lot to Mr. Lindner besides his anti-gay history and positions. And a lot of that is really wonderful, from the jobs he created to the nonprofits he supported. Those things make me see him as a more whole person than just his anti-gay past.”Despite Seelbach's yes vote, his comments drew an angry response from Councilman Charlie Winburn, who said Lindner was something of a mentor to him.“I think it’s shameful of you to make a comment like that when a man has died and has given so much to Cincinnati.” Winburn said. Lindner passed away in 2011. “You should keep your vote. Your vote is not received." • Well then. On a less awkward note, Council also approved a liquor license request for Nick and Drew Lachey’s Lachey’s Bar in Over-the-Rhine, which is hoping to open before Thanksgiving. So there’s that. • A judge has turned down suspended Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s first two requests for a new trial. Hunter filed three motions asking for a new trial after jury members recanted their guilty verdicts. The jurors said they were pressured into their decisions. Those motions would have been heard in court today."Once a jury has returned a verdict, and that jury has been polled, a juror may not rescind their verdict," Judge Norbert Nadel wrote in his decision. Hunter was tried on nine felony counts last month, and convicted on one — a charge stemming from her allegedly passing on documents about her brother, a court employee accused of punching a juvenile inmate. The jury hung on the other counts. A judge will hear Hunter’s final motion for retrial Dec. 2. • Business opportunity alert: did you know Mayday is for sale? For $285,000 you get the bar and all of its inventory. Not a bad deal. Owners Vanessa Barber and Kim Mauer are moving on to other opportunities after five years of running the bar, which was known as the Gypsy Hut prior to their tenure there. I have a lot of fond memories playing music and billiards there, as well as climbing onto the roof of that building under both its names, so I hope someone snatches it up. I’d buy it, but I’m just a little short on cash. About, oh, $284,000 short. No worries, though, the bar will stay open until a new owner comes along.• Speaking of opportunities… if you’re a fellow scribe, heads up. The Cincinnati Enquirer is hiring in tons of positions, many of them reporters to replace those it lost during a Gannett-wide restructuring process.• Finally, our most esteemed Twitter friend John Mattress is at it again. Bacon is expensive indeed.For chili tips, or heck, even if you want to throw some news my way, hit me up on Twitter or at firstname.lastname@example.org
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 02:40 PM | Permalink
Proposal has brought up entrepreneur's controversial past
What do you do to remember a billionaire who created thousands of jobs in the city and spread millions of dollars around to various charities? What if that same guy gave generously to a group that pushed the passage of one of the country’s harshest anti-gay ordinances, hung out with the folks responsible for the saving and loan crisis in the 1990s and once ran a company that hired brutal Colombian paramilitary groups to protect its crops? Maybe name a street after him.Mayor John Cranley has proposed naming Third Street in Cincinnati “Carl H. Lindner Way” and hopes to have it pass Cincinnati City Council on Wednesday. Some in the city, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, have asked for more time and public input before the decision is made. Seelbach praised Lindner, but also criticized his stances on LGBT issues.“Carl Lindner absolutely has made our city a better place in many, many ways,” Seelbach said during a Nov. 18 transportation committee meeting, citing his economic and charitable impact. “The problem is that we were perhaps the most anti-gay city in the country because of Article XII. One of the people, if not the person, who orchestrated its passage was Carl Lindner. That’s unfortunate, and he’s not here to defend himself, and I understand that. But I have a problem elevating him to where we are now naming one of our most prominent streets after someone whose efforts caused us to be known as an intolerable place.”Seelbach said he wasn’t sure how he would vote on the issue given more time, but felt that public input on renaming the downtown thoroughfare was needed. Other council members agreed, though the measure passed out of committee and will be voted on by the full City Council tomorrow.Seelbach, along with Councilmembers Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young, abstained from voting on the measure in committee. Simpson said she wanted public input and more time to think about the vote. Young said he wasn’t aware of Lindner’s role in Article XII and wanted to find out more. There’s no doubt Lindner’s legacy is intertwined with Cincinnati’s. His name is on buildings he financed all over the city. Lindner, who died in 2011 at the age of 92, rose from meager beginnings to become one of America’s richest men, creating thousands of jobs and giving millions to charities in the area. He grew up in Norwood and started United Dairy Farmers from his family’s dairy shop. From that, his empire blossomed to include American Financial Corp., international produce corporation Chiquita, The Cincinnati Enquirer for a stretch and even the Cincinnati Reds for a few years. In 2000, he traded to bring hometown hero Ken Griffey Jr. back to Cincinnati, picking him up at Lunken Airport in one of his signature Rolls Royces. But his power had a dark side. Lindner gave big money to Citizens for Community Values, the conservative group that pushed for the city’s 1993 Article XII charter amendment. The amendment barred laws protecting LGBT residents and made Cincinnati one of the most anti-gay cities in the country until it was repealed in 2004. Lindner's son, Carl Lindner III, served on the group's advisory board . The law is now seen as a black mark on the city, an embarrassing chapter from which Cincinnati has only recently recovered.Lindner was also far from above reproach when it came to business ethics. He was very close with fellow Cincinnati captain of industry Charles Keating, another CCVer and so-called “face of the U.S. savings and loan bust,” a financial crisis in the 1990s that cost tax payers more than $3 billion. Keating was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in the crisis, though he won an appeal on a technicality and was released after four. Before all that, though, Keating helped Lindner at American Financial, Lindner’s core business. The two were charged together in 1979 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for self-dealing from the company till. Lindner paid back more than $1 million, though he never admitted wrongdoing. Lindner also oversaw other deeply troubling corporate practices, though he himself escaped implication in them. In 2007, Chiquita was fined $25 million by the federal government after it was discovered that unnamed upper-level executives there were making payments to Colombian paramilitary groups beginning in 1997, during Lindner’s tenure at the helm of the company. Those payments, to groups like AUC and FARC that terrorized Columbian citizens, were found to be in violation of U.S. anti-terrorism laws. AUC was especially violent, carrying out some of the country's largest massacres. The group was also engaged in the country's cocaine trade.Many details about shady practices at Chiquita were revealed years earlier in 1997, when The Cincinnati Enquirer published a year-long investigation it had done on the company. Chiquita slapped the paper with an immediate lawsuit because a reporter there had illegally hacked into the company's phone messaging system. The Enquirer quickly retracted the story, ran front-page apologies and paid a $10 million-plus settlement to the company. Chiquita claimed the stories were fundamentally unbalanced, though reviews by The New York Times and other national news outlets found some of the story's revelations couldn't easily be explained away. But the charges of phone hacking got most of the attention and took the air out of the Enquirer stories, as the American Journalism Review noted in a 1998 piece that gives excellent background into the relations between Lindner and Cincinnati's daily paper of record. "Chiquita has been quite successful at
blunting the impact of the Enquirer series by focusing attention on the
paper's reporting techniques," the publication said. The recent Enquirer story about the renaming of Third Street doesn't mention any of the controversy around Lindner or Chiquita.Cranley’s move to name a public street after Lindner isn’t unique. Last month, there was a half-serious suggestion by Norwood Mayor Tom Williams to rename the Norwood Lateral after the Cincinnati-born businessman. That suggestion was in response to State Sen. Eric Kerney’s proposal to name the lateral after Barack Obama, though Williams said ideally he’d leave the highway alone entirely and not rename it after anyone.Correction: an earlier version of this post referred to Carl Lindner III as president of CCV. He served on the group's advisory board, not as president.
0 Comments · Wednesday, November 19, 2014
City Council on Nov. 13 unanimously
passed a motion committing $1.5 million more to the city’s Human
Services fund in its next budget, doubling the fund’s size.
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 10:57 AM | Permalink
Next budget could double human services funding; $80 million in development for Mount Auburn; will Rand run?
Hey all, here’s what’s happening this morning. I’ll be brief. It’s Friday, and we all have stuff to do if we want to get out of work early. City Council committed to doubling human services funding in its meeting yesterday. The fund, which provides money to 54 organizations that fight poverty in the city, will go from $1.5 million to $3 million in the next city budget. That boost will bring the fund up to .84 percent of the city’s operating budget, with a goal of eventually raising it to 1.5 percent, a level the city hasn’t seen in ten years due to harsh cuts during that time. • At their respective meetings this week, both City Council and Hamilton County Commissioners agreed unanimously to create a city-county cooperation task force. The task force would look for ways to share services between the two governmental bodies. Councilman Chris Seelbach said he’d like to see the group find ways to cooperate with the region’s other municipalities as well, including places like Norwood and Saint Bernard. • Developers are looking to pour about $80 million into projects in Mount Auburn, one of the city’s more neglected neighborhoods. The area just north of Over-the-Rhine and just south of Clifton and Corryville could see new office space and apartment buildings, among other development projects. • In a way, this is the flip-side of the shared services coin: the City of Sharonville is considering doing away with its health department in order to contract services through Hamilton County Public Health. That’s upset some members of the community there. Mayor Kevin Hardman has recommended the move, and Sharonville City Council will vote on it soon. • Are you ready for a Rand Paul presidential run? The Kentucky Senator and tea party hero is about “95 percent” certain to be vying for the Republican nomination in 2016, according to this Politico story. Paul’s father, Ron Paul, is something of a libertarian folk hero who has pushed for auditing the Federal Reserve Bank, zeroing out entire departments in the federal government and other kinds of whacky ideas. The elder Paul made runs in the last two presidential elections as an independent, where he got a lot of attention but not much of the vote. Rand has combined many of his father’s libertarian ideals with a more palatable tone and connections to both establishment and tea party factions of the GOP. He’s also tried to make inroads on traditionally progressive issues, saying he wants to reform drug laws and pull back U.S. military involvement overseas. He’s gone to places where liberals are most likely to hang out— speaking at UC Berkeley and this summer’s Urban League conference in Cincinnati, for instance — in an attempt to make his case. Be prepared to see a lot more of that in the near future.• Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the political spectrum, firebrand Senator Elizabeth Warren will join Democratic leadership in that chamber, a sign the party is seeking to bring the left-leaning part of its base in closer. Warren has crusaded against big banks and their role in the financial crisis and has big populist appeal among progressives. Some of her job in her new position will be reaching out to those groups and voters as well as advising the party as a whole on policy and messaging. Some progressives have pushed her name as an alternative to Hillary Clinton for the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2016, but so far, Warren has said she’s staying out of the race.
0 Comments · Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Some of the 10,000 Cincinnatians
convicted under an unpopular and now-repealed marijuana law will now be
able to put the past behind them.
0 Comments · Wednesday, November 5, 2014
City Council voted Oct. 29 to approve
rules governing ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft, marking the
first time since the companies came here in March that they’ve been
regulated by the city.
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 29, 2014
President Barack Obama has been a
polarizing figure ever since he got on the ballot with a weird name and
started being half black.
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 10:04 AM | Permalink
Council passes a bunch of stuff; Sheriff Jones' not-so-excellent adventure; Grimes hangs out with Hillary
All right! So I’ve got some great Halloween parties lined up and it’s really hard to sit still and focus on important things. But since that’s pretty much what being a grownup is about, and since they pay me to (kind of) be a grownup around here, let’s talk about news for a few.• Though most of the action happened in committee meetings, City Council made final a bunch of things it has been working on, including funding the mayor’s Hand Up initiative. The jobs program has been controversial since the funding will come in part from other programs. Get the back story on that here. Council also gave the thumbs up for City Manager Harry Black’s proposals for the city’s $18 million budget surplus. The city will stash most of it away in savings or emergency accounts for weather and such, give some to a new data analysis office, use some to fight infant mortality and to repay neighborhood programs. Council also gave final approval to an ordinance that would make getting expungements easier for those convicted under Cincinnati’s old marijuana law. Lingering criminal records for a number of city residents mean difficulty finding jobs and getting school loans, something the new law looks to address.Finally, council passed new regulations on Uber and Lyft. You can read more about that here. Busy day. • A while back I told you about outspoken Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones taping an interview for The Daily Show. Well, this probably goes without saying, but… it didn’t go so well. It’s gotta be hard when you’re diametrically opposed to the viewpoints of the show you’re going on, and they have all the editing power, but still. It was rough. Jones, who made his way down to the belly of the liberal beast, Austin, Texas, for the taping, continually insisted that illegal immigrants get all sorts of free stuff the rest of us aren’t privy to. I’ll let you watch the results yourself if you haven’t already.• Also a while back, and also something you should watch — the Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial meeting at which Gov. John Kasich more or less ignored beleaguered challenger Ed FitzGerald. I also, because I’m thoughtful like that, linked you to a page with a video of the exchange, or, well, lack thereof. Only the Plain Dealer later took that video down, which is weird, right? So here it is again. Warning: strong language in the article accompanying the vid, including the terms "douchecanoe" and "asshat."• Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is getting more help from the Clintons in her nail-biter of a challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell. Hillary Clinton will appear with Grimes today in Louisville and Saturday in Covington at 11th-hour campaign rallies. No word what their Friday plans are, but I’m going to some great Halloween parties if y’all are reading and interested.
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 09:04 AM | Permalink
Insurance minimums, trip logs and driver background checks among requirements
City Council yesterday voted to approve rules governing ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft, the first time since the companies came here in March that they’ve been regulated by the city.“I don’t know if it will ever be perfect, but in other cities, they’ve outright banned Uber and Lyft,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray, the transportation committee chair. “I think we’ve put together a perfect plan for this point in time, where we’re managing safety in Cincinnati without over-regulation. If we don’t have anything, there’s nothing on the books.”The new regulations classify the ridesharing companies as “transportation network companies” and require them to carry a license with the city costing $10,000 a year. License requirements include $100,000 in liability insurance, keeping trip records for six months, as cab companies must do, requirements for background checks on drivers and minimum requirements for vehicles. When rideshare companies first came to town, cab companies in the city cried foul at the lack of regulation the tech-savvy newcomers enjoyed. Representatives from cab companies protested outside City Hall and lobbied for rule changes. Some rules placed on cab companies, like regulations when drivers can wear shorts, are arcane and burdensome, companies say. Murray said the rules are due for an adjustment.“Certainly this brought out some things in our taxi regulations right now that have not been updated in a while,” she said. “We need to look at that, and our committee will be doing that.”Uber and Lyft have said they’re fundamentally different from taxi companies and shouldn’t be regulated the same way.Uber Ohio General Manager James Ondrey told CityBeat in July that Uber doesn’t oppose all regulations, since the company does some of the things required of cab companies anyway. But he also said the company isn’t the same as a taxi company.“Uber is a technology company,” Ondrey said. “We’ve built a mobile platform that connects users with drivers giving rides. They’re not employees. They’re independent contractors who pay a small fee to us to use our platform.”Many of the regulations Council passed yesterday are things the companies already do voluntarily. Vice Mayor David Mann had some reservations about the regulations and voted against them, saying they didn’t go far enough in terms of insurance and holding ride sharing companies accountable for the fares they’re charging.He said the $25,000 in insurance the companies will be required to carry for accidents where they’re not at fault is too low and could leave citizens under-covered if an uninsured driver hits a ride share car. He also said the companies aren’t transparent enough with the city about their rates.“We are letting them operate on our streets under the license we issue,” Mann said, “and we have no way to direct, easy way to make sure we’re comfortable with what they’re charging.”The companies generally show the rates on their apps, but the rates are variable due to peak pricing schemes, which some have found confusing.Overall, however, Council was supportive of the regulations, which have been in the works for five months and have gone through six versions in Council’s transportation committee. Mann was the only dissenting vote.“This is as close as we were going to get to perfect,” Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said. “I think it’s a show that Cincinnati is open to business and that we’re working to be the big, great city we already are.” Simpson pointed out that cabs still have cabstands and can be hailed. “Uber and Lyft don’t have that,” she said.