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by Nick Swartsell 10.13.2015 2 hours ago
Posted In: News at 03:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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Women's Clinics to Stay Open — For Now

Federal judge rules Mount Auburn Planned Parenthood and Dayton facility can continue operation during fight over state laws

The only remaining women's clinic in Cincinnati that provides abortions will stay open, for now at least.

A federal judge today issued an injunction allowing Planned Parenthood's Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center, a women's clinic that provides abortions in Mount Auburn, to stay open temporarily as it appeals a decision by the Ohio Department of Health declining to renew its license.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood is fighting a federal court case over restrictive new laws in Ohio that have pushed the clinic, and another in Dayton, to the brink of closure.

Today's ruling extends a temporary stay on the clinics' closure a federal judge handed down late last month. That stay was set to expire today. The clinic was denied a license last month after new rules passed in Ohio's budget legislation this summer mandated a clinic close if the Ohio Department of Health did not issue a license within 60 days of receiving an application. In the past, the Mount Auburn clinic waited more than a year to receive license renewals.

The federal court's ruling allows the last clinic providing abortions in Cincinnati to stay open as it fights state laws in federal court and as it awaits its appeal to the Department of Health.

"Today, the court ruled in favor of Ohio women, ensuring access to safe and legal abortion,” said Jerry Lawson, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio in a statement. “This sends an important message to Ohio politicians that their unconstitutional attempts to restrict access to abortion will not stand. Patient safety is our top priority. We will continue to stand up for Ohio women who rely on Planned Parenthood for the care they need.”

The clinic, and another facility called Women's Med Clinic in Dayton, found themselves facing imminent closure due to increasingly strict Ohio laws around abortion. Ohio law requires clinics to have transfer agreements with local hospitals in case patients need emergency care. But in 2013, the state passed a law forbidding state-funded hospitals from entering into those transfer agreements, ending a partnership between the Mount Auburn clinic and UC Medical Center. No private hospital in the city will enter into an agreement with an abortion clinic, but clinics who have physicians with individual admitting privileges at local hospitals can apply for a variance to the laws. The Planned Parenthood facility in Mount Auburn had been operating under a license obtained with those variances until the new laws were passed this summer.

Conservative lawmakers say the laws exist to ensure the safety of women using the clinics, though some also acknowledge they're designed to cut down the number of abortions in the the state. Ohio has gone from 14 clinics to just nine since the new, more restrictive laws are passed, and pending the results of the federal case Planned Parenthood is currently fighting against the new laws, Cincinnati and Dayton's clinics could also close. The elimination of the Mount Auburn clinic would make Cincinnati the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortion.

by Nick Swartsell 10.13.2015 4 hours ago
Posted In: News at 01:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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Parks Tax Fight Gets Real

A 95-year-old civil rights icon says she hung up on Cranley; local lawyer wants campaign money returned to Parks Board

As voters get nearer to weighing in on Mayor John Cranley's proposed amendment to Cincinnati's charter that would create a permanent property tax to fund the city's parks, things are getting contentious.

Supporters of Issue 22, which would raise property taxes by about $35 for a $100,000 house, say it will help Cincinnati create “world class parks,” boost neighborhoods and economic development throughout the city. But detractors say the amendment gives too much control to the mayor and will allow him to take on debt the city will be paying for years to come, money that will be used to boost for-profit ventures in the city’s public parks.

Former Cincinnati vice mayor and civil rights leader Marian Spencer today said that Mayor John Cranley had harsh words for her regarding her opposition to the proposed charter amendment.

"He said to me, angrily, 'Your face will be on the Enquirer, the front page, opposing the levy, and you're not going to like that,' " Spencer said during an appearance today on 1230 AM WDBZ. "I told him I'm 95 and nobody tells me how to vote. He didn't have anything else to say because I think I hung up."

Cranley remembers the conversation differently, though, according to a social media post by Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Carrie Blackmore Smith reported by the Cincinnati Business Courier. According to that post, Cranley says he didn't threaten Spencer, but merely told her she would be the most prominent opponent of the amendment if she came out against it.

Spencer originally supported the levy, but says once she read the full text of the amendment, she pulled her endorsement. She says she's concerned that the proposed tax increase is a permanent charter amendment, which she called "bad policy" in a letter to Parks Board Director Willie Carden last month. She also expressed consternation in that letter that the amendment language doesn't guarantee that improvements made to parks will be free of admissions charges to Cincinnati residents. Finally, she said in the missive that large changes to the city's parks should be initiated by citizens, not the mayor, and should go through the normal budget process involving City Council.

Spencer's letter isn't the only unfriendly missive in Carden's mailbox lately.

In a letter delivered to the parks director today, Cincinnati attorney Timothy Mara of anti-Issue 22 group Save Our Parks called a $200,000 contribution to a campaign boosting the parks levy “illegal” and demanded the money be taken back.

"Given the facts as we know them, it is imperative that the Park Board act today to set this matter right by first securing the return of its $200,000 campaign contribution," Mara wrote in the letter delivered this morning.

Cranley appears in the television ad funded in part with the park board's contribution, touting the charter amendment as he plays various sports including football, basketball and baseball. The ad features slick production and is running in local markets.

The two sides of the fight battled it out at a public debate hosted by The Cincinnati Enquirer Oct. 12 at The Phoenix downtown. Don Mooney, a Cincinnati attorney who has helped organize opposition to the plan, argued against the amendment, while environmentalist Brewster Rhoads presented the case for it. Cranley himself was invited to participate in the event, but declined unless he would not be on the stage at the same time as the opposition and could speak last, according to the Enquirer.

At the debate, Mooney blasted Cranley’s proposal, calling it a “slush fund” for the mayor. He pointed to the ballot language, which gives control over the money raised to the mayor and the Cincinnati Park Board. The mayor appoints the park board with council approval. Critics like Mooney have questioned why the amendment language doesn’t stipulate any requirements for Cincinnati City Council or community involvement.

That, Mooney says, primes Cincinnati for “a commercial and corporate takeover of our parks.” Mooney cites recent closures of Washington Park due to for-profit events as evidence for this, as well as a proposed public-private partnership with Western & Southern to remake Lytle Park downtown.

But Rhoads says the amendment is about boosting Cincinnati’s public parks, not selling them off. He says for-profit events like those at Washington Park are rare events that put much-needed funds in the city’s coffers for parks.

At the debate, Rhoads also pushed back against the assertion that the mayor will control the funds raised by the amendment. Ohio law requires City Council to approve any bonds issued by the city, he said, giving the elected body a say over which projects will be funded by the amendment.

Rhoads did acknowledge that the amendment’s language would be better if it had specific guidelines for community involvement, but said that the parks board does a good job with getting the community engaged.

“It’s not a perfect plan,” he said. “But we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

The mayor has proposed 16 projects to be funded by bonds issued with seed money from the property tax increase, though none are specifically listed in the amendment language. Among these are an effort to save and restore the former King Records site in Evanston and create a museum there; millions in funding for the Wasson Way bike path, which would cut through a number of East Side neighborhoods on its way into Uptown; and money to give large urban woods like Burnet Woods and Mount Airy Forest facelifts. All told, the price tag for those projects comes to about $80 million.

Rhoads argued that the city doesn’t have enough money to fund park maintenance currently. He and other supporters say 25 percent of the money raised by the property tax levy will go toward maintenance costs. Critics, however, point out that the language on the ballot only stipulates that the 25 percent cannot be used toward debt service for capital projects, not a requirement for it to be used for maintenance.

Mooney questioned how the city doesn’t have enough money for park maintenance when the Park Board has millions in its accounts and was able to spend $200,000 to fund the pro-Issue 22 ad featuring Cranley. Rhoads demurred on that question, saying he doesn’t speak for the Issue 22 campaign. Parks Board President Carl Budig said the donation to the campaign came from a special endowment. He defended the contribution as appropriate and legal.

Mara pushed back against that assertion, however.

"The fact that the money may originally have come from an endowment or donation to the Park Board does not mean that the $200,000 political campaign gift is legal," he wrote in the letter. "Once accepted by the Park Board, that money became 'public funds' subject to the above-described prohibition against campaign expenditures by a public entity."

by Natalie Krebs 10.13.2015 7 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

CPS Board votes to renovate Vine Street school; still no price tag on I-71 uptown exchange; Democratic presidential hopefuls hit Las Vegas

Cincinnati Public Schools could be getting much needed additional space for pre-schoolers as soon as next school year. The CPS board voted unanimously in favor of renovating the old Vine Street school. The old school, which sits at Vine and Mulberry streets in Mount Auburn, has been empty since 2012. The building was last used to house Rothenberg and Taft elementary schools while their buildings were undergoing renovations. The proposed project will cost about $7-$8 million and go forth "when the funds are available," ideally opening next fall potentially as a pre-school, according to board member Eve Bolton. Pre-school expansion has become a priority for CPS as it turns away 1,000 kids from pre-school every year.

• A debate over Mayor John Cranley's proposed city park property tax levy between pro-levy environmentalist Brewster Rhodes and anti-levy activist Don Mooney drew a crowd of more than 200 people to The Phoenix downtown yesterday. Mooney is disturbed over the amount of control Mayor Cranley, who was not in attendance, has over the money and projects. Rhodes argued it's OK because City Council, the parks board and the mayor would share control. Rhodes later admitted the proposal wasn't perfect because it lacked public input. I was not in attendance at this event, but staff writer Nick Swartsell was, so more details on this debate will follow. 

• There is still no cost estimate from the state on the new Uptown Interstate-71 exchange. The Ohio Department of Transportation is dragging its heels on finalizing the sale price of 16 properties, and the price tag for the project won't be known until those sales are finalized. A spokesman for the DOT told the Enquirer that the real estate purchases could possibly be a contributing factor in holding up the construction, but the project should be finished by August 2017. Gov. John Kasich, who is currently schmoozing with undecided voters in New Hampshire, has pushed the project since he first took office in 2011. The Uptown area is the second-biggest area for jobs in the city, but lacks direct access from interstate 71.  

• The Red Bike program, which recently turned 1 year old, celebrated another milestone yesterday: It had its 100,000th ride. Cincinnati resident Keith Piercy unsuspectedly checked out bike that made the milestone ride Monday morning and was actually on his way to buy a bike helmet, having recently enrolled in the city-wide bike-sharing program. As someone who frequently bikes to work on bike lanes that are nearly empty, I encourage everyone to follow Piercy's example. 

• The stoners of Colorado and their fun, fruity marijuana-laced candy couldn't win over Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. He recently returned from a trip to the state that has famously legalized recreational marijuana and reported that he met with more than a dozen people who apparently told him "you'd be crazy to bring this to Ohio." DeWine gave a press conference yesterday in which he declared, “Ohio will be fundamentally changed if Issue 3 passes." DeWine took issue with the marijuana-laced candies, which look the same as non-laced candies and could potentially be a danger to kids. Ian James, the executive director of ResponsibleOhio, the super PAC responsible for putting Issue 3 on the Nov. 3 ballot, said DeWine didn't meet with marijuana supporters in Colorado, including Gov. John Hickenlooper. 

• Well, we've all just barely recovered from the GOP presidential primary debates in time to watch the Democrats duke it out. Jim Webb, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Lincoln Chafee and Martin O'Malley will be in Las Vegas tonight to push their liberal agendas on CNN. Clinton and Sanders will likely be the most-watched contenders, as they're received the most attention for their campaigns, but it should be nice to see a few extra faces in there. The action starts at 8:30.

If you start to zone out in the middle of the debate, you can always stay focused by looking for City Councilman P.G Sittenfeld, who will be popping his head in three times during the debate in the form of television spots. The spots form a kind of narrative arc to promote his run for the U.S. Senate, where he is far behind better-known fellow Democratic contender and former Ohio governor Ted Strickland.

Send me an email or find me on Twitter. See y'all later!

by Natalie Krebs 10.12.2015 32 hours ago
Posted In: News at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Democrats endorse park tax levy; UC Health to repay millions in fraudulent Medicare claims; outside reports find Tamir Rice shooting justified

Good morning Cincinnati! Here are today's headlines. 

• City Democrats got together Saturday morning in Northside and voted 41-17 to endorse Mayor John Cranley's proposed permanent income tax levy to support the city's park system. If passed on the Nov. 3 ballot, the tax would be written into the city charter and would cost homeowners $35 for every $100,000 in home value. It would bring in an estimated $5.5 million annually and allow the mayor to propose projects to the park board, bypassing City Council, which has some concerned it could lead to the commercialization of the city's parks. Some say the money could be better spent on other citywide issues, like poverty. The Democratic precinct executives who gathered on Oct. 10 generally said that while the proposal wasn't perfect, it would be beneficial to set aside extra money to maintain the city's parks in the future. 

• Speaking of parks, today city officials are considering naming two parks after a fallen police officer and two firefighters. The city's Law and Public Safety Committee is considering renaming the East Hyde Park Commons after CPD Officer Sonny Kim, who was shot in June while on duty. The Queensgate Recreation Area would be renamed for firefighters Daryl Gordon and Oscar Armstrong III, who died in fires in March of this year and in 2003. 

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday that UC Health and West Chester Hospital will have to pay back $4.1 million in fraudulent Medicaid and Medicare claims. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Dr. Abubakar Atiq Durrani, a former surgeon at the hospital, brought in $7.125 million in Medicare payments from 2010 to 2013 when he performed medically unnecessary spinal surgeries — and botched many of them. Durrani, who is a Pakistani citizen, fled the country for Pakistan in 2013 after facing a 36-count federal indictment and hundreds of lawsuits, leaving his wife and three children in the area. The allegations against Durrani include failing to read or ignoring x-rays he ordered, falsely telling patients they were in danger of grave injury without surgery and pre-signing prescription pads for patient Oxycodone prescriptions to be later filled out by a member of his staff. 

• Kroger, the largest traditional grocer in the country, with 400 stores and 400,000 employees, has agreed to extend its health benefits to its transgendered employees. The locally based corporation is the nation's seventh largest employer. The Enquirer reported that a Kroger employee had posted the news on her Facebook page. The extended benefits will cover surgery and drugs for gender reassignment starting at the beginning of 2016. 

Two outside reports found that the Cleveland police officer who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice last November was justified in his actions. Rice was shot in a Cleveland park by officer Timothy Loehmann after he and his partner responded to a call that a black boy was waving a gun at people in the park. Rice was fatally hit in the torso and was later found to be holding a pellet gun. The Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office released reports last night from a retired FBI agent and a Denver prosecutor that concluded that the officer had used a reasonable use of force, as Rice was perceived as a serious threat.

Feel free to email me with story tips, questions and possible Halloween costumes at nkrebs@citybeat.com.
by Nick Swartsell 10.09.2015 4 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Former Drop Inn Center reopens in Queensgate; free health screenings offered throughout city on Sunday; U.S. House slips further into chaos

Good morning all. It’s news time friends.

Today marks the opening of David and Rebecca Baron Center for Men, the homeless shelter in Queensgate replacing the Drop Inn Center that was located in Over-the-Rhine for decades. The shelter, located in a renovated Butternut Bread factory on Gest Street, has 150 beds and more than 79,000 square feet of space. The shelter, operated by nonprofit Shelterhouse, is one of five operating as part of the city’s Homelessness to Homes plan overseen by Strategies to End Homelessness. The move marks the end of years of fighting by advocates for the homeless to keep the shelter, the region’s largest, in Over-the-Rhine.

• Cincinnati’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists yesterday hosted a panel discussion on media coverage of the July shooting death of Samuel DuBose by University of Cincinnati Police officer Ray Tensing. The panel, staged at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, included Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black, attorneys for both the DuBose family and Ray Tensing, a representative from Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters’ office and news directors from The Cincinnati Enquirer and Channels 9, 19, 12 and 5. Topics ranged from the portrayal of both Tensing and DuBose in the initial reporting of the incident — many outlets showed a mugshot of DuBose and referred to him as a “suspect” in their early reports, while showing Tensing in uniform — to the media’s responsibility to report accurately without further inflaming community tensions. I live tweeted a lot of the discussion, as did many other attendees, under the hashtag #wordsandimages. Check out the discussion.

• First Lady Dena Cranley and a number of faith leaders will announce the first step in a major health initiative today at City Hall at 1 pm. Cranley, national executive director of the First Ladies Health Initiative Tracey Alston and the wives of a number of church leaders will unveil the first-annual health day, which will take place Sunday Oct. 11. The event, which will offer free health screenings for a number of conditions from diabetes to HIV, will take place at 18 locations throughout the city. You can find these locations and hours they'll be open here.

• A landmark historic building in Walnut Hills is on its way to renovation. Last week, the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation purchased the iconic Paramount Building on Peebles Corner for $750,000 and plans a full-scale redevelopment of the property. The foundation estimates that work will cost at least $3 million and is currently raising funds to complete the effort. The 80-year-old Paramount long served as a theater in the neighborhood and is one of Walnut Hills’ distinctive landmarks with its turret-like front façade.

• How much does health care cost in Cincinnati? Well, it depends, and it’s kinda arbitrary. That’s especially true when it comes to care for women, a new study released by castlighthealth.com finds. Costs for procedures like mammograms diverge wildly in the Cincinnati area, running anywhere from $123 to nearly $300 depending on where you go. HPV tests are similarly wide-ranging in their costs. Healthcare outlets charge anywhere from $24 to $208 for the routine test. Some other, non-gender specific health services, such as a preventive primary care visit, also vary wildly in price, but the ranges are especially wide for services for women. The price differences reflect the varying deals insurers are able to strike with hospitals and other healthcare providers, as well as a number of other factors that Castlight researchers say show how dysfunctional America’s healthcare system is. You can see the full study and how Cincinnati compares to other cities here.

• So this is just really cool. Officials and community advocates in Akron shut down a highway to hold a 500-person dinner and community conversation. On Oct. 4, Akron police shut down a section of the city's Inner Belt Freeway while volunteers set up 63 tables for guests. Attendees, led by facilitators, then had a meal and discussed the city's future, delving into a number of contentious issues while taking notes and sketching out ideas. Among the topics of discussion: what to do with the freeway they were sitting on, which cut through low-income neighborhoods and separated them from downtown when it was built in the 1970s. That freeway will soon be shut down  — it serves only 18,000 cars a day, a far cry from the 120,000 for which it was designed.

• Could John Boehner’s resignation from the House of Representatives and the ensuing chaos it has caused (more on that in a minute) have repercussions in the Kentucky governor’s race? It’s looking like it. Republican gubernatorial candidate and tea party dude Matt Bevin has been waging a tough-fought campaign against Democrat candidate Jack Conway. But now, at least some prominent Republicans in Kentucky are turning their backs on Bevin in favor of Conway as a result of distaste for the tea party movement that has caused deep fissures within the GOP. Part of the lingering bitterness is from Bevin’s 2012 primary challenge of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Bevin ran a nasty campaign against McConnell, marshaling tea party anger and attempting to use it against the veteran lawmaker. Bevin failed in that race, but has been seen as a viable candidate for governor. But with the divide between establishment Republicans and radical tea party conservatives growing wider, it may be hard for him to pull together the support he needs to defeat Conway.

• Finally, speaking of all that, I just want to talk really quick about how fascinating things are getting in the House of Representatives. A couple weeks back we told you about how the resignation of House Speaker and Greater Cincinnatian John Boehner could bring more power to hardline rightwingers in the GOP. At the time, this was an arguable point, considering House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was all lined up to take Boehner’s place. Now, it’s not that McCarthy isn’t conservative, but like Boehner, he has no interested in shutting down the government or engaging in some of the more radical tactics tea party conservatives in the House have championed. Welp, hate to say I told you so, but yesterday McCarthy dropped out of the running for speaker, and now Republicans are scrambling to find a willing replacement who isn’t part of the three dozen or so tea party radicals in the GOP. Party leaders, including Boehner, who just wants to get the hell out of there at this point, are reportedly begging U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, former Vice Presidential candidate in Mitt Romney’s last run, to step up and take the job, but Ryan’s all like, nah, that’s cool I’m good.

That’s it for me. Hit me up on Twitter or email me with news tips or your favorite Halloween haunted houses. I’m trying to hit up several before they close for the season.

by Natalie Krebs 10.08.2015 5 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

City Council votes to preserve Kings Records building; Study finds Cranley's park tax levy will bring $117 million; Half of Ohioans on board with legalizing weed

It's almost Friday, Cincy! Hang in there with me. I've got plenty of studies and polls to keep you going this morning. 

• City Council voted unanimously yesterday to designate the old Kings Records building a historic landmark. The future of the building has been controversial as city leaders and activists have fought to save the building. They hope that it renovation along with a nearby educational facility could revitalize Evanston. However, the building's owner, Dynamite Industries, has other ideas. They would like to demolish the building and may sue the city over its decision. Kings Records saw its heyday 1940s to the 1970s when it was the sixth largest record label in the world. Famous musicians like Otis Redding and James Brown spent time at the Evanston studio, and Brown recorded some of his greatest hits with the label.                

• A report commissioned by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and Cincinnati Business Committee found Mayor Cranley's proposed tax levy for city parks would have an economic impact of $117 million in the first ten years. Cranley has proposed a permanent property tax levy to revamp and maintain the city's parks with 16 different projects, like increasing hiking and biking trails to attract commuters. Some worry about the lack of oversight in Cranley's proposal and that his plan, which he has referred to as "park-o-nomics" could lead to the commercialization of public parks. 

• A just over half of Ohioians--53 percent to be exact--are on board with legalizing marijuana for recreational use compared to 44 percent who said they are not. The Quinnipiac poll found that 65 percent claim they would definitely not use marijuana it if it were legalized, however. The poll didn't specifically ask about Issue 3, but posed general questions about legalizing the drug. The survey found men were overall more supportive of it then women as were younger people more so than older folk.  

The same poll found that Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and former Ohio governor Ted Strickland at 46 percent support is slightly ahead of GOP candidate Rob Portman, who had 43 percent support. 

• While it might not yet have the tech reputation of San Francisco or Austin, website ValuePenguin.com ranked Cincinnati ninth on its list of mid-sized cities for web developers. According to its data, Cincinnati has about 910 web development jobs with an average salary of $65,390 and the cost of living here definitely beats that of San Francisco and Austin. The cities are placed into three categories based on population: large, mid-sized and small. You can check out the full list here. 

• Volkswagen of America CEO Michael Horn will be answering some tough questions from Congress this morning. The executive is scheduled to go before a U.S. House subcommittee investigating the discovery that VW has been cheating on their U.S. emissions tests. U.S. inspectors found nearly 500,000 cars starting with the 2009 models were equipped with software to distort the emissions produced during government tests. Horn is planning on telling Congress that he had only learned of the software a few week ago. VW and U.S. official have not yet announced how they will fix the recalled vehicles. 

• I went to my first Cincinnati Reds game against the Chicago Cubs last Wednesday. The Reds lost their last home game pretty badly, but the game redeemed itself slightly in the eighth inning when they managed to strike out the 11th Cubs batter. For this, I won a small LaRosa's pizza as did everyone else with a ticket to that game. So how many free pizzas has LaRosa's given out in the four years that they've offered this promotion? According to the Cincinnati Business Courier, 640,000. But this year they gave away one-third less pizzas as compared to last year. Attendance was down as Reds didn't quite do so well. Better luck next year, Reds! 

As usual, my email me at nkrebs@citybeat.com. Any story ideas or happenings are welcome.

by Nick Swartsell 10.07.2015 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cranley's Anti-Poverty Plan Gets Mixed Reviews

Supporters cheer the mayor's focus on childhood poverty, but critics say Cranley's proposals don't go far enough

Mayor John Cranley’s State of the City speech earlier this week touched on a number of issues the mayor has deemed priorities in the coming year — among them, the city’s sky-high childhood poverty rate.

Last year, according the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, 44.3 percent of the city’s children lived in poverty. That’s down from over 50 percent in 2012, when Cincinnati ranked second-highest in the country, but still double the national average of about 22 percent and nearly double Ohio’s average of 23 percent.

Cranley says he wants to find ways to lift 10,000 of Cincinnati’s 30,000 poor kids out of poverty in the next five years. To do that, he’s proposing convening a task force that will present recommendations for reaching that goal. The task force will present those recommendations June 30, 2016 — the day before the city’s new fiscal year.

Is that goal realistic? And does Cranley’s proposal to create a task force that will research ways to address childhood poverty in Cincinnati go far enough? Some say no, citing other Cranley proposals, including a parks charter amendment that would spend millions in property tax revenues to create new recreational attractions, that will spend much more money on things critics say are less pressing or effective.

Meanwhile, others applaud the fact the mayor is focusing on the problem and say they are willing to give his ideas time to play out.

City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson is among the critics of Cranley’s approach.

In an Oct. 6 editorial for The Cincinnati Enquirer, Simpson said the mayor’s big speech left out some key considerations — from the University of Cincinnati police shooting death of Samuel DuBose and ongoing racial issues in the city to progress made on the city’s streetcar system.

One of the speech’s big shortfalls, Simpson says, is the lack of a serious plan to address poverty in the city.

“For those individuals living in poverty and organizations actively working on the root causes and effects of institutional, inter-generational poverty everyday, organizing a ‘summit’ and expecting it will lead to a one-third reduction in our childhood poverty rate in 5 years is, at best, out of touch and at worst, disrespectful,” Simpson wrote in the piece.

Simpson said Cranley’s statements are surprising considering the recent fight between the mayor’s office and City Council over human services funding in the city’s budget. Democrats on Council pushed for more money for programs traditionally funded through human services in the budget to get the city back on track toward devoting at least 1 percent of the budget toward such programs.

Council passed a resolution last fall asking the city to double funding for traditional human services programs. While making this year’s city budget, however, City Manager Harry Black ignored that resolution and put much of that money in new programs not usually associated with traditional human services. Meanwhile, federal money usually given to other programs was directed toward the mayor’s Hand Up Initiative, which looks to get more poor Cincinnatians into jobs making around $10 an hour through programs like Cincinnati Cooks! and Cincinnati Works. Those dynamics caused a big battle over the city budget.

Community activist Mike Moroski sits on the steering committee for Hand Up. He’s also the executive director of UpSpring, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the city’s childhood poverty problem. Moroski says he’s not always been a Cranley fan, but his time working on Hand Up has convinced him the mayor is responsive to input and new ideas. He says he’s willing to give Cranley’s anti-poverty ideas time to bear fruit.

“I voted for [Cranley’s 2013 mayoral opponent] Roxanne Qualls,” Moroski says. “I didn't think John Cranley would be a very good mayor.”

Moroski says he still disagrees with Cranley on some issues, including the streetcar, but says those issues aren’t as important as addressing the city’s big poverty problem. He says he believes the mayor — and City Council — are serious about working toward solving that problem and that he hopes city officials can work past politics together toward that end.
“Will Mayor Cranley's new Task Force do just that? I have no idea, but I am willing to be hopeful and wait and see,” Moroski said in an email yesterday. “I am not willing to dismiss it right out of the gate. Did he spend enough time on it last evening? I don't know — I am not going to pass judgment because it wasn't talked about enough — I am just happy it was talked about.”

The city has made some efforts to address its deep economic divisions, including a recent raft of ordinances that would help address the racial and gender disparities in its contracting practices. However, Cincinnati is still a place of stunning inequalities when it comes to the economic conditions of its neighborhoods, and ways to address those inequalities look to remain front and center in conversations about the city’s future.

"Mayor Cranley wants 2016 to be the year that we dig in and have real conversations about poverty and take action," Moroski says. "And I will support that. I will also support any initiative that any council member proposes that does the same. And, as I said, if any of these initiatives appear to be hollow, then I will pass judgment. But not until I see what plays out."

by Natalie Krebs 10.07.2015 6 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
p.g. sittenfeld.nar

Morning News and Stuff

ResponsibleOhio under investigation for submitting fraudulent voter registration forms; Sittenfeld calls for opponents to renounce NRA support; Blue Lives Matter launches billboard campaign; U.S. under fire for Doctors Without Borders bombing

Hey Cincy! Here are your morning headlines.  

• There's potentially more trouble on the horizon for ResponsibleOhio less than a month before voters head to the polls to vote on its ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. The Hamilton County Board of Elections is looking into possible voter registration fraud after the board found that at least four of the registration forms filed by a company on behalf of the super PAC were signed by dead people and two were signed by people currently incarcerated and therefore illegible to vote. The registrations forms were submitted by the Strategic Network, a Columbus company specializing in political campaigns that is headed by Ian James, the man who also serves as executive director for ResponsibleOhio. The board made the decision yesterday to issue subpoenas to James and the other leaders of the Strategic Network. James denies any intentional illegal wrongdoing and claims that his company has a "zero tolerance policy" toward fraud. It’s unclear who filled out and submitted the voter registration forms, but submitting a fraudulent voter registration form is a felony offense. James claims that the group is required by law to turn over every voter registration form it collects, even those that are invalid. 

• Less than a week after the tragic shooting at a Roseburg, Ore. community college, city councilman and U.S. Senate candidate P.G. Sittenfeld issue a statement asking his opponents to renounce their support for the National Rifle Association. The NRA has previously endorsed Republican candidate Rob Portman and fellow Democratic opponent Ted Strickland in its famous rating program where it assigns a letter grade to politicians. In his video statement, Sittenfeld asks that his opponents "no longer chase A+ ratings from the same organization that blocked a universal background check bill following a horrific massacre of five and six-year old children in Newtown." Sittenfeld is trailing behind former Ohio governor and fellow Democrat Strickland, who is widely known across the state and has secured the endorsement from the state's Democratic party. 

• Cincinnati is sitting on some serious cash. At the end of the 2015 fiscal year, the city has $19 million left over, which turned out to be way more than the initial $3.9 million the city predicted to have at the end of June. In a memo to Mayor John Cranley, City Manager Harry Black has requested they should it safe and save most of it but also included a sizable wish list. Many of the items requested are related to law enforcement and crime reduction, which has been a hot topic since Cincinnati has experienced a spike in shootings and Black recently fired of former police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell. Some of the items, which must be approved by the city council, included spending $2 million on a down payment for Cincinnati Police body cameras, $500,000 for police overtime in spots with heavy crime, $200,000 for a witness protection program and $175,000 for a partnership with Hamilton County to a program to support the re-entry of offenders. 

• Surely you've heard of Black Lives Matter by now, the group that has been active for the past few years in bringing attention to the issue of police brutality against African-Americans. Well, a new group has popped up in support of police called Blue Lives Matter and they've launched a national billboard campaign with 14 billboards across the country. The group is hoping to spread awareness and fight what it sees as anti-police rhetoric in the wake of high profile police shootings, including the July shooting in Mount Auburn of Sam Dubose by a University of Cincinnati police officer.

• International aid group Doctors Without Borders appealed yesterday for an independent agency to investigate the bombing of one of its clinics in Afghanistan last Saturday by U.S. special operation forces. The bombing killed 22 patients and medical staff members, including three children, and injured 37 people. The U.S. has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was trying to take out Taliban militants, and did not mean to hit the aid clinic, but U.S. military officials' stories keep changing, which has prompted suspicion from the international community of the U.S.'s mission.   

As always, email me with story idea, comments or general concerns.

by Nick Swartsell 10.06.2015 7 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley touts more money for cops, park plan in State of the City; Council poised to vote on King historic status; area districts push back against charter schools

Good morning folks. Let’s talk about news today, eh?

First off, let me tell you about Mayor John Cranley’s second State of the City speech, which he gave to a crowd of about 700 movers, shakers and awkward journalists (at least one awkward journalist) last night at Great American Ball Park.

The mayor is obligated by the city charter to give folks an update on what he’s up to once a year, and for Cranley that meant talking about economic development deals and balancing the budget, asking city council for $800,000 for new violence prevention measures and promoting his somewhat controversial parks levy, which would create an amendment to the city charter and raise property taxes slightly to give big makeovers to a number of Cincinnati parks.

Cranley also pledged to create a task force to explore ways to reduce childhood poverty and a healthcare initiative to reduce infant mortality in the city. He did all this while making a slightly convoluted metaphor about home runs and base hits and sharing a personal experience with the mythical double rainbow. We’ll be parsing the mayor’s proposals more precisely soon, but in the meantime, that’s the broad overview you need to know.

• As Cranley was making his speech last night, a group of around 50 gathered at City Hall to protest the looming closure of Cincinnati’s last women’s clinic that provides abortions. City Councilman Chris Seelbach spoke to the group, pledging support for Planned Parenthood and calling on fellow city officials to support the city’s last remaining clinic. A smaller group then marched to Great American Ball Park, chanting and holding signs asking Cranley to show support for the facility and for the pro-choice movement. The mayor, who has said he was unaware of the rally, did not make remarks to the group following his speech.

The Ohio Department of Health last month denied a license renewal for the Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn. The clinic is run by Planned Parenthood and has stayed open by order of a federal judge as it awaits the results of an appeal to that decision. Planned Parenthood Southwestern Ohio and legal representatives for Women’s Med clinic in Dayton that faces a similar situation have also sued the state of Ohio over its increasingly strict restrictions on clinics that provide abortions. Should the clinics lose their appeal in federal court, both will shut down. Without a clinic, Cincinnati would become the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortion services.

• After a somewhat contentious Neighborhoods Committee meeting yesterday, Cincinnati City Council is expected to vote tomorrow on historic landmark status for the former King Records site in Evanston, the Cincinnati Business Courier reports. That designation could make it much harder to tear down the buildings but could also spark a big legal battle reminiscent of the struggle over the Gamble House, the historic Westwood abode built by the son of one of P&G’s founders. That 170-year-old building was torn down in 2013. The site in Evanston is significant for a number of reasons, one of which is that it’s the place where James Brown made many of his early recordings. One of the two buildings on the site is currently owned by Dynamic Industries, which would like to tear it down. Want to know more about Evanston, King Records and the push and pull between the current owners of the could-be historic site and those looking to preserve the building? We have a story on that.

• A group composed of 43 school districts in Greater Cincinnati, including Cincinnati Public Schools, is pushing back against charter school expansion in the state. The Greater Cincinnati School Advocacy Network recently called for greater accountability for charter schools and changes to the way in which they are funded. GCSAN says charters unfairly drain public money from public school districts while not providing a better alternative for low-income students as they were intended to do. CPS loses thousands of students to local charters each year. The district says it’s not totally opposed to the concept — it sponsors two charter schools itself  — but warns that voters in the district are tired of seeing their money spent on private charter schools that don’t perform well.

The push back comes as charters in Ohio face deep scrutiny over an Ohio Department of Education data fixing scandal, performance issues and questions about oversight. In general, charters in the state have laxer oversight from the ODE and lower performance standards. You can read our story about charters in Cincinnati and throughout the state here.

• How much tax revenue will be created from legalizing marijuana if voters pass a ballot initiative doing so this November? Like most controversial political questions, it depends entirely on whom you ask. The Ohio Department of Taxation estimates revenues somewhere between $133 and almost $300 million could flow from the sale of marijuana. Not surprisingly, ResponsibleOhio, which created the petition drive to get the issue on the November ballot, has higher numbers, saying legalization would create $2 billion in marijuana sales, bringing municipalities and counties more than $554 million in revenue. The state’s estimates vary depending on assumptions about how much of the current illicit marijuana market switches to legal usage.

But ResponsibleOhio says the state erred in considering how many people use marijuana in Ohio and say its number is based on more reliable federal drug usage studies. What’s a few hundred million dollars, though, am I right? ResponsibleOhio’s proposal would legalize marijuana usage and purchase for anyone over the age of 21. The proposal would also create more than 1,000 licenses similar to liquor licenses for the sale of the drug. However, the controversial part of the plan is that only 10 grow sites, all owned by ResponsibleOhio investors, would be allowed across the state. Voters will have a chance to weigh in on the proposal on the November ballot.

by Nick Swartsell 10.05.2015 8 days ago
Posted In: News, Cycling at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
to do_bright ride_photo urban basin bicycle club facebook page

Cincinnati Among Top Cities for Growth in Bicycle Commuting

Commuting by bike increased by 350 percent last year, the third-biggest increase among major cities

You may have seen recent 2014 American Community Survey data released by the U.S. Census Bureau showing that bicycle commuting continues to rise.

Cincinnati has been one of the cities leading the way in that growth, it turns out.

The League of American Bicyclists recently analyzed those ACS numbers and came up with data showing where cycling and bike commuting are biggest and growing fastest. While Cincinnati ranked 31st among the 70 biggest U.S. cities in terms of share of cyclists commuting to work (we’re at just under 1 percent), the number of bike commuters here is growing faster than just about anywhere else in the country.

Bike commuting in Cincinnati increased by 350 percent last year, according to the ACS. That’s more than any other major city besides Detroit, which saw a 403 percent boost, and Pittsburgh, which saw bicycle commuting go up by 360 percent.

Cincinnati easily beat out other Ohio cities, including Columbus (ranked 36th with .8 percent of commutes happening by bike) and Cleveland (ranked 40th with .7 percent).

The city with the top percentage of bicycle commuters is, predictably, Portland, Ore., where more than 7 percent of commutes are taken by bicycle. The city has more than 23,000 cyclists. Oregon is tops in terms of states when it comes to bike commuters, as well. Ohio is well down that list, ranking 36th.

As a bike commuter, I'm excited that I have more company on the roads. You can read the whole League of American Bicyclists report here.