Here’s something fun we learned about in 2016: Ohio taxpayers have been paying $100 million a year to send 15,000 students to a school that has no books, no classrooms and, according to recent state efforts to get to the bottom of its attendance records, little proof that it is providing educational opportunities required by the state. Critics, including state lawmakers, say the continuing battle between the Ohio Department of Education and privately run but publicly funded online charter school Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) underscores problems with the state’s lax oversight of its charter system, especially embattled online schools. After an inquiry into its attendance practices, the state stripped ECOT of millions in funding. It was another blow to the state’s charter school system, which has been rocked by data scandals, a paused federal grant over performance issues and other controversies in recent years.
2. The Gramercy on Garfield
3. Machine Flats
The past year saw intensified efforts to save the physical remains of one of Cincinnati’s proudest cultural gems. James Brown. Bootsy Collins. Otis Redding. Ike Turner. Philip Paul. The list of local and national legends who recorded for Evanston-based King Records goes on and on, giving Cincinnati some serious credibility when it comes to the roots of America’s Rock, R&B, Soul and Funk music. What’s more, the company, started in 1943 by Cincinnatian Syd Nathan, was one of the country’s first integrated work places. King was decades ahead of its time and a continuingly pertinent example of what people can do when they transcend racial divides. Today, the label’s former headquarters is in disrepair and its owners want to tear it down. But the city has taken steps to purchase it, using eminent domain if necessary, so the facility can be turned into a museum and educational site. Decades after it closed down, King is still bringing people together.
It’s been a big year for babies at the Cincinnati Zoo. Since being born six weeks early on Jan. 24, baby hippo Fiona has become a bona fide local celebrity. Initially weighing just 29 pounds, the tiny baby inspired the hashtag #TeamFiona as the city anxiously awaited daily updates on her condition. But the hippo wasn’t the only baby the zoo welcomed this year: African painted dog Imara gave birth to a whopping 11 pups, all of whom were named after cheese, and first-time Malayan tiger mom Cinta also welcomed three female cubs; her maternal instincts, however, failed to kick in. Luckily, six-year-old Australian shepherd Blakely stepped in to fulfill the role of nanny. Blakely’s previous baby-rearing experience includes cheetahs, a takin, a warthog, wallabies, skunks and bat-eared foxes. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, 3400 Vine St., Avondale, 513-281-4700, cincinnatizoo.org.
It seemed like a reasonable idea at the time: Indigenous Peoples’ Day — a city proclamation that celebrated the indigenous cultures that existed in Ohio and across the country before European settlers arrived. Putting it on the second Tuesday in October — Columbus Day — also didn’t seem like such a huge leap. After all, 22 other cities including Oklahoma City, Lawrence, Kansas and Asheville, N.C., have taken similar steps. But the idea, proposed by the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, was too much for Cincinnati City Council. While a few council members voted for the motion recognizing America’s first peoples, a majority abstained from the vote, giving no reason for doing so.
For a beautiful few weeks, it kinda seemed like the University of Cincinnati was about to join the big leagues. But it was all one big tease. After some flexing for one of the country’s top college sports conferences, we found out this past fall that UC won’t be joining the Big 12 any time soon. In fact, no new schools will be hopping on board the high-level collegiate athletic conference, which currently has only 10 members for some reason. The Big 12’s board of directors say the move doesn’t have anything to do with individual schools and that it simply isn’t the right time to expand. That means UC won’t get the chance to join a Power Five conference or top-tier athletic groups that net much larger TV revenues, better shots at major bowl games and playoff berths. Oh well.
Since rebounding from his 2008 loss to Steve Driehaus and returning to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2011, Rep. Steve Chabot has flown to 46 countries on 16 separate excursions, gracing the likes of Mongolia, Myanmar and Moldova with his presence. The tab to taxpayers? Almost $200,000. But it’s unclear exactly what those trips, taken as part of Chabot’s role as the chair of the House’s Small Business Committee, have accomplished. That’s not a question Chabot has been eager to answer.
Oh man. We should not even be revisiting this, but here we are. If you needed proof that social media is a terrifying place full of sadness and pain, look no further than the way Twitter trolls handled the tragic death of Harambe, a gorilla living at the Cincinnati Zoo. In May, a 3-year-old boy fell into Harambe’s enclosure, and, when the gorilla began dragging the boy and no other avenue to rescue him was available, zookeepers shot the silverback. That alone was sad enough. Then came the memes. The threats to the zoo. The insults to the boy’s mother. The bizarre conspiracy theories. The zoo temporarily shut down its Twitter account due to the craziness, which made national news. Twitter trolls aimed fire at zoo director Thane Maynard, hacking his Twitter account in August. Eventually, the tweetstorm died down, and hopefully the mere mention of our sweet, departed simian prince’s name in these pages doesn’t recall the fury.
A century and a half after the end of the Civil War, some folks think it’s still advisable to bandy about the symbol of the side that fought to keep black people enslaved. That seems like a bad idea, and an even worse one if you’re an official like Hamilton County Clerk of Courts bailiff Donald Robinson Jr., who got in hot water for sharing the Confederate flag unapologetically on Facebook last year. Former University of Cincinnati Police officer Ray Tensing went one worse, however. In an almost unbelievable twist, attorneys revealed during his murder trial that Tensing was wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt under his uniform when he shot unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose. Seriously. Tensing’s defenders say the shirt was simply advertising the Great Smoky Mountains. That’s well and good, but they didn’t have any shirts at the gift shop without racist symbols?
Hamilton County voters decided in November that part of Joe Deters was better than all of Alan Triggs as county prosecutor. Deters went to part-time status in 2009, something conveniently omitted on all of his campaign signs and advertising. Of all the elected prosecutors in Ohio’s 10 biggest counties, Deters is the only one with a fractional commitment to his public job. Then again, having pocketed more than $2 million with two now-disbarred private lawyers, who can blame Deters for sucking at two teats at once?