Big shifts on transit authority board; what police can and can't do with drones; more news

Hamilton County Commissioners appointed six new members to the board of the SORTA this week who may not support a tax levy for Metro; meanwhile, Cincinnati City Council will consider a new appointment by Mayor Cranley

click to enlarge Big shifts on transit authority board; what police can and can't do with drones; more news
Nick Swartsell

Good morning, all. Here’s some quick news today.

FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding and former mayor Mark Mallory made a pitch to the West End Community Council’s executive board last night for putting their stadium in the neighborhood. You can read more about the meeting in our story here.

• If you carried 55,000 cars a day, were 85 years old and had another decade until you could retire, you’d probably hope for a support group, too. A new coalition of neighborhood councils and others dedicated to replacing the Western Hills Viaduct had its launch event last night. That group, the Western Hills Viaduct Coalition, is looking for ways to make sure the project gets the necessary state, federal and private funding to actually become a reality. So far, the city and Hamilton County have both pledged $33 million each in local matches, but the rest of the replacement’s $330 million cost isn’t accounted for. Coalition organizers say they hope to draw more attention and partnerships to get the job done soon. City of Cincinnati engineers told attendees at last night’s launch that it will be at least another 10 years before the project is finished.

• Should a person who called the streetcar a “piece of shit” that should be shut down and tweeted or retweeted insults about Cincinnati City Council members be appointed to a spot on the board of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority? Mayor John Cranley thinks so, and today, we’ll see if city council agrees.

Cranley has appointed Rayshon Mack, a nurse, to SORTA’s board. Mack, a conservative, has been a common presence in local Twitter and Facebook debates about politics, often employing a combative, some say insulting tone on the social media platforms. Cranley has said he hasn’t read Mack’s posts and maintains that he’s qualified to serve as a board member because he’s a regular bus rider. Cranley is set to appoint seven SORTA board members during his term. Cranley has signaled that he’s appointing board members who agree that the city’s Metro bus service needs a funding increase, likely from a sales tax levy on this year’s ballot.

• Speaking of the SORTA board, Hamilton County Commissioners this week replaced all six members of the 13-member board they’re allowed to appoint. The terms of the county’s six previous appointees had expired. But there are some concerns that the new board won’t be amenable to the above-mentioned tax levy, which commission president Todd Portune opposes. Portune would rather SORTA focus on working with other transit authorities in Cincinnati’s suburban counties and in Indiana and Kentucky to create a regional transit system. Fellow Democrat commissioner Denise Driehaus says that opposition to the tax levy, which the previous board voted to approve, wasn’t a condition for her vote for the new appointees, however. The new appointees are Blake Ethridge, Robert Harris, Thaddeus Hoffmeister, Allen Freeman, Pete McLinden and Kathleen Wyenandt.

Here’s one more bit about Metro: It seems the city’s bus system has, through a months-long audit, found roughly $8 million more dollars than it previously thought it had. Metro has been sounding alarms about coming funding woes for months now ahead of its potential tax levy push, and while the extra money won’t solve the bus system’s 10 year, $180 million deficit situation, it will be enough to replace 20 of the system’s oldest buses, which have outlived their functional 12-year life span. Wait, is this what audits do? If so, I’m going to get me one of those. (Just kidding. I do not want an audit.) Cincinnati City Council members yesterday asked Metro officials some hard questions after the revelation. These included why Metro didn’t know it had $8 million extra dollars and, of course, now that the money has been found, why Metro is still planning on raising fares 15 cents this year. Council will have to approve the fare increase, and so far, at least two council members, Tamaya Dennard and Greg Landsman, are opposing it.

• The last remaining woman in the Ohio Democratic Party’s gubernatorial primary, Montgomery’s Connie Pillich, will fold her campaign today and endorse frontrunner Rich Cordray. Former State Rep. Pillich outlasted Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, who became Cordray’s running mate, in the contest, but hasn’t been able to mount enough of a challenge against the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. There is still a crowded field seeking to come out on top in the party’s May 8 primary. Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, Cleveland’s Jon Heavey, Larry Ealy of Dayton and  Paul E. Ray of Alliance are all running against Cordray.

• What can and can’t Ohio police do with drones? That’s a good question — one that has, creepily, gone somewhat unanswered even as drone use among police and fire professionals increases rapidly. But some law enforcement officials in a statewide task force are working on writing some rules. So far, they’ve come up with 56 pages of guidelines on what police and other emergency personnel should and shouldn’t do with the unmanned flying robots.

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