Cincinnati and Hamilton County still at odds over MSD; more news

Cincinnati says it is close to finalizing a deal with Hamilton County over control of the Metropolitan Sewer District, but a hearing in federal court showed deep tension continues

click to enlarge MSD is working on a multi-million dollar water infrastructure project at Lick Run near Queen City Avenue, part of a federally mandated effort to prevent sewer overflows. - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
MSD is working on a multi-million dollar water infrastructure project at Lick Run near Queen City Avenue, part of a federally mandated effort to prevent sewer overflows.

Hello, Cincy! Here’s some quick news for you today.

A new lawsuit claims racial discrimination within the Cincinnati Police Department… against white officers. The suit, filed against the city, Mayor John Cranley, acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney, former City Manager Harry Black, Police Chief Eliot Isaac, the Sentinels Police Association and Lt. Danita Pettis in U.S. District Court earlier this week by two white officers, alleges that the department engages in “double standards” against white officers and has not adequately punished Pettis for alleged severe misbehavior. The suit is the latest moment in ongoing and dramatic infighting within the department, including an earlier dustup in which Fraternal Order of Police President Dan Hils and Pettis were disciplined for a spat in which Hils called Avondale an “urban ghetto” and recalled to officers under Pettis' command that he “kicked Pettis’ ass” when arresting her in the 1990s.

• The City of Cincinnati says it is almost finished finalizing an agreement with Hamilton County over control of the Metropolitan Sewer District ahead of the expiration of a 50-year-old partnership between the two. But that didn’t stop the city and county from arguing bitterly over key points of that agreement in federal court yesterday. U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett ordered yesterday’s progress report on the agreement, which would cede control over MSD from the city to an independent board. Employees of MSD would work for the county under the agreement, but would still pay into the city’s pension fund.

The city and county are at odds, however, over what should come first. Mayor John Cranley argues that MSD should move forward right away with the second phase of a federal court-ordered plan to end sewage backups, which flood the basements of homes, the Ohio River and nearby creeks with raw sewage during heavy rain. The city has come up with a 10-year plan to do so, one Cranley says is focused on repairs deemed urgent by MSD scientists and engineers. The county, meanwhile, wants to focus on transitioning into the new leadership structure before diving into the fixes for MSD’s problems. The first phase of the court-ordered fixes cost $1 billion, and the project overall will ring up to at least three times as much. Despite some notable progress in areas of the Mill Creek, the Environmental Protection Agency, also in court with the city and county, says progress isn’t meeting expectations and that there are still compliance issues with MSD’s sewer overflow.

There are other complications that could await the agreement between the city and the county, which replaces a 1968 agreement expiring in September. The Ohio General Assembly must approve MSD employees continuing to pay into the city's pension fund, something that may or may not happen. And the EPA and environmental group the Sierra Club, whose lawsuit triggered the federally required MSD upgrades, sound skeptical about a portion of the deal that would effectively let the city off the hook for compliance with the requirements. Either snag could be a deal breaker, city officials say.

• Will MEMI, a subsidiary of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, be tapped to build a music venue at The Banks? Despite a vote by Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee in the affirmative earlier this week, the future is still murky. Mayor John Cranley said yesterday that the deal is still in jeopardy due to opposition by the Cincinnati Bengals to the proposed location of the venue near Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals would instead like to see the venue at another spot at The Banks currently reserved for residential development. Meanwhile, city council couldn’t take a full vote on the development due to a procedural snag, and will need to wait until next week to do so. Also at issue: the potential need for $20 million in public money split evenly between the city and the county to pay for a parking garage for the project.

“I worry we're giving people false hope," Cranley said yesterday. "There's no question we're far from a deal. One, the Bengals have made it clear they don't support using the lots closest to the stadium. And two, there is no agreement or legal obligation for us to put money into parking."

• Here’s an innovative way to support transit: build your own bus benches and put them where they don’t already exist. That’s what transit activists the Better Bus Coalition have been doing lately, and they’ve pledged to keep going. So far, the group has placed benches in Hyde Park, Price Hill and Northside, They have their sights set on Lincoln Heights and some uptown locations next. You can read our story about their efforts here.

• Anderson High School will keep a controversial name for America’s first inhabitants, the Redskins, as the moniker for its sports teams — at least for now. A committee charged with recommending whether to change the school’s name couldn’t come to an agreement, they announced during a meeting Tuesday. The group cited financial concerns — it costs money to change branding on everything associated with the school — and deep disagreement among community members for their non-decision.

“I want everyone to recognize that we have been put in an impossible situation," committee member Elizabeth Barber said at the meeting. "It is lose-lose. There is absolutely no way to make everyone in this room happy."

The proposed name change has attracted months of controversy. Proponents of the change say the school shouldn’t use what many believe to be a racial slur. But opponents say the name is a tradition and isn’t offensive. Forest Hills Local School Board, which oversees the high school, has the final say on the name change.

• Two new polls show two Ohio Democrats winning against their Republican opponents in November. A poll by Quinnipiac University found Democrat Richard Cordray leading Republican Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine in the race for governor, albeit by a 42 percent to 40 percent spread. That’s within the poll’s margin of error, meaning the two are likely neck and neck. Meanwhile, the same poll found U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown prevailing against his challenger, Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, 51 percent to 37 percent. Another poll by Suffolk University and The Cincinnati Enquirer found Cordray leading DeWine by 43 percent to DeWine’s 36 percent. That poll found Brown leading Renacci 53 percent to 37 percent. The polls also took the state’s pulse on a number of other races and issues, which you can read more about here.

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