Morning News and Stuff

Emails reveal city, Western & Southern Lytle Park collaboration; election set for Boehner's replacement; Kasich signs charter school oversight law

Good morning all. Hope your Halloween was really rad. I spent mine dancing like an idiot while marginally dressed up like Waldo of Where’s Waldo fame. That’s right. I chose a literary themed costume because I’m classy. Some friends and I also had a pretty great picnic in Spring Grove Cemetery, which I highly recommend.

Anyway. News. You already knew this, but Cincinnati’s first streetcar showed up on Friday, accompanied by the kind of hoopla usually reserved for astronauts who have been to the moon or people who have saved a bunch of puppies from burning buildings or puppy-saving astronauts, even. A local TV news station broke out the news copter and gave real-time updates of the car’s progress down I-71 and Reading Road into Over-the-Rhine. Every blogger in the city blogged about the blog-worthiest event in the local blogosphere. (Btw, Microsoft Word recognizes “blogosphere” as a legitimate word because we live in the worst era ever). My Instagram account was damn near unusable for hours afterward because it was just pictures of a single streetcar not on its tracks and a bunch of people looking at it. Yes, yes. It was a historic day and streetcars haven’t run in this city since the 1950s. Personally, I’ll start partying the minute I can step on a streetcar in Mount Auburn, feel it glide down the old tracks I walk past every day poking up out of Highland Ave., and step off at work. That’d be the day. Until then, woo hoo.

• Meanwhile, OTR is getting more $500,000-plus homes, all right along the streetcar route. Recently-founded Cincinnati based development company Karvoto has announced plans for nine townhomes in the neighborhood, all with three bedrooms and between 2,000 and 2,700 square feet of space. The $4 million development will renovate four buildings along Wade Street and Kemp Alley and also construct five new buildings in the same area.

• A series of e-mails between city officials and Cincinnati-based corporation Western & Southern reveal the two have been collaborating on plans for the overhaul of Lytle Park downtown near W&S headquarters and the conversion of a nearby former women’s shelter, the Anna Louise Inn, into a luxury hotel. That renovation has been controversial; the building’s former occupant, Cincinnati Union Bethel, had used the building for its women’s shelter for more than a century before a legal battle eventually forced it to sell to W&S. The e-mails also show that the city is mulling the sale or lease of two streets near those locations to Eagle Realty, the real estate arm of W&S. In addition to collaboration, the messages reveal conflict between the city’s Park Board and Eagle over the sale of the streets, dumpsters associated with the Anna Louise Inn renovation and other issues. Critics of charter amendment Issue 22, a park-oriented tax increase on tomorrow’s ballot, released the e-mails recently after gaining access to them through an open records request. Issue 22 seeks to fund a number of proposed projects, including the remake of Lytle Park, through a permanent property tax increase.

• As folks tear their hair out and obsess over a 1 mill property tax increase for the city’s parks, Hamilton County Commissioners are on the way to passing a $209 million spending package that is drawing about as much attention as Jim Webb’s presidential campaign. In what can only be described as a reverse Parks and Recreation scenario, four scheduled public hearings about the budget garnered exactly zero public attendees to give input on the plan. Part of that is because the budget doesn’t exactly depart wildly from the status quo — there are few if any dramatic cuts or spending swells. It’s not that there aren’t big issues: Hamilton County’s morgue needs a huge update, and commissioners aren’t sure how to pay for it, for example. But for now, the big money fights are elsewhere, and that’s left commissioners feeling a little lonely, calling for someone, anyone, to comment on their handiwork. Democrat Commissioner Todd Portune had an aptly spooky quote about the ghostly public.

“It’s almost like the county is the Sleepy Hollow of local government,” he said. “You typically don’t get the same kind of public involvement that you see at the city or other local municipalities.”

• Ohio will have to wait a while to vote on a replacement for former Speaker of the House John Boehner, who represented the West Chester area in Congress. It’ll be a hot day in June when his District 8 congressional seat goes up for a special election, and I for one can’t wait to see what kind of A-plus candidates run for the spot. Boehner bailed on the top spot in Congress last month after tea party Republican machinations in the House nearly brought the government to a shutdown again, this time over Planned Parenthood. Boehner, tired of trying to shepherd his unruly flock of hardcore anti-government conservatives peaced out of the fray, leaving the GOP to fumble and fidget until finally roping U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin into the leadership role. Now the House has a head again, but Ohio’s 8th District is still without representation. Thanks Boehner.

• Finally, Gov. John Kasich signed a bill today that would create more oversight for the state’s private charter schools, which have become something of a boondoggle for his administration and the Ohio Department of Education. Numerous investigations have taken place around the schools, which use public money to create private alternative to public school districts. Earlier this year, one of those investigations revealed that ODE officials neglected to include scores from particularly low-performing online charter schools in performance evaluations for charters. Other scandals have befallen charters in the recent past, including revelations of financial mismanagement, staff misbehavior and attendance irregularities at charters throughout the state, including in Cincinnati.

Annnnnd I’m out. Go vote tomorrow.

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