Morning News and Stuff

Union to sue SORTA, city; Kasich poised to sign $71 billion Ohio budget; Texas city charges journalists $80,000 for public emails

Good morning all. Here’s what’s going on today in Cincinnati.

If you were wondering what all the traffic was about downtown this morning (I was) this probably had something to do with it. The Hamilton County Courthouse was evacuated around 8:20 a.m. due to a suspicious suitcase that was flagged by bomb sniffing dogs there. The perimeter around the courthouse was cleared and a bomb unit and federal anti-terrorism personnel were dispatched to the scene. No word yet on what the item in the suitcase turned out to be.

• Guess what I have for you… it’s… you guessed it. More streetcar drama. The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents employees for the Southwest Regional Ohio Transit Authority, has announced it will file a lawsuit against SORTA and the city of Cincinnati to try and prevent them from accepting a bid that wouldn’t use union employees to operate the transit project.

According to the union, Cincinnati City Council must direct SORTA on which bid to select. Some members of Council supported a more expensive pro-union bid that cost $4.7 million to the non-union’s $4 million in the first year of operations, but couldn’t reach an agreement to recommend that bid during voting. The union-friendly contract comes in about $500,000 over budget for the city, which has caused conservatives on council to balk at the option. Democrat Wendell Young also voted against the pro-union deal, sinking it the last time it came before council, because he worried the $2 million from the city’s general fund Mayor John Cranley agreed to use toward the project wouldn’t be enough and that a shortfall would cause reduction in service for the streetcar.

Without an agreement, council punted the decision to SORTA, which says it has no choice but to choose the less-expensive option. The ATU is seeking an injunction in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to force council to make the decision, saying that is what is required under the language of a motion about streetcar operations council passed last year. A separate operations and maintenance agreement between SORTA and the city makes no mention of such a stipulation, however.

• Seven projects in Cincinnati representing more than $61 million in development will receive Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits, the state announced today. Among those projects is the revamp of the Baldwin building on Gilbert Avenue in Walnut Hills. The historic former piano factory will be converted from office space into market-rate apartments by Cincinnati-based Neyer Properties. Neyer will receive $4.8 million in tax credits on the $39 million project.

• New affordable housing for seniors is coming to Northside. Episcopal Retirement Homes is building the 56-unit, $10 million development at Knowlton and Mad Anthony streets, one of 10 the group is doing in Greater Cincinnati. The Northside development will be LEED certified and handicap accessible. Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved tax exemptions on the development yesterday and full council is expected to approve them tomorrow.

• Gov. John Kasich today is expected to sign into law the state’s $71 billion biennial budget drawn up by state lawmakers. Kasich didn’t get a lot of what he wanted in the budget — sweeping tax cuts for businesses and high-earners, taxes on oil and gas fracking, his revamp of the state’s educational funding formula — but the state legislature’s budget is still plenty conservative, ushering in its own big income tax cuts. And Kasich will have a bit of revenge as he vetoes some items in the state house’s budget, though it’s unclear what he will slash with the veto pen.

Abortion advocates hope against hope he’ll cut out some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, which conservative lawmakers slid into the budget at the last minute earlier this month. Those include a stipulation that clinics’ partner hospitals must be within 20 miles of the abortion provider and a tweak to the rules over how clinics without agreements with local hospitals are licensed. You can read in-depth about those rule changes and what they mean for Cincinnati and the state in tomorrow’s CityBeat print edition. Kasich is much more likely to veto items that limit his executive authority, including an attempt to close out a method Kasich used to expand Medicaid in the state over lawmakers’ objections. Kasich is ushering in the state’s budget even as he has his eye on bigger things: He’ll announce his run for president in Columbus July 21.

• Finally, this is a story that is probably most interesting to journalists, but here we go anyway. The city of McKinney, Texas, where police officer Eric Casebolt resigned earlier this month after he was shown on video pointing a gun at teenage pool party goers and slamming a teenaged girl to the ground, is charging journalists almost $80,000 for access to public records about Casebolt. Gawker Media has requested all official emails about Casebolt’s 10-year career as well as his personnel file. McKinney officials say that the city’s emails predating 2014 aren’t searchable and that they’ll have to hire a computer programmer to retrieve them, thus the huge expense. 

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