Morning News and Stuff

Council passes resolution supporting same-sex marriage; street named in honor of Camp Washington Chili owner; anti-abortion activists target Boehner

Morning all. Are you as disappointed with the soggy gray awfulness outside as I am? Over the past few days I’ve been tuning up my bike, getting ready for spring. My plan was to get it out today and ride to work instead of walking. But this morning has been more kayak commuting weather, and since I don’t own a kayak, I’m working from home. Bummer. Anyway, let’s move on to news. This is the weekly City Council update edition, where I tell you about all the zany stuff our council members got up to yesterday.

First, council passed a resolution supporting marriage equality in the state of Ohio authored by Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly gay elected official.

“The protection and equality we want is no different than what everyone wants," Seelbach said, highlighting the ways in which his life with his partner are the same as any married couple’s. Seelbach also drew attention to the continued court battles being waged by Cincinnatians against Ohio’s gay marriage ban. Among them is Jim Obergefell, whose case against Ohio’s gay marriage ban will be tried in the U.S. Supreme Court next month. Obergefell is seeking to be listed on his late husband John Arthur’s death certificate. The two were legally married in Maryland.

“Our city could have fought us, as our state continued to do, but instead our city stood on the side of love with a message that is resoundingly clear: We welcome, accept and love everyone,” Obergefell said in a written statement read by a representative from LGBT rights group Why Marriage Matters.

Six council members voted for the resolution, with Councilman Charlie Winburn voting against it and two, P.G. Sittenfeld and Amy Murray, absent from the meeting for unrelated reasons. Winburn applauded Seelbach’s advocacy for the issue, but said he didn’t agree with its premise. Winburn has been a vocal opponent of gay marriage. Cincinnati joins several other Ohio cities, including Dayton and Columbus, in supporting marriage equality.

• More council stuff: our esteemed deliberative body yesterday rejected another stab at a parking plan for Over-the-Rhine that would have created 400 permitted spots around the neighborhood. The plan would have cost residents in the area $109 a year, plus $5 each for guest permits. Some council members, including Seelbach, said the price is still a bit too high and probably not necessary to generate the revenue needed. “I think we’re close,” Seelbach said. “This is close to what we would support. But the annual permit at $109 is the highest in America.”

Vice Mayor David Mann said he expected the plan to pass.

“This continues to be a work in progress,” Mann said. “We’re very open to changes as we implement and see how it works … but I think it’s time to do something. It’s been in and out of committee for three months.”

• Council also named a whole block of Colerain Avenue in Camp Washington after John "Johnny" Johnson, who has been working at Camp Washington Chili in the neighborhood for a mind-boggling 64 years. That's pretty cool. The restaurant, which I have patronized many a late night after various shows, has received national accolades for its chili, which is awesome. Johnson's uncle started the restaurant in 1940, and he began working there in 1951after coming here from Greece.

• The road is long and difficult and every step is studded with obstacles. No, I’m not talking about an underdog team in the NCAA tournament, nor the plot of a Tolkien novel. I speak of the streetcar, which is facing yet another round of drama this week involving contracts for who will operate the transit system. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, tasked with finding employees to operate the streetcar, must choose between two types of bids: those from companies that will manage SORTA’s union employees and those that will hire their own. Democrats on council want SORTA to go the former route and consider only bids that rely on employees from the Amalgamated Transit Union, of which most of SORTA’s employees are members. A past effort by council to get more details about the bids in relation to this wish drew sharp rebuke from the Federal Transit Authority, however, which said that any attempt to change SORTA’s bid process could result in loss of federal funds for the streetcar. The feds provided more than $45 million for the nearly $150 million project.

"If confidentiality is not maintained,” wrote FTA attorney John Lynch in a Monday letter to SORTA, “that presents risks to the process and increases potential exposure to protests and legal action from the proposers. The council's proposed changes to the procurement process could be perceived as giving preferential treatment to one contractor over another."

Now a new motion proposed yesterday by most of council’s Democrats would direct SORTA to only consider bids in which SORTA employees are used to run the streetcar. That motion needs two more votes and isn’t binding — it’s asking, not telling, SORTA to hire ATU employees. That motion also leaves maintenance personnel out of the equation, which is important because that’s a sticking point in negotiations between SORTA and the ATU on what using union workers would look like. The two are tangling over a few specialized maintenance positions that require particular electrical engineering training. The ATU says whoever does those jobs should be union members; SORTA says it has the right to hire outside workers for those positions. Phew. So there you have it. Bids for operating the streetcar are due at the end of the month, and SORTA’s board will vote to award the contract in July.

• Here’s a completely unsubstantiated, unscientific observation: People named “Woody” seem much more apt to support legalization efforts for marijuana. First there was Woody Harrelson, and now we have Taft Broadcasting Co. Development Director Woody Taft. Taft and his brother Dudley are among the funders of an ongoing effort by ResponsibleOhio to get an Ohio constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana on the November ballot. The Tafts are just a couple of the big names in town who have invested in the legalization scheme, which would legalize production and sale of marijuana but limit commercial cultivation to 10 legal growers. That dimension of the provision has raised ire from other pot legalization advocates. ResponsibleOhio has modified its proposal to allow for home growth of small amounts of weed, but those growers would not be allowed to sell their products.

The Tafts would be part owners of a marijuana cultivation farm proposed in Butler County should the ballot initiative pass.

“Our current laws are archaic and cruel to the people in Ohio who need medical marijuana,” Woody Taft said in a statement sent out by the pro-marijuana group.

• Finally, eight protesters were arrested outside House Speaker John Boehner’s Washington office yesterday. No, they weren’t up in arms about his continued efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, or his moves to stymie Democrats’ immigration reform agenda. Nor were they there staging an intervention for Boehner’s all-too-evident tanning bed addiction.

Instead, they were all riled up about the fact that Boehner and other congressional Republicans haven’t moved fast enough on a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. The House was set to vote on the bill way back at the beginning of the year, but some moderate GOPers balked at the ban because it required a woman to report her rape or incest to law enforcement in order to qualify for an exception to the proposed law. Members of the Christian Defense Coalition, who were the protesters praying outside of Boehner’s office, say his failure to push that bill through is a “betrayal” of the pro-life cause. Boehner’s office shot back that he’s the most pro-life speaker in history, which seems a hard claim to fact-check considering abortion was illegal for much of our country’s history.

That’s it for me. Tweet me. Email me. You know the drill. 

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