Morning News and Stuff

Is Cincy's mayor too powerful?; brewery water fees on hold; new developments in Emery debate

The Brent Spence Bridge
The Brent Spence Bridge

What’s up Cincy? Here’s your Friday morning news update.

Here we go again. Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter has been indicted on another felony charge. The charge is a reprise of one of the eight felony counts a jury deadlocked on last year. Hunter is being charged again with misuse of a court credit card. Prosecutors say they have new evidence on that charge that they presented to a new grand jury, which handed down the indictment. Hunter is also facing a new trial on other charges the jury couldn’t come to agreement on in her former case. Hunter was convicted on one count of having an inappropriate interest in a court contract last year over interventions prosecutors claim she took in an investigation into her brother, a county court employee. Hunter’s attorney says the new credit card indictment is unfair since Hunter was already tried for the charge. He says Hunter will appeal it and the other pending charges set for retrial.

• The number of brewers in Cincinnati is exploding, bringing increased stress on the city’s sewage system, according the Metropolitan Sewer District. That’s led to increased fees for brewers to make up for the runoff that MSD must process. But Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black have halted those fees for now after breweries cried foul. Black says he understands the outcry and is working to find a compromise — a way to enforce water regulations while also keeping the city from dampening one of its fastest-growing industries. Smaller brewers say the fees could hurt their businesses as they operate on small margins and will have to pass the increased costs on to consumers. They’ve also said they were given little warning about the fees. Cranley supports the pause, saying he wants to give brewers who feel they’ve been mistreated a fair shake. Black has said he wants to make sure the system is fair to other rate payers and will be working on a new plan over the next several weeks.

• A citizen task force that has compared Cincinnati’s charter to the governments of 17 other cities says that our mayor has “extraordinary power,” an imbalance that leaves Cincinnati City Council at a disadvantage. The task force is part of a panel studying the city’s charter ahead of possible changes. The group says the mayor has more power than intended by a 2002 amendment to the charter that created a so-called “strong mayor” system in the city, though it stressed that the review wasn’t aimed at current Mayor John Cranley but at the way the city’s government overall is structured. Two ways the mayor is unusually powerful, according to the group, are that he or she sets City Council’s agenda and controls the hiring and firing of the city manager.

• The convoluted case of the Emery Building in Over-the-Rhine got a new chapter this week as the managers of the building agreed to pay $125,000 in property taxes to Cincinnati Public Schools. The building had been property tax exempt, but will now be on the Hamilton County tax rolls. The controversy originated with a complex arrangement to renovate the building, which is owned by the University of Cincinnati. A for-profit developer renovated the upper floors and lower-level commercial space and was to use the proceeds to renovate the historic Emery Theater on the building’s first floor. However, the Requiem Project, a nonprofit that at one point had an agreement with the Emery group, charges that isn’t what has happened, and that renovation efforts have stalled. The Requiem Project sued after its contract with the Emery groups was terminated in January 2013.

• Here’s an alarming statement about national infrastructure investment from former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers: Public investment in infrastructure these days is essentially zero percent (OK, .06 percent) of the country’s GDP, and federal, state and local spending is basically maybe enough for maintenance the infrastructure we already have. Maybe. But the country isn’t investing in new infrastructure at all by the numbers. That statement comes as a debate rages over what to do about the nation’s aging roads, bridges, highways and other publicly funded transportation necessities. The debate hits close to home: We’re years into the struggle to find a way to pay for the 51-year-old, traffic-packed Brent Spence Bridge, for instance, and a solution to the bridge’s $2.6 billion funding dilemma still seems distant. Bummer.

That’s it for me. Tweet or e-mail me news tips or your suggestions for favorite strange corners of the city to explore. I’m planning to be out and about this weekend soaking up the spring weather. Assuming that it’s actually nice out. If it’s not nice out, tweet me suggestions for great places to curl up in a ball and cry.

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