Morning News: Council's strange adventure; Heroin overdoses spike; UC won't move law school to The Banks

Cincinnati City Council held a special session yesterday, even though it’s on recess, and it was… strange.

Aug 25, 2016 at 9:01 am
Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black (left) and Mayor John Cranley outside City Hall - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black (left) and Mayor John Cranley outside City Hall

Hello Cincy! Here are a few bits of news this morning.

First, Cincinnati City Council held a special session yesterday, even though it’s on recess, and it was… strange. Councilmen Wendell Young and Charlie Winburn called the meeting to talk about City Manager Harry Black’s status with the city. You see, Young, as well as a few other council members, say they’ve been hearing rumors that Black might be on the outs with Mayor John Cranley. Earlier this month, Black filed a complaint with the state around Cranley’s move to raise wages for city employees outside the city’s collective bargaining agreement. After last year’s abrupt dismissal of then-Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, Young and other Cranley critics say it’s no wonder some are concerned for Black’s job. But Cranley and Black fired off a joint statement the day before the meeting saying everything was fine and that Black was in no danger of being fired.

That left little cause for the meeting, some council members felt. Councilman Christopher Smitherman called the hour-and-a-half discussion “a waste of time” and chalked it up to politics. Both Young, a Cranley critic, and Winburn, usually a staunch Cranley supporter, slammed Smitherman for the statement, saying the public has a right to know the status of its city manager. Vice Mayor David Mann also expressed consternation at the exercise, saying he was “bewildered” by the whole thing. Winburn put forth a motion that would have had Council vote on a show of support for Black, but it fell a vote short of being considered. Mann and Smitherman voted against it, saying it was unnecessary.

What are the takeaways from this strange exercise? First, it’s going to be a long run up to the 2017 mayoral election, which will pit Councilwoman Yvette Simpson against Cranley. Cranley’s opponents on Council aren’t going to let anyone forget some of the controversial moves he’s made, including firing Chief Blackwell. Second, some folks Cranley definitely wants in his corner — well-known racial justice activists and other figures in the black community — seem unlikely to forget that firing and other incidents, either. Some of them were in the crowd yesterday and made public comments critical of Cranley. Iris Roley, who was instrumental in putting together the city’s Collaborative Agreement, got up to the podium in front of Council and asked Cranley to remove himself from the Collaborative Agreement process and hand it over to the city manager.

• OK. Enough Council drama. On to real, and tragic, news. Cincinnati police and emergency crews responded to more than 50 heroin overdose incidents in the city between Tuesday morning and Wednesday night, officials say. Authorities suspect that many of these overdoses involve additives like fentanyl, a prescription opiate stronger than heroin itself, or even carfentanil, which is basically an elephant tranquilizer. Several dealers have been distributing heroin cut with these additives, which provide a more intense high but also greatly increase the risk of overdose. CityBeat reported on the dangers of fentanyl earlier this year. Meanwhile, treatment providers for heroin addicts say they’re under-equipped to battle the ongoing surge in addiction and overdoses, thanks in part to restrictive laws that limit how many people addiction doctors can treat.

• Employees hired to operate Cincinnati’s streetcar have joined the transit union representing the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority. The nine drivers, and others who will be hired later, will become part of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 627. That is noteworthy because there was controversy over the fact that the city contracted operation of the streetcar out to a company called Transdev last year, sparking concerns from opponents of that move on Council that streetcar employees wouldn’t be represented by the ATU.

• Here’s a quickie: Earlier this week I told you that the Cincinnati Board of Health was poised to vote on a new health commissioner, choosing between current interim commissioner O’dell Owens and recent Seminole County, Florida health director Swannie Jett. Well, there’s no decision yet. The board delayed its vote until next month as it seeks more information about the two potential candidates. Its next meeting is Sept. 27.

• The streetcar won’t be full of prospective lawyers gliding toward their law classes after all. The University of Cincinnati will not move its law school downtown to The Banks, its board of trustees decided yesterday. In a 5-4 vote, the board moved to keep a new law school facility it has been planning at the university’s main campus uptown. News that UC was considering placing the school at the riverfront development sparked excitement from some urbanists and boosters of The Banks when it came out earlier this year, but trustees who voted against the move say the main campus has infrastructure and proximity to other disciplines that make it too good to move away from.

• Finally, let’s talk the 2016 election for just a second. As you know, Ohio is a vital, must-win state for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. But Trump, who already trails Clinton here by a few points in polls, will have to tangle with another candidate for conservative votes. Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson is officially on the ballot here after some confusion. Johnson will appear as an independent candidate because Ohio doesn’t officially recognize the Libertarian Party. What’s more, Johnson is replacing the candidate who supporters originally filed for that independent slot — Charlie Earl. Libertarians here say they collected enough petitions for Earl before Johnson was nominated, and had to submit those petitions before the state’s deadline. Afterward, they were able to get enough petitions for Johnson, and Secretary of State Jon Husted allowed for a switch-out. Follow all that? For most people, it won’t matter — all they’ll see is Johnson’s name on the ballot.