Morning News: Liberty and Elm project nears final approval; justice center head McGuffy says demotion was retribution; Mandel, Democrats tangle over political promises

Council is poised to make the final call on the controversial Freeport Row development at the northwest corner of Liberty and Elm streets.

Good morning all. If you haven’t gone outside yet, just don’t. Please don’t. It is very unpleasant. Stay in the comfort of your home and read up on some news instead, OK?

A major development at the gateway to northern Over-the-Rhine moved toward approval yesterday after it passed out of Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, clearing the way for Council to take a final vote as soon as tomorrow. The proposed Freeport Row development at the northwest corner of Liberty and Elm streets has been the subject of back and forth between developers and neighborhood groups for more than a year, and now Council is poised to make the final call on the controversial project.

Not every councilperson seemed convinced about the project — Yvette Simpson, Wendell Young, David Mann and Chris Seelbach initially abstained from voting, saying they wanted more meetings between resident groups and developer Source 3. Seelbach reversed his abstention and voted yes, which allowed the ordinances approving two LEED tax abatements and the sale of city-owned Freeport Alley and Campbell Street to be added to Council’s Wednesday agenda.

The Over-the-Rhine Community Council, OTR Foundation and a number of other community groups have voted multiple times to oppose the project due to its height, its lack of affordable housing and the lack of a parking garage included in the original project designs, among other concerns. Source 3 says it’s worked with the groups, taking a story off the building and working to redesign several aspects of the project. Some, including a minority of the OTR community council, support the project. Councilman Kevin Flynn, who has indicated he’ll vote yes for the final approval of the alley sales and tax abatements, pointed to letters from supporters, including a few residents of OTR and some merchants at Findlay Market. The packet of about 30 letters also includes missives from developers, realtors and business owners in and outside OTR along with the Cincinnati Reds and other groups.

• The official who runs the Hamilton County Justice Center will be demoted after an internal report says she created an atmosphere of intimidation and dysfunction. Charmaine McGuffy said yesterday that Hamilton County Sheriff officials told her she’ll be stripped of her rank of major and will be moved to a lower-paying job in the department. McGuffy says she’s the one suffering from bullying, however, and that the demotion is retribution after she questioned potential excessive force reporting and discipline problems among deputies at the justice center. Sheriff Jim Neil says the investigation that led to her demotion was thorough and that the allegations against her have been substantiated.

• Oops. Two streetcars are literally out of the loop after one collided with another that was parked Sunday at the transit system’s maintenance facility in northern OTR. Only three of the five vehicles run at a time, meaning there won’t be any immediate delays in service, but the collision did cause “extensive” damage to the two cars involved and they’ll be out of service for an indeterminate amount of time. No one was injured in the accident. The operator of the moving car, along with the supervisor on duty, have been removed from their posts pending an investigation.

• The suspended dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Law will drop a lawsuit against the school and will no longer serve in that position after reaching a settlement with the university. Jennifer Bard will receive $600,000 and two years of academic leave, after which she will return to her previous positions as a tenured professor at the College of Law and resume another position at the university’s College of Medicine.

• With the city facing a $25 million budget shortfall, city departments have been asked to make 10 percent reductions to their budgets. For the Cincinnati Health Department, those reductions will come to about $1.6 million — which officials say could mean big cuts to a program that seeks to reduce Cincinnati’s infant mortality rates. Cincinnati's infant mortality rates in recent years have been among the worst in the nation. Some council members are expressing concern over the coming cuts, especially at a time when health care funding from the federal government is also uncertain. Access to Medicaid looks to be on the chopping block after Republicans in the U.S. House passed the American Health Care Act, which rolls back Obama-era expansions of the program.

• We’re already in full-on back and forth mode in Ohio’s upcoming 2018  Senate race. Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel says he’ll only serve two terms as a senator if he’s successful in his challenge against U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown — something he says Brown promised to do but never did. But Mandel’s critics have flipped that around on him, bringing up a promise Mandel made to serve a full four-year term in his current post when he first ran for it in 2010. Mandel promptly forgot that promise when he launched his first run against Brown in 2012, Ohio Democrats say. Mandel says he doesn’t recall whether he promised to remain Treasurer for a full term when he was running for that job.

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