Morning News: man experiencing homelessness freezes to death downtown; library won't sell downtown building, will seek new levy

The library won't pursue a controversial plan to sell the north building of its downtown campus, but will ask Hamilton County taxpayers to double their contribution next year.

The downtown branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County - Hailey Bollinger
Hailey Bollinger
The downtown branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Good morning all. I hope you’re having a good holiday season and got tons of rad gifts and awesome food if that’s your thing. I’m catching up from being off last week, so let’s run through some noteworthy recent news.

Cincinnati Parks Board Chairwoman Dianne Rosenberg filed a lawsuit in Hamliton County Court of Common Pleas against the city Dec. 22 after Cincinnati City Council voted 5-4 to approve her replacement, Jim Goetz, who was appointed by Mayor John Cranley. Rosenberg was appointed in 2015. The city’s charter stipulates that park board appointments run for six years, but Cranley says that Rosenberg was appointed to fill an unfinished term vacated by Cathy Crain. Cranley and the city say that term expires Dec. 31 this year.

Clerk of council records show Rosenberg’s term ending in 2021, and the city’s website once said the same before it was changed. Further, Rosenberg in her lawsuit claims that even if she were filling Crain’s term, that term doesn’t end until February 2018, which is after new members of city council are seated. Cranley says the records showing Rosenberg’s term ending in 2021 are a clerical error. Rosenberg is asking the court to delay Goetz’s appointment until the matter is resolved. The fight over Rosenberg’s spot comes as the mayor and the park board wrangle over $10 million given to the park board by wealthy donors in bank accounts not controlled by the city. Cranley wants to put that money under city control, saying the move will increase transparency.   

 • A man froze to death early yesterday morning downtown. Ken Martin, who volunteered for and received services from a nonprofit group called Maslow’s Army, was experiencing homelessness when he passed away from exposure to extreme cold near Government Square. His death comes at a time when Hamilton County faces a 40,000-unit gap in affordable housing, as homeless shelters have experienced high demand and just a month after the city’s emergency winter shelter announced it didn’t have sufficient funds to operate the full winter this year. Donations subsequently closed much of the $65,000 gap the shelter faced, but advocates for those experiencing homelessness say the city is still woefully unequipped to serve those without housing in the city.

• Even as the city continues to roll out pedestrian safety efforts, accidents between cars and pedestrians claimed two more lives in Cincinnati this week. A driver sped away after hitting Timothy Whalen Dec. 22 in a crosswalk in Avondale. Whalen died of his injuries yesterday. The victim of another hit and run, well-known retired Elder High School teacher Mark Klusman, also died yesterday of injuries related to a Dec. 9 accident during a neighborhood cleanup in East Price Hill. The city is working on traffic-calming and pedestrian safety efforts in that neighborhood, as well as other locations of high-profile accidents like Northside. It’s unclear if similar efforts will happen in Avondale.

• Cincinnati City Council last week approved funding that will allow Northside’s Community Development Corporation to purchase the former Save-A-Lot building on Apple Street just a couple blocks from the neighborhood’s bustling business district. The prospective tenant, Apple Street Market, has been working for more than three years to bring a worker- and community-owned grocery store to the location. You can read about the deal in depth in our news feature here.

As I tweeted when I was on vacation (yes my life is that sad), the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Board of Trustees voted at its meeting last week not to sell the north building of its downtown campus. Opponents of that sale with the Our Library, Our Decision Coalition applauded that decision, but will also attend a meeting at the downtown library at 6 p.m. tonight to ask further questions about the library board’s plans for the building.

• The library board also voted to ask Hamilton County taxpayers next May for a 1 mill property tax levy to support an ambitious, $54 million facilities plan that they say would improve accessibility for people with disabilities at several branches, build and renovate other branches and increase efficiency across the system by creating a new book processing hub. The library already receives about $17 million from a separate 1 mill levy. The new levy and the old levy combined would raise about $34 million a year and cost owners of a $100,000 house about $60 a year. The library gets the bulk of its funding from the state of Ohio, but county property tax revenue accounts for about a quarter of the money it operates on. Library officials say the system faces a $3 million deficit next year without increased funding.

• Conservative Ohio lawmakers are trying again on a controversial bill that would outlaw abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. That can be as early as six weeks after conception. Republican State Rep. Christina Hagan, the lead sponsor of the bill, says the intention is to launch a legal battle to take on Roe v. Wade, the landmark federal court decision that made abortion legal in the United States. Abortion opponents like Hagan see the U.S. Supreme Court getting more conservative in the future under the tenure of President Donald Trump and hope the fight over their bill could lead to Roe v. Wade being overturned.

In the past, however, even abortion opponents like Ohio Right to Life and Ohio Gov. John Kasich has balked at the heartbeat bill, saying it goes too far and isn’t legally defensible. Kasich last year vetoed similar legislation, citing the fact it would almost certainly be found unconstitutional. But Hagan and other supporters of the heartbeat bill say they’ll seek to override that veto in the legislature. Ohio is already home to some of the strictest abortion restrictions in the country. Kasich recently approved legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks, and the state legislature also recently passed a ban on abortions in cases where tests have revealed the fetus to have down syndrome.

• A Dayton woman who spent more than 20 years behind bars for a crime many say she didn’t commit was released on Christmas Day and will soon come to Cincinnati to work with the Ohio Justice and Policy Center. Tyra Patterson, who was sentenced to life in prison after she was convicted of being an accomplice in a 1994 murder, has garnered national attention for her story. Among those taking up her cause was David Singleton, OJPC founder and an attorney who has spent much of his professional career fighting wrongful convictions. Singleton drove Patterson from the prison where she was being held in Cleveland to her home in Kettering. Patterson is moving to an apartment here in Cincinnati to work on advocacy and policy issues around wrongful convictions in Ohio’s justice system.

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