Morning News: streetcar budget faces tight Council vote; closing statements in Tensing trial; Mandel weaves politics into state business trips

SORTA requested $4.6 million to run the streetcar next year — $200,000 more than projected — and needs five Council votes to ward off a potential mayoral veto.

Good morning all. Nothing gets a Monday morning started like a whole mess of news, right? Right. Let’s do this.

Cincinnati City Council could face a tough vote this week on the budget for the streetcar. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, which manages the streetcar, has asked for $4.6 million to run it next year — $200,000 more than projected. Ridership for the streetcar has lagged behind projections at times this year, and revenues for the system are about $915,000 behind costs. That doesn’t mean the streetcar is in the red yet, however. The system has a $2 million surplus from its initial funding to pull from.

So far, five Cincinnati City Council members — stalwart streetcar supporters Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Wendell Young and David Mann have indicated they support SORTA’s budget request. Streetcar opponents Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman have indicated they won’t back the budget ask. Amy Murray and Kevin Flynn, who have both taken more moderate stances on the transit system, haven’t tipped their hands yet. The five yes votes are enough to pass the budget through Council, but one short of the number needed to ward off a potential mayoral veto. It’s unclear if Mayor John Cranley would veto the streetcar budget — doing so could shut down the streetcar and set off millions of dollars in clawbacks from the federal government, which issued Cincinnnati TIGER grants for large portions of the project. Council must pass a budget ahead of the end of the fiscal year June 30.

• Prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to make their closing arguments today in the retrial of former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing, after which the jury will begin deliberations. The trial’s final day follows a very tense series of court proceedings Friday in which Tensing himself testified about his shooting of unarmed motorist Samuel DuBose. Tensing said his arm was stuck in DuBose’s car and that he felt he was being dragged and feared for his life when he shot DuBose in the head. Grant Fredericks, the prosecution’s expert video analyst, contradicted that assertion earlier in the week in a frame-by-frame analysis of Tensing’s body camera footage, but Tensing pushed back against that testimony.

“I mean no disrespect to Mr. Fredericks, but he wasn’t there experiencing what I was experiencing,” Tensing said. “This was my perception and my belief as to what was happening.”

James Scanlon, a former Columbus Police Department detective, also testifying Friday as the defense’s use of force expert, backed up Tensing’s claim that he was justified in shooting DuBose because he feared for his life.

“My opinion is the actions of Officer Tensing were reasonable, justified and in accordance with recognized police practices,” Scanlon said.

Meanwhile, protests calling for a conviction continue. The AMOS Project, a coalition of faith leaders, will hold a rally at 6:30 p.m. tonight in which they will march around the Hamilton County Courthouse.

• Council members Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld will present their proposals for new pedestrian safety initiatives at a news conference in Northside today at 11 a.m. The two would like to allocate $500,000 in the upcoming budget for efforts to prevent injuries and deaths to pedestrians. The effort comes after a number of incidents in which pedestrians have been hurt and killed, including the death of Northside business owner Sarah Cole, who was struck and killed by a driver in the neighborhood last year.

• The Cincinnati Planning Commission Friday gave its approval to a $300 million hospital tower and parking garage project in Avondale near Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. That project has some controversy around it, however — the Avondale Community Council and some residents in the area oppose it. The plan requires the demolition of 16 homes and the rerouting of Erckenbecher Avenue into an S-curve. Critics of the plan say the homes are in good shape and that the owners unwittingly sold their properties not knowing the major hospital expansion plans. Avondale Community Council president Patricia Milton likened the plans to “backdoor eminent domain” at the planning commission meeting Friday. Children’s says the hospital needs room to grow to accommodate more patients and cutting-edge medical technology.

• The state of Ohio has selected three companies that will review applications from hopeful medicinal marijuana businesses, the Associated Press reports. The state is accepting applications for 12 small-scale marijuana cultivators and 12 large-scale growers. Friday was the deadline for applications from prospective small-scale growers, while large-scale growers have until the end of the month. The Ohio Department of Commerce selected iCann Consulting, B&B Grow Solutions and Meade & Wing to sort through those applications, rate them based on each applicant’s operation plans, security proposals, financial arrangements and other factors and select those the state will grant licenses.

• Ohio Treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel wove campaigning into every trip he took last year as treasurer, according to reports he filed with the state. Mandel, who is required to use campaign funds to pay for any political trips separate from his official duties, says his campaign is simply exercising an abundance of caution by over-reporting his political travels. But by paying for his trips with cash from the coffers of his three campaign accounts, says Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics, he could also be obscuring how much — or little — work he’s doing on behalf of Ohioans on those trips. Krumholz called Mandel’s arrangement one of the most unusual she’s seen.

“It’s good and to his credit for being overly cautious (on behalf of taxpayers),” Krumholz told the Associated Press. “On the other hand, maybe it obfuscates the fact that he hasn’t been doing the public service he’s being paid to do, that his travel is heavily weighted toward his campaign activities.”

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