Morning News: Tensing jury says it can't reach verdict, ordered to keep deliberating; Cranley vetoes part of budget; controversy over AHCA continues

The jury in the retrial of former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing this morning told Hamilton County Court Judge Leslie Ghiz that they could not come to a unanimous verdict.

click to enlarge Mayor John Cranley - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Mayor John Cranley

Hello all. Let’s talk news real quick before the weekend gets here.

The jury in the retrial of former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing this morning told Hamilton County Court Judge Leslie Ghiz that they could not come to a unanimous verdict. Ghiz, however, sent them back into deliberations “for a little while longer.”

Questions posed by the jury over the past two days have been sealed by Hamilton County courts. The questions could reveal too much about where the jury stands, court officials say, and must be kept out of the public eye while the jury continues its deliberations. We didn’t see that move last trial — questions asked by the jurors were made available to the media. Jurors are in their fifth day of deliberations. They’ve surpassed the 25 hours jurors deliberated before declaring they were deadlocked during Tensing’s first trial.

• Mayor John Cranley today vetoed a piece of Cincinnati City Council’s $395 million operating budget it passed Wednesday. The ordinance blocked a proposal from City Manager Harry Black that would have allowed the city to put boots on the cars of drivers who haven’t paid parking tickets, raising an estimated $600,000 a year for the city. The five council members who voted against Black’s proposal said the plan would adversely affect low income residents. With the city facing a $26 million gap between revenue and income, Council’s move blocking Black’s plan created a $600,000 hole in the budget, which was filled using one-time sources instead of continuing revenue. That put Cranley in an awkward spot — he has spoken out against the idea of booting cars for overdue parking tickets, but has also hung his reputation on his administration passing balanced budgets. Cranley has indicated he will introduce legislation next week that will fill the budget gap without going forward with Black’s booting program. He'll do that by declaring two spending items — $400,000 in help for homeowners struggling with code compliance issues and $200,000 for the region's heroin task force — to be one-time expenditures, freeing up $600,000 in recurring funds. The move comes as Cranley squares off against Councilwoman Yvette Simpson ahead of the 2017 mayoral election.

• Two of Hamilton County’s three commissioners signed non-disclosure agreements with FC Cincinnati, which is looking to build a $200 million soccer stadium somewhere in either Cincinnati or Newport as part of a bid to win Major League Soccer franchise status. That idea is controversial, mostly because it would require public dollars. FC says it will provide private investment for half the cost of the stadium, but is also looking for some taxpayer help. They’ve approached the Hamilton County Commission to that end, though officials say they’re not keen on public dollars for a new stadium. Commissioners Todd Portune and Denise Driehaus both signed the non-disclosure agreements, which legally bar them from speaking about the team’s plans for the new stadium, a few months ago when FC first approached them about the deal. The team says those agreements don’t have anything to do with tax dollars and are in accordance with MLS rules to protect proprietary financial information during a competitive effort to get a franchise. Commissioner Chris Monzel refused to sign the non-disclosure agreement.

• Will Kroger make a counter-bid for troubled organic grocer Whole Foods? Online retail giant Amazon wants to buy the chain for $13.7 billion, an offer that sank stocks for Kroger and other grocers. Kroger could make a counter-offer, but CEO Rodney McMullen was tight-lipped about that possibility at the Cincinnati-based company’s stockholder meeting in Over-the-Rhine yesterday. Read more about that here.

• Happy Friday! The Brent Spence Bridge will see five months of closures starting tonight, promising to snarl traffic on already-busy I-75. Find out more about alternate routes and closed lanes here. 

• North Korean officials say they have no idea what happened to Otto Warmbier, the Wyoming native who was detained by the country for more than a year before returning to the United States in a coma. Warmbier died Monday. Officials for the reclusive autocratic nation say their country is “the biggest victim” in the whole ordeal, sparking outrage from U.S. officials.

• Conservative Ohio lawmakers aren’t on board — at least not yet — with a controversial new plan for the nation’s health care system drafted by Republicans. GOP senators led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky yesterday unveiled their plan for the American Health Care Act, which would repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and cut federal expenditures on Medicaid and other programs. Democrats in the Senate universally oppose that plan, leaving a very small margin of error for GOP leadership. McConnell and other supporters of the bill can lose only two votes from their Republican colleagues if the bill is to pass the Senate. That may not be in the cards — four ultra-conservative senators, including Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz, have said they won’t support the plan.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio has signaled his hesitancy about the bill. Protesters staged a sit-in at Portman’s D.C. office Wednesday, and a group of local faith leaders are planning to deliver a letter stating their staunch moral opposition the legislation to his Cincinnati office today. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has also blasted the bill, saying it will put at risk 700,000 Ohioans helped by the federal government’s Medicaid expansion, including many who are suffering from opiate addiction. The health care proposal also caused huge protests outside McConnell's Washington, D.C. office yesterday, leading to the removal of some protesters in wheelchairs by Capitol security.

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