Questions Swirl Around Resignation Papers for Police Chief; City Makes Deal for Wasson Way Bike Trail Land

The city of Cincinnati recently drew up resignation documents for Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, according to a May 29 report by the Cincinnati Business Courier. That revelation has led to speculation over whether Blackwell was on the

Questions Swirl Around Resignation Papers for Police Chief

The city of Cincinnati recently drew up resignation documents for Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, according to a May 29 report by the Cincinnati Business Courier. That revelation has led to speculation over whether Blackwell was on the verge of being dismissed from his position, though city officials say that isn’t the case.

Both Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black, who has the power to dismiss the chief, have said the documents were drawn up after Blackwell inquired about resigning. Blackwell didn’t sign those documents and has since said he’s not planning on going anywhere.

Blackwell was hired by City Manager Milton Dohoney. Following the 2013 election, Cranley asked Dahoney to hold off on hiring a police chief so he could have a say in the decision. Dahoney did not wait, however.

Some, including Councilman Wendell Young, a former police officer, initially said the  papers seemed like a sign that Blackwell was about to be pushed out. Cranley and Black, however, both say they didn’t want Blackwell to leave but that Blackwell has mentioned resigning twice.

“There’s one person in the city that hires the chief and that can fire the police and that’s the city manager,” Black said recently. “I didn’t hire the chief and I have no intentions of firing the chief. The chief is the chief. I tell him like I tell all my department heads I’m focused on results.”

The resignation letter comes to light as the city receives accolades from across the country for its community-based policing practices but also struggles with a recent wave of gun violence that has shootings at a 10-year high.

Cincinnati has seen more than 50 shootings and 11 killings in the last month, and 30 murders so far this year. In Cincinnati and most other major cities, crime usually spikes as the weather gets warmer, but this year’s increase has been bigger than normal.

City Manager Black has given Blackwell until June 5 to present a 90-day plan for reducing violence in the city.

Black told media the chief can have an extension into next week if he needs it, but says he wants to be proactive and find causes and solutions for the city’s recent spike in shootings.

Blackwell has been chief for two years, before which he served with the Columbus Police Department.

“I want to assure everyone that I love this city,” Blackwell said in a statement released May 30. “I am the chief and I am committed to remaining the police chief of Cincinnati. In my nearly two years as chief, I have worked hard to couple our crime-fighting strategies with a sense of community collaboration and engagement to address those quality-of-life issues that too often plague our city. I will continue to work on issues both internally and externally to address crime.” (Nick Swartsell)

City Makes Deal for Wasson Way Bike Trail Land                                                 

 


The city has finalized a deal to purchase right of way along the Wasson Way rail line from Norfolk Southern, city officials announced June 1. Cincinnati City Council’s neighborhood approved the deal the same day.

If the full City Council approves the deal, the city will pay $11.75 million for the right of way needed to build a 7.5-mile bike path from Mariemont to Evanston.

The city is currently applying for millions in federal Transit Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grants to help pay for the path. The city will be required to chip in $3 million to $4 million even if it receives those grants, however.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has made more than $500 million available to cities for transit projects this year.

The Wasson Way trail has been in the works for several years. It seeks to build a 7.5-mile path between Xavier University in Evanston and Mariemont.

An extension proposed in January would end near major employers like the University of Cincinnati and uptown’s numerous hospitals in Avondale. City officials the trail will extend commuting opportunities and connect more residents to jobs in the area. Some trail advocates also say the bike path will boost property values in the surrounding area, encourage new development and attract new residents.

Estimates for the cost of the trail differ depending on whether capability for eventual light rail services along the route are included. Without light rail, the path would cost about $7.5 million.  With light rail, the price could jump as high as $20 million.

The bike trail could open by the end of next year, city officials say.

Wasson Way is just one of the bike trails the city is working to build in Cincinnati, including one along another set of mostly unused tracks called the Oasis Line.

The proposed trail would run from downtown to Lunken Airport, where it would connect with other trails that span the region. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority gave its approval for that project last month.

Mayor John Cranley has made bike trails, including Wasson Way, a priority during his time as mayor, often over on-street bike lanes, which Cincinnati’s last City Council preferred and which some bike advocates say are better for commuters. (NS)

City Applies for Federal Dollars for Elmore Street Bridge

City Council voted May 28 to apply for up to $33 million in TIGER grants for the proposed Elmore Street Connector project.

The bridge, which would connect Cincinnati State to the West Side after the current I-74 exit there is removed, is expected to cost up to $44 million.

Currently, the city and the state would split that cost, but the federal money could significantly lower the burden for both.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is undertaking a years-long reworking of the I-75 corridor, which includes changing interchanges that connect the highway and I-74 to uptown. ODOT’s original plans remove the I-74 exit onto Central Parkway, which carries traffic to Cincinnati State’s doorstep, but wouldn’t replace that exit.

That led to proposals for an overpass over I-75 to re-link the area with Beekman Street, which runs through South Cumminsville and other neighborhoods on the other side of the Mill Creek Valley. Despite the backing of area employers in the Uptown Consortium, a group that includes the University of Cincinnati and several hospitals, the project has been controversial.

But the bridge won’t cause delays to other parts of the project as previously expected, ODOT now says. Last month, officials said constructing the bridge, which Cincinnati State President O’Dell Owens has championed, could delay the construction of the Hopple Street ramp until as late as 2020.

After the potential delay was revealed and business owners in Camp Washington raised objections, Owens wrote a letter to ODOT requesting that the Hopple project not be delayed by the I-74 bridge.

In an email response to that letter, Ohio Department of Transportation Acting District Deputy Director Gary L. Middleton said removing the current I-74 interchange and constructing the new bridge would not affect the construction time frame for the Hopple exit.

“It is ODOT’s determination that reinstating this work at this time as per Cincinnati State’s letter dated May 20, 2015, will not result in any further delay to the project,” Middleton said in the e-mail. “However, other unrelated events/factors have created potential delays on this project.”

Owens has said the bridge would provide Cincinnati State students living on the West Side a vital direct link to the school. Economic impact studies touted by Mayor John Cranley’s office and undertaken by the Greater Cincinnati Economics Center for Education & Research in 2014 suggest that the bridge could have an economic impact worth millions.

The project could reconnect neglected neighborhoods like Millvale and South Cumminsville, which were cut off from the rest of the city by construction of the interstates, the report suggests.

Bridge boosters like Owens tout the potential benefits for those neighborhoods, saying the connector isn’t just for Cincinnati State.

“It’s been unfair that some people are saying, ‘It’s O’dell’s bridge, it’s Cincinnati State’s bridge,’” Owens told The Cincinnati Enquirer. last month “It opens up economic development opportunities for South Cumminsville. We’re talking about a community with a high unemployment rate. It is landlocked and needs some business. This is an opportunity to free that neighborhood.” (NS)

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