For three weeks running, Cincinnati City Councilman Tyrone Yates has refused to answer CityBeat's questions regarding the Citizens Police Review Panel that he proposed and council passed Jan. 21.
The panel will be selected by the city manager and will review police misconduct investigations, making recommendations to the city manager.
The proposal was a modified version of a recommendation made in a report issued about a year after the February 1997 police shooting death of Lorenzo Collins — an escaped mental patient who wielded a brick at police. The report was based on meetings between citizens, civil-rights groups and a U.S. Department of Justice mediator. At the time the report was issued, some council members objected because the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) chapter that represents Cincinnati officers had not been included in the mediation discussions.
The report included a recommendation similar to Yates' in which members of a citizens' panel would have an official role in reviewing police conduct.
The panel will be made up of seven Cincinnati residents, paid $100 per meeting.
Concerns voiced by the FOP include:
· The police budget being used to pay for office support for the panel — which will be the second of 43 city boards and commissions to be paid.
· The negative psychological impact on police officers who will be compelled to give statements to and be scrutinized by yet another investigative body — particularly one made up of citizens who are not trained in police safety procedures and might be biased against police.
The FOP also argued that establishing the panel was just an effort to placate vocal civil-rights activists who were upset that the Cincinnati officer involved in the Collins shooting was cleared by seven separate investigations, including investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and a local, voluntary citizens police advisory committee.
In a Jan. 7 CityBeat story, Yate's aide, Samantha Herd, said Yates would not be fielding any questions pertaining to the proposal until the week of Jan. 10.
In a Jan. 21 CityBeat story, Yates said he preferred not to answer questions about the FOP's issues until council had finalized plans for the panel Jan. 21.
CityBeat called again after the ordinance establishing the panel passed.
Would Yates now answer the paper's questions about issues being raised by the FOP?
"No," he said. "You can ask the city manager or some of the people on the mediation team. I think I've said all that can be usefully said."
Riverfront 'Experts' Assembled
After much debate and a few false starts, the city and county might finally have found a way to create a plan for the riverfront.
The Riverfront Advisory Commission, which is charged with creating a unique gateway to the city and the region, was named Jan. 25. Specifically, the panel will recommend what businesses should go on top of the parking garages between the new Reds and Bengals stadiums.
Cincinnati Councilman Phil Heimlich said that he along with Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus spearheaded the process of choosing the 16-member commission.
What was the process for choosing the members of the commission?
While some people sent letters or called council members or commissioners to express their interest in being involved, Heimlich said there was not a formal application process.
"We went out and looked for people who had special expertise in developing the riverfront," he said.
How many people expressed an interest but were rejected for positions on the commission?
"I can't say because I can only guess at the number of letters I got," Heimlich said.
He estimated that he received about five letters, but did not know how many letters or telephone calls Qualls or Bedinghaus got.
On what basis were the commission members chosen?
Heimlich said they looked for people with a "background in planning, developing and financing these kinds of projects."
The Many Faces of Radon
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has finished its study about the lung cancer mortality rate in communities surrounding the former Fernald uranium-processing plant.
The CDC has reported that an estimated 85 people who lived near the former Fernald uranium plant would die from lung cancer caused by exposure to radon that was leaking into the air.
Another part of the report confirmed that the uranium plant, which operated from 1953 until 1988, had an impact on public health beyond 10 kilometers from the site.
So, what about homeowners, living nowhere near the site, that are told high levels of radon can only be harmful when it accumulates indoors and not when it's released outdoors, say, through a homeowner's radon mitigation unit?
"The radon around the area was far more concentrated," said Steve Adams, senior public health adviser and project officer at the CDC. "It wasn't a different type of radon than that which occurs naturally, but this was in concentrated amounts."
Adams said the high levels of radon and the risk of exposure decreased in 1979 when the radioactive silos, which store radium materials, were sealed at the site. The silos remain on site but are in the process of being removed.
Radon is the nation's No. 2 cause of lung cancer, behind smoking. It is an odorless, colorless radioactive gas that is produced by the decay of naturally occurring uranium and thorium in the soil.
For several years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recommended that every home be tested for radon and that abatement action be taken if the level is greater than 4 pCi/L.
At the Fernald site, the radon gas that was emitted into the air is the same gas that is found in homes, said Tom Ontko, Ohio EPA remedial action coordinator. The difference is that the radon at the Fernald site is from the radium materials in the silos and, the radon that is found in homes is naturally occurring from uranium, he said.
"The stuff in your house builds up in the basement and accumulates over time, which can be harmful," Ontko said. "The radon at Fernald was because of concentrated amounts not naturally occurring."
The Ohio EPA has several radon monitors that measure how much radon can be found in the air each hour. There was a level of .10 pCi/L in the air on Jan. 25. Ontko said that was a big difference from the 3 pCi/L reported by a monitor in 1979.
"I know it doesn't seem like a huge difference, but that's a considerable decrease," he said.
Ontko recommends that people test their homes for radon and take action if necessary.
The Ohio EPA updates the levels of radon reported from its on-site monitors ever hour on its Web site at http://offo2.epa.ohio.gov/FERNALD.htm