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News

Earthquake hits Cincinnati!!!

We just had an earthquake in Cincinnati. It was centered on the New Madrid faultline along the Ohio River near Evansville, Ind., according to the real-time United States Geological Survey Web site.

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Community News

Firefighters clean up after missing contractor

CityBeat has the scoop. Some firefighters are pretty upset with their command staff over having them clean up a new firehouse before they can start using it. I’d say that would not be in their job description, but, hey, that’s just me.

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Community Journalism News

GoCincinnati now

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I missed Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory‘s first press briefing of the year Tuesday, but heard a story on WVXU-FM and then read on the Enquirer’s political blog that the mayor “expects recommendations from the GoCincinnati study.”

Well, that reminded me that, uh, yeah, I wrote about that already. In The Post. But it appeared in the paper on Dec. 31, 2007 – the last day – and the Enquirer pulled the plug on The Post’s archives at or about midnight on Jan. 1, 2008. That means the story appeared online for all of about 12 hours and was over shadowed by all the coverage about, well, The Post’s final edition.

A little background: I received a copy of the preliminary Go Cincinnati report (i.e. not the final draft, but close) in early December after several city employees told me it was done and I filed a public records request. And though I didn’t spend much time talking about it in the article, streetcars are being recommended. What I thought was more interesting was the idea of place-based economic development. Streetcars already seem to have lots of support, place-based economic development just seems like it will have a bigger impact on more neighborhoods, thus more people – good and bad.
Read on…

By Joe Wessels
Post contributor

Cincinnati officials are studying whether a “place-based” approach would be best for the city’s future economic development.

In an unfinished report that is part of the “Go Cincinnati” economic development initiative, experts in several urban development and real estate research firms suggest the city should spend money building up specific areas of the city and that would, in turn, spur further development in other areas.

The report — conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution and Social Compact, Cincinnati-based KMK consulting and Bethesda, Md.-based Robert Charles Lesser Co. — cites “existing growth opportunity districts” as downtown, Over-the-Rhine and Uptown, an area around the University of Cincinnati campus in Clifton, Corryville and Clifton Heights.

“New growth opportunity districts” include three areas:

* Seymour Avenue and Reading Road corridor, an area covering parts of Bond Hill and Roselawn, including the TechSolve industrial park near the Seymour Avenue and Interstate 75 interchange and Cincinnati-Hamilton Community Action Agency on the former site of the Swifton Commons Shopping Center.

* Queensgate and the south Mill Creek corridor, an area south of the I-75 and I-74 interchange south to the Ohio River. This area has become a “generally obsolete industrial corridor” that could be redeveloped into “green industrial parks,” according to the report.

* Madison Road corridor, which begins at the Center of Cincinnati shopping center in Oakley and stretches east to Madisonville, which could become a “complex employment, retail and high-density housing concentration” that would allow for “drivable sub-urban” office buildings, akin to similar developments in places like Blue Ash, West Chester and Mason.

City Councilman Chris Bortz, chairman of Council’s economic development committee and who helped spearhead Go Cincinnati with Mayor Mark Mallory, said the initiative, which has not been finalized, would allow the city to concentrate funds on particular areas that would help drive up the city’s dwindling tax base.

“The lifeblood of a city is its income tax,” he said. “You need to have more jobs.”

How to do that includes a strategy focusing on “public and private investment in specific geographic areas that can serve as economic drivers of the entire city and region,” according to the report.

“If we are going to continue to be competitive as a city, we have to attract business and residents,” Bortz said. “You need to find sites, find land where businesses can locate.”

The last time the city did this type of analysis the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, or 3CDC, was formed.

That group has been primarily responsible for the redevelopment of Fountain Square and Over-the-Rhine, and was originally charged with getting the long-delayed Banks riverfront project launched.

It also precipitated much of the development around University Hospital and the University of Cincinnati, Bortz said.

Bortz said it was time to do another report to see where the city should go next now that most of the other projects are under way.

“That data led us to the areas that are under review and are serious recommendations that can lead us to the next level,” he said, emphasizing that the report is not finished.

Mallory said he would not comment on the report’s findings until it was completed.

Bortz said focusing on smaller geographical areas allows for deeper concentration and, hopefully, bigger results that can spur other development.

“You do that by concentrating on certain areas or there is no impact,” he said.

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Community News

Medevac helicopter dangles from University Hospital

Medevac helicopter dangles from University Hospital

The New Year got off to a perilous start at University Hospital in Avondale, a Cincinnati neighborhood.

A medevac helicopter from Kentucky – attempting to take off around 6 a.m. New Year’s Day – abruptly slammed into the top-floor helipad atop University Hospital, just floors above the emergency department, said Liz Matern, a nursing supervisor at the hospital.

The yellow and black helicopter, not owned or leased by the Health Alliance, the parent organization that operates University Hospital, was dropping off a patient from “somewhere down in Kentucky” when a gust of wind forced the helicopter back down on the concrete pavement located on the hospital’s roof, about six stories in the air.

Around noon, the black tail boom of the helicopter – with the cabin, or main body of the aircraft, resting against a steel beam on the edge of the heliport – still dangled off the edge of the hospital just above the same place that ambulances bring patients to the emergency department.

“That’s 2,000 pounds of jet fuel over my emergency department,” Matern said. “A wind gust just blew them down on the pad.”

Matern said that ambulances were notified through their dispatchers and temporarily diverted to the hospital’s front doors. There a hospital security officer met the rescue personnel and directed them through the building to the emergency department.

University’s emergency department is the Greater Cincinnati area’s only level one trauma center, considered to be best equipped to handle the most serious medical emergencies including car accident, stabbing and shooting victims, among other maladies.

“We never stopped taking patients,” Matern said. “We had to divert our traffic.”

Hospital officials notified the Cincinnati Fire Department who responded to the scene and secured the helicopter to the building so it would not fall. Firefighters were working to determine the best way to move the helicopter back on top of the building, Matern said.

“They are there to supervise (the scene),” Matern said. “They are trying to move it in so the whole thing is on the heliport.”

No patient was in the helicopter and the crew members inside at the time of the crash were not injured, she said.

This is the second incident for University Hospital’s medevac program in two days. Monday afternoon an AirCare helicopter, operated by the hospital, was forced to do an emergency landing near the Grand Victoria Casino in Rising Sun, Ind. after it experienced mechanical problems. A patient inside the helicopter was transferred to an ambulance and transported to University Hospital.

“It was just a little rougher landing than we are used to,” Matern said.

Click on the above photo to see more images from the scene.

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News

Photo blogging the president’s visit…

President Bush in Cincinnati for Congressman Steve Chabot

UPDATE II: The photos have been posted to Flickr for awhile now. But if you have not seen the photos I took of the president’s visit, click on the one above – of President Bush deboarding Air Force One at Lunken Aiport – to be taken to the rest of the shots from that day.

UPDATE: Not sure why, but it didn’t work. I sent about four photos to the blog from my cell phone but for some reason they didn’t get posted. I do have some photos of the visit that I will post soon.

I am about to head to Lunken Airport to be in the press pool for today’s visit to Cincinnati by President George W. Bush. He will be heading to the Hyde Park home of Reds’ owner Bob Castellini to headline a fundraiser for Ohio 1st District Congressman Steve Chabot.

I am covering this for The Cincinnati Post and plan (and hope) to supplement my coverage with photo blogging posts (and maybe some text thrown in if I am able) to this blog during the expected two-hour ordeal. Wheels down is expected around 5 p.m.

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News Thoughts & Observations

Deadly kid caught

UPDATE: Cincinnati Police clarified that Zachariah Hassell surrendered himself to the Criminal Investigations Section on Broadway, downtown, and was not apprehended, per se.

Just a few minutes ago I received an e-mail from Cincinnati Police Department public information officer Fran Cihon. And few times have I been happier.

Why? They caught Zachariah Hassell, the barely 15-year-old kid who also goes by the nickname “Little Zach,” who is accused by police of shooting and killing Michael Aufrance on June 18, 2007 on East McMicken in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine.

A boy who is capable of this sort of thing really freaked me out – whether he gets convicted or not. Couple that with him living in my neighborhood and it was downright unsettling. When I got the orZachariah Hasselliginal “wanted” e-mail from police back in June I remember opening it and just staring at this kid’s face. And staring.

He looks like a child. A little boy. But murder? It just seemed so impossible, but yet so very real. Every now and then one of these news stories we cover just sort of makes me pause. This one was one of them.

It reminded me of the countless children that age that I have worked with in my life. Whether it was at the now-razed Columbia Parkway YMCA or during my eight summers as a camp counselor, it just shocked me. Not much does, really, anymore. I see, read and write about horrible shit all the time. But this one just sort of got me. I wonder if his photo makes you feel the same way? Does it feel like you could have known this kid? Maybe talked to him, been his friend, talked him out of hanging with the wrong people?

A man I respect – but have not seen since my early 20s – is Stephen Kaye, the former CEO of the Tuscaloosa, Ala. YMCAs and a member of the United States Army Special Forces (one of the toughest, yet kindest, people I have ever come in contact with). He used to talk about how there were no practice children. Each one was special and not one is worth giving up on. I think of that message when I look at Little Zach’s face.

Thanks and congratulations to the Cincinnati Police for apprehending this person, but I’m sorry Zach didn’t get to meet someone who could have changed his life and sent him in a better direction. I can’t help but feel we have collectively failed as a community when I read about situations like this.

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Community News Thoughts & Observations

Column: Counting dwindling city beans

The following is my Cincinnati Post column from Oct. 6, 2007. It did not appear on the Post’s Web site and a few of those who read it online have asked to have it posted. Thank you for asking for it, and here you go…

Budgets are not popular political issues. Maybe that is why few are talking about Cincinnati’s projected 2008 deficit of $20.4 million as the Nov. 6 election approaches.

I’ll tell you who is talking, though, but doing it in hushed tones, traversing on political thin ice: The city’s administrators whose job it is to count the city’s beans. Bad news. Ain’t many beans left.

Swimming pools. Health clinics. Arts funding. Saint Patrick Parade and the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade. Street sweeping. More police protection. The list of city services that means so much to so many Cincinnatians — many of which make this a wonderful place to live — are expensive.

How’d we get here? Several things, according to budget officials, but dramatically rising health care costs for the city’s employees and bigger demands on the public safety budget are good places to start looking. About 81 percent of the city’s budget goes to personnel expenses.

And it doesn’t get better anytime soon. The gap between projected expenditures and revenues continues to widen in the next few years. By 2010, general fund revenues are expected to be just under $370 million, while expenses will balloon to near $400 million.

Meanwhile, announcements keep rolling in ahead of Nov. 6 touting extended swimming pool hours, money for parades and other events that are politically popular promises. Take last week’s unanimous vote by City Council to fund city retirees health care at 100 percent — a clear violation of city law because it does not mirror coverage for current city employees — adds another $10 million to the city’s deficit for next year and into the future.

The Cincinnati Police Department had the distinction this year of becoming the first city department — probably ever — to single-handedly have more money directed toward it than all other departments combined. About 37 percent of the general operating fund goes toward police (fire gets about 25 percent). Weird thing is early on in the policy budget debate in 2006, Police Chief Tom Streicher said he did not need any more police officers (he later changed his mind). Yet at least one incumbent is promising to add more police if he is re-elected.

Next highest budget gobblers? The Health Department, which gets 8 percent of the general fund budget, followed by public services (those fixing potholes, sweeping streets and removing snow in winter), who get 7 percent. All others are in the 2 to 3 percent range.

Many city budget watchers are frustrated by the moves to promise new spending, wondering where the money will come from. Meanwhile, Milton Dohoney has asked all city department heads to identify 15 percent in possible cuts.

Council Member Chris Bortz has said the city cannot cut its way out of this mess, which he has called a “crisis.” He suggests finding new efficiencies, re-focusing priorities and combining services with other municipalities.

Whatever happens, it has to happen soon. It would be wise for the citizens to take notice and let the politicians know this is bothersome before this situation worsens.

Joe Wessels covers Cincinnati and Hamilton County government for The Post. Write to him at [email protected] or call (513) 352-2703.

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Community News Thoughts & Observations

Column: Jail tax: Big battle is brewing

The following is my Cincinnati Post column from Sept. 29, 2007. It did not appear on the Post’s Web site and a few of those who read it online have asked to have it posted. Thank you for asking for it, and here you go…

This week, supporters of a sales tax increase to fund a new county jail kicked off their campaign for what has become known as Issue 27.

Next week promises another anti-tax campaign kick-off, though details have not been finalized.

The big question now might as well become how much money both sides have to make their points.

Neither will say for sure, but Kathy Binns, who recently left her post as Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune’s chief of staff to run the Citizens for a Safe Community campaign, the pro-Issue 27 group, said she plans to raise a lot.

Sources have told me that plans are in the works for the pro-Issue 27 side to buy television advertising. Suhith Wickrema, a spokesman for the No Jail Tax PAC, one of many groups against the sales tax increase that united in opposition to the plan, said he doubts they will be able to afford TV ads.

That’s OK, according to Hamilton County Commissioner Pat DeWine, who helped organize a petition drive to put the sales tax increase on the Nov. 6 ballot.

“Obviously, ours is going to be a grassroots campaign,” he said. “We may raise a little money, but we are not going to have the big money that the others have. But I think we have the people behind us.”

DeWine cites last fall’s defeat of the jail tax issue as a reason why this one will fail, too. Because of that, opponents of Issue 27 won’t need much, he said.

“I think the more people learn about the details of the plan, the more likely they are to vote against it. Our challenge is just to get the message out.”

Hogwash, Binns said. Getting their message out is exactly what she and her volunteers plan to do — and they expect to win.

“We believe we can absolutely win this thing,” she said. “Our goal is educate people. We have seen as we educate people they realize it’s nothing like what was defeated last year. Then the light bulb goes off above their head and they realize it’s a good plan.”

Portune and fellow Commissioner David Pepper, both Democrats, voted earlier this year to increase the county’s sales tax from 6.5 percent to 7 percent for eight years, starting in 2008. At that point, it would be rolled back to 6.75 percent for another seven years. In 2023, the tax would be reduced to its current 6.5 percent.

Republican DeWine voted against the plan and helped organize an effort that collected more than 27,000 signatures to get it on the ballot this fall.

Joe Wessels covers Cincinnati and Hamilton County government for The Post. Write to him at [email protected] or call (513) 352-2703.

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News

Ernie Fletcher gets down to Elvis in Kenton County


Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher boogies to Elvis impersonator Steve Chuke’s groovy singing at the Kenton County senior citizens picnic at the fairgrounds Thursday morning. Fletcher said he feels very comfortable in Northern Kentucky, which may have lead to him agreeing to dance with the woman in this photo, who requested the governor’s dance on the hay-lined dance floor.

Observers said the move was atypical behavior for the Republican governor, who is locked in a tight re-election bid to win another term as governor. Read more in tomorrow’s Kentucky Post.

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News

Gov speaks to seniors in Northern Ky.

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Originally uploaded by hjoew.