Friday, August 31, 2007

Why Wild Is Still Wonderful

My Cleveland-area friends (and those from other big cities) may not understand but those of you in Akron with ties to West Virginia know very well there is a BIG difference in the hearts and spirits of folks in the mountains.

Not to rip on those in the Midwest, but there's just something special about West Virginians and I got a great reminder last weekend at my cousin Michael's wedding to the lovely Erinn.

This photo doesn't do the situation justice; her entire wedding party (Erinn, eight bridesmaids, her mom and dad as well as the Trolley Bus driver) were sidelined on the road when the roof to the look-alike bus came undone after a tight squeeze under a power pole support line. It wasn't going anywhere -- 25 minutes before the wedding, just outside Morgantown. Erinn's smiling here but she was not the happiest of brides and since our cars were packed with family there weren't enough seats to handle the 11 people who needed to get to the church pronto.

That's where the wonderful comes in.

Two total strangers; a woman driving a small SUV and a guy driving a big-honkin' Super Cab F-350 for his contruction business stopped out of the blue. They had no reason to help out other than a gorgeous Saturday afternoon that called them elsewhere, but both scooped up members of the bridal party and got 'em to the church on time even though it was out of their way. They were repaid with smiles and turned aside any reward other than those heartfelt thanks -- didn't even stick around for the service, just dropped off the bride and her party and headed off.

This is why I loved living in and working in West Virginia. A state full of folks who understand the value of slowing down and lending total strangers help getting to where they need to go, and acting like it happens every day.

Because it does.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Making Craig's List

I can't believe the dodge from Idaho Senator Larry Craig and his cowardice exhibited today after the proverbial Brokeback Bathroom scandal hit the fan (thanks Drudge for that twist...) in Washington and beautiful Boise.
"I am not gay," proclaims the GOP Senator who has a political history of using those charges to paint himself as a fighter for the mountain voters back home. Did he directly address the charge that he was toe-tapping in the MSP crapper? Can I get a "NO", amen! Did he directly address the record he was caught making hand signals to the fellow in the stall next door that it was time to make the dance more personal until said fellow flashed a badge instead of something else? C'mon now, give me a "NO", amen!
Big Question here: since when does getting caught going after strange whoopi in a public restroom equate with being gay? I agree with one thing, Craig isn't gay -- he's just not happy.
This episode is disturbingly similar to Craig's other reported forays with Mr. Johnson in other public restrooms, most notably one at Union Station just down from your U.S. Capitol building. Modus Operandi usually packs quite a punch when delivered in tandem. What is really despicable is Craig's cry he's "not gay" as a defense on lewd public behavior charges. What the hell does one have to do with the other? My reporter colleagues gave Craig an easy pass today when they tolerated his "statement" without getting answers or challenging him on the non-gay defense which, I must note, reflects more the behavior of a sex-crazed scumbag more than any gay people I have ever known.
This has nothing to do with gay; my reporter's experience is that most of the troubled souls usually caught up in these public indecency stings are far from gay; they're usually the same make and model of guys hanging around the 50-cent movie machines at the adult bookstore. Larry Craig isn't a model of pro-or-con homosexuality; he is the model of a sex addict who would do well to keep his hands and his little buddy in check for more private venues.
Why can't we grow up and toss out the talk of gay or no-gay in this issue? Larry Craig should be held accountable for breaking the law in a public bathroom by soliciting one person for sex; he's not charged with being anything other than a pervert, and allowing him to slip in any mention of sexual preference is nothing more than political three-card monte. It's about where his feet, hands and other appendages were and plying sex in the potty is what this case should be about, not whether he likes one gender versus the other.

Keeping Promises

Watching "NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams" tonight brought me back to March 2006 and Washington, D.C. where the Radio Television News Directors Foundation held their annual First Amendment dinner. It is a time for broadcasters to strut their stuff; hundreds of people tucked into tuxedo wear, a veritable panoply of penguin wanna-bees.

Sometimes an event just for journalists with a capital J (nice way to say those way too serious about the profession) this event was much more; it was an opportunity to recognize the heroic efforts made by broadcast journalists and our brothers and sisters in print in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

I still remember the power of the folks from along the Gulf Coast, riding out the storm and the horror afterwards and tens of thousands of people relocating from home.

I spent a couple hours talking with WWL's News Director Dave Cohen; this link to the Times Picayune story on just what he and other radio/TV pros did during those difficult hours and when those turned into gut-wrenching days, weeks and months comes close to paying full respect to the lifeline he and others became for people who couldn't get answers.

Among those in Washington the year after to pay tribute: NBC's Williams, who reported from New Orleans and other locales back in 2005. He promised that NBC wouldn't forget the lost, the displaced, the relocated; he kept that pledge, along with Cleveland's own Martin Savidge leading much of the network's reporting on the recovery of America's south coast. Marty shared with Ohio's AP Broadcasters this summer what it's been like covering the aftermath of Nature's war on man as well as our wars on our fellow man.

It's very easy to bash the MSM for some of the screwy and goofy stuff we see, hear and read. Many times those of us IN the MSM are hard-pressed not to agree; but Williams and NBC deserve great credit for not only their work two years after Katrina but for their work during the last two years to make sure we don't turn the damaged into the forgotten.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Debate Blow By Blow

For the Akron political junkies: my notes on today's debate (you can also see more coverage on AkronNewsNow with candidate opening statement audio here):

After being reminded to make room for opening statements we got into issues:

What relationship should the City have with the U of A?
Plusquellic: University is a powerful resource and important; we'll always have differences but we find a way to work together.
Finley: University's good, Mayor should have known about Crowne Plaza Hotel deal before it happened.

Budget and what's ahead?
Finley: "We're broke." Says City is more than a billion in the hole when adding interest payments and there's no room for an emergency such as a bridge collapse. When pressed on what in the budget he would cut says the start would be shrinking number of cabinet members; says when Plusquellic took office it was eight and now it's 15, more than in New York City.
Plusquellic: he's cut 800 jobs from city payroll compared to 30 years ago at the same time Akron lost $30 million in state and federal aid. Despite cuts there are more people in the APD than 30 years ago. The City also gets high marks from professional ratings services (such as Standard and Poors) for moderate debt levels and good financial standing.

Subprime lending
To be honest I sort of dozed off here; how about questions on issues that municipal government actually has a voice on? This was the point I wished I'd stayed at the table with WKYC's Eric Mansfield and the Bath Country Journal's Jody Miller (my NewsNight Akron fellow panelists) because they would have kept me awake...

Finley: we have to get along with our neighbors and the Mayor doesn't get along with our neighbors.
Plusquellic: Anyone who never gets anybody mad at 'em never accomplishes anything. Sometimes goals conflicts. Says recent water and land agreements with Stow and Cuyahoga Falls disputes Finley's charge.

Building Inspector's Office

Finley: Northside Lofts permit process mishandled, says Plusquellic has allowed building office to become politicized; charges Canal Place had 18 different renovations underway without plans filed, posing a potential danger to firefighters if called upon in an emergency. Akron Thermal was also allowed to pour a foundation without a permit. Also charged interim building inspector Angela Cavanaugh resigned Friday and asked the media to look into why (side note: Angela Cavanaugh was still on the job today; public service director Rick Merolla says she doesn't want the position full-time but hasn't resigned.)
Plusquellic: Finley never introduced a single ordinance as a member of council on the building department; attitude in the department toward the public needed to change not only for big developers but also residents of Akron. City is cooperating with the state's probe of the building department. Thinks the building department is prime for regional cooperation similar to weights and measures inspectors, with combined duties with the County.

Canal Park and new UA InfoCision Stadium at Summa Field
Plusquellic: Canal Park gave people a reason to come downtown and during his term the number of jobs downtown has doubled, even excluding hospital and university positions. On the football stadium it's needed because the Rubber Bowl is too expensive to repair and he supports a new stadium.
Finley: Agrees Canal Park is a resource but didn't like the way the project financing was "rammed down our throats" and claims the cost overruns meant what should have been a $10 million dollar project was $30 million and still a big debt. Doesn't like no-bid contracts awarded either.

New Housing

Finley: would use 203K loan program to encourage purchase and fix up of homes; also would be more aggressive in tearing down homes that can't be fixed up. Also says City should do a better job of offering job training to local residents and should have done better with local school buildings.
Plusquellic: training showcased by Urban League partnership and pointed to numerous awards to Akron for creating housing. Says you would have to be a "caveman" to not see improvement in Akron's housing opportunities.

Turnout for Primary Election 9/11
Plusquellic: no way of knowing but if voters care about the city they'll make every effort to cast a ballot.
Finley: predicted a turnout of 12,000 voters.

No closing statements were made as the debate ran out of time. Hasn't anyone in charge ever moderated a real debate before?

The Great Debate?

What a disappoinment after watching and listening to the only debate of the Akron primary between Joe Finley and Don Plusquellic.

I can't say it is aimed at either politician; I thought the Mayor did a fairly decent job of holding his famous temper and challenger Finley came off stronger than I thought he would against the more polished Plusquellic. The crowd reaction was about what you would expect: the folks with jobs in City Hall and the Courthouse applauded Plusquellic, and Finley's side got a nice boost from eight of his nine children -- including four in uniform with the Army and Air Force -- at a side table.

What was disappointing? The execution of the debate itself. The lack of time constraints for answers from either candidate didn't lead to more in-depth answers but instead allowed for near-filibuster responses, limiting questions to a handful. If Finley and Plusquellic hadn't bought up Bass Pro Shops or Goodyear I doubt it would have made the cut. There was little opportunity for either to respond to the other (note to the Press Club: debate should mean candidates take on each other) and the one issue that sparked the most fire languished from lack of followup.

The shape of the Akron building inspector's office, now under state investigation, deserved far more time but this only direct give-and-take was cut off for a poorly-timed question on the prediction from the candidates of a turnout. Holy cow, the bloody election's in two weeks! How about getting deeper on the service levels from the department, why the state's involved, and whether it works for or against Akron's public interests?

The Finley campaign offered up a CD of the Mayor busting inspector butts and threatening their jobs; Plusquellic sort of shrugged his shoulders and said so what, the public isn't getting the service they deserve so he should be kicking tail...a message most who've had to deal with the building inspection office will probably enjoy hearing. One thing occurring to me: just what kind of environment do we have at City Hall when a supervisor trying to get more responsive service to the public has to always consider he or she is being recorded? Sounds like the building inspector's office could use a little house cleaning.

All told, some advice for the next big debate: set up some tried and true moderator rules (like how much time they get and allow for responses) and then get out of the way and let the candidates duke it out they way they would on the stump. THAT would be a change of pace the voters might benefit from.

Monday, August 20, 2007

GOP Fight Hits The Web

You've got to appreciate the power of the web. In the old days, challenger Kevin Coughlin's faction of the Summit County GOP would take on chairman Alex Arshinkoff's faction with phone calls, letters and even face-to-face arm-twisting but now we enter the Digital Age.

To get a read on the move to unseat one of Ohio's longest-serving and most powerful party chairs Coughlin's group set up the New Summit Republicans website , live this morning. This is likely just one of the new-age communications tools likely to play a big role in the age-old story of new-vs-establishment as the local Republican party gets ready to dance in the March '08 primary.

Arshinkoff is not likely to give up quietly; he's been one of the state's most formidable (if not THE most formidable) fundraising chairs and has been not only a player as national party overlords rebuilt but also a student of their methods ranging from Deaver and Nofziger in the Reagan Revolution to the effective Karl Rove (I'd wager he's also been a keen student of Begala and Carville but may not want to admit that.) Figure Coughlin to use more of these non-traditional methods and tools in his arsenal as well; he's always been ahead of the curve in terms of using web-based communications tools.

The Summit County GOP has a couple of events coming up that normally don't make media radar screens, including Finance Committee meetings. Alex, feel free to invite us in; we'll pretend we're flies on the wall.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Random Weekend Stuff

Middle of the month and MAN I'm looking forward to vacation next week. I'm thinking some of the more prominent politicos around here are looking forward to my vacation, too.

How far apart were the Beacon Journal and Terry Pluto? Probably not much, especially after you read the memo from Terry to staff (posted here on the ABJ retiree blog, thanks to John Booth at Crain's Cleveland Business for the link) where some of the angst he feels is pretty obvious. I'm told the ABJ matched dollar-for-dollar the offer from the Superior Lords at the PD but it was about reach -- and keeping those faith columns. It's the latter that might have been the biggest issue at the richer Plain Dealer, not exactly known for opening up to all things God; some of the editors in Cleveland had to overcome objections to all those greater numbers of readers actually wanting a word or two on faith.

There's been some murmuring the PD has other columnists in their crosshairs, too; the fact new editor Susan Goldberg comes from a Knight-Ridder background is important. Interestingly enough, the PD isn't insulated from the same pressures squeezing newspapers but the fact they do have greater reach means they have more physical dollars to play with. One longstanding ABJ scribe says they (note I'm not ID'ing gender here) would entertain the call if it came.

The ABJ putting Doug Oplinger in the ME's post is a smart move; Doug is very well-respected and a more than solid journalist (yes, I'm a big fan of his work even though lots of broadcasters complain those stories have too many words...) and should send a message that Bruce Winges is serious about rebuilding to former glory what conventional wisdom would say is on the ropes. That's why tweaking conventional wisdom is so much fun; because it is so often wrong. Pat McManamon is also a good choice to replace Terry on the sports page.

Contrary to what the "convention wisdom" exhibits we wish the Beacon the best in restoring the paper; Akron's identity is defined by what's local, and having a strong local media is key to making sure we don't become just another Cleveland neighborhood swallowed up in Cleveland Plus-ville.

Finally the bulls battle: Coughlin's challenge to Arshinkoff for the soul of the Summit County GOP (discussed at length tonight on NewsNight Akron, PBS 45/49 and broken here on AkronNewsNow) may wind up being a brutal and very personal battle. This isn't just about turf, it's also about the up-and-coming generation of new politicians starting to flex their muscles more and more. The elder guard still has plenty of fire left in their bellies but this is the way of democracy (even among Republicans) and assuming power. Look for this to be VERY personal and potentially VERY open; it is the ultimate test of Alex's power and organizational skills versus Kevin's ability to be the next generation leader and builder. (photo:

Thursday, August 16, 2007

This Would Make A GREAT College Course...

There's a war of words going on behind the scenes as Kent State J-school students and friends come to the defense of the fellow who allowed himself to be skewered on WKYC earlier this week in Eric Mansfield's report on personal records found in the dumpster behind the Fairlawn BMV. In case you haven't seen these reports, it should be mandatory watching on so many levels.

The issue should be just how safe your private information should be when doing business with the public. Lots of folks who Eric tracked down told him they discarded the state driver's forms -- with addresses, social security numbers, etc. -- by leaving them with the clerks at the BMV. The young man (a KSU student who's been raving about this on his Facebook page, as well as garnering support from journalism students at Kent) who ended up splashed all over the story went to WKYC's Akron studios to check it out because his mother runs the bureau and is now in big-time hot water with the folks at the state. He says it's the lazy customers, not lazy clerks, responsible for not shredding the personal info...even claiming other tenants at the shopping plaza where the BMV is located could be behind it.

OK? Following along? You can be the judge on whether it's a story or not -- the State of Ohio thought it was troubling enough to warrant their own investigation -- but what I find fascinating is the response, both public and in private emails to Eric's bosses, complaining about the video lynching this young man says he endured by sticking up for mama. (Personal advice: don't be surprised after you GO to the TV station when they start rolling video)

What's even more interesting is that some of these emails originate from inside the Daily Kent Stater. (Disclosure: I serve on KSU's JMC Student Media Advisory Board, which means we vote on who has the student management positions and advise on budget issues.)

If the student journalists at the Stater have trouble grasping the issue -- and then flaming WKYC without even talking to their reporters for the other side from BMV-boy's rants -- what's that say about the state of investigating reporters coming up the ladder? Eric tells me he's not surprised that those accused of being asleep at the shredder switch would cry loud and long but when students displaying their positions at the Stater start weighing in without talking to a fellow reporter for the other side, it makes me wonder who's getting a fair shake from whom?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hey Wiki, You So Fine You Blow My Mind, Hey Wiki

There's a great story out of The Guardian newspaper of London today tweaking North Canton-based Diebold for guerrilla media management 101 when it comes to editing a user-generated reference tool on the company's computer election machine business. In short, the Guardian reports Diebold went back-and-forth with it's revisionist view of history posted on Wikipedia to the point that they were finally accused of vandalism before the posts were restored.

We've got a local version at play in the current Akron city elections.

Here's a quick game for true political geeks: check out the background on Wikipedia's bio of Mayor Don Plusquellic. I've included this link to the specific history tool you want to use to track changes and even view prior postings; City Hall's Mark Williamson tells me it has been a running battle just keeping up with all the biography postings, including links to challenger Joe Finley's campaign website (which, by the way, asks for donations) as well as the Administration-bashing website (badly in need of updating!)

This, my friends, is the true sign of the digital political revolution! Wikipedia, as a crowd-sourced resource, is built by the people who post...not necessarily the experts in the field as you would expect from Encyclopedia Britannica, for example. Some local high school teachers (at Hoban, I am told) even inform students using Wiki-references as gospel will land them an F on their papers.

In the meantime, the tussle to post last continues to see who's version of truth goes out to the world for public consumption. Wikipedia really doesn't have a strong system for keeping such postings off the web (it is a very complicated process) so buyer, and reader, beware!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

AUDIO Pluto PD Bound

A big splash in the local media scene today as award-winning columnist and author Terry Pluto makes what had been rumour official with a newsroom announcement this morning he was leaving the Akron Beacon Journal and will be taking his talents north to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, his hometown newspaper.

This one's been kicking around for quite some time and the official announcement on the ABJ's website from editor Bruce Winges tries to nip in the bud much of the expected speculation on losing such a franchise talent, noting it wasn't unhappiness driving Pluto's decision but the opportunity to be read by a far wider audience with the PD's considerable circulation advantage. Terry began his career -- and says he'll end it -- with the PD.
(photo: Phil Masturzo/Grey Publishers)

We were told morale took a real kick in the teeth not only from shocked co-workers on East Exchange and South Main this morning but also as word spread to those off-duty getting calls from their comrades in the newsroom. There's been plenty of talk, both private and public, on the face the new Beacon Journal would be taking once the full impact of the sale from Knight Ridder/McClatchy to Black Press Ltd. took hold. It is worth noting that, in addition to Pluto, other names gone from the pages in Akron include food writer Jane Snow, Regina Brett (also to the PD) and even hometown editor Mizell Stewart to Evansville, Indiana and Scripps Howard.

Update 4:14pm

Terry talked with WKYC's Eric Mansfield on Eric's blog (read the posting here) and says he's not leaving because the Beacon is in any trouble but notes the great opportunity. Eric also has some great points in noting how the news doesn't rip readers, who will still have plenty of Pluto access but it does show problems for the ABJ in the local passion department. I recall an interview Ray Horner and I conducted with David Black (Black Press Ltd. owner; link is to WAKR site, scroll down to access audio from the interview) in June 2006 shortly after he took over the ABJ; he came across as a guy who knew his business and said the right things about local coverage but letting this franchise player go is a head-shaker. The same observations come from John Booth on Crain's Cleveland Business in his blog (posted here), noting he made Pluto must-reading even when he lived in Orlando and finds the spin from the ABJ's editor head-shaking.

The Plain Dealer's new editor Susan Goldberg, meanwhile, is ecstatic at the "get". Here's audio with AkronNewsNow and WAKR's Toni Cicone on landing Pluto back on 18th and Superior.

This really IS a big deal in the local media, not just for sports fans; Terry Pluto was as much the fabric of morning habits and setting the agenda for the watercooler as Mickey Porter used to be at the ABJ...some of you are even long in the tooth enough to remember the same when it came to reading a Fran Murphy story. The real assets of any media organization aren't the transmitters, printing presses, rolls of newsprint paper or event the latest web-friendly gadgets and schemes: it's the people. For the folks working to regroup and rejuvenate the ABJ this has to be a big blow.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Another Chapter for WAKR's Kennard

Pat Kennard has taken another opportunity and will be leaving the Rubber City Radio Group; her last day broadcasting on WAKR will be Friday, August 24th, 2007. At this point I’ll leave it to Pat’s discretion on discussing her next career step, but will note this is an excellent opportunity for Pat and we are very happy for her. We will certainly miss Pat’s commitment to our community and her professionalism as a broadcast journalist; I will miss Pat’s contributions to our news department and seeing her daily as a friend.

During Pat’s tenure on WAKR (both radio and television) dating back more than a generation she has been on the cusp of some truly great reporting and community service. A highlight was this past June’s Ohio Associated Press award for “Best Anchor”, I’m glad we were all able to take part in the support of Pat’s work as anchor and reporter leading to this year’s AP award.

Other highlights certainly include Pat’s Cleveland Press Club “Ohio Excellence in Journalism” first place award in 2001 for “Voices From South Africa”, a documentary drawn from Pat’s travels across South Africa. Her work was a critical part of our overall news, community affairs and public service programs that earned our news department significant acclaim over the past years, including Outstanding News Operation for two straight years.

Pat’s work in the community both on and off the air is well documented, and certainly played a role in her long-overdue recognition by her peers. As a one of the first panelists on NewsNight Akron, as a panelist on President Clinton’s Town Hall Meeting on Race, as a mentor to hundreds of students in local schools, as a tireless worker for programs benefiting people, and as an advocate for education Pat has brought our radio operation dignity and a strong presence in the local community. She will be missed on the air but will still be a vital part of our community -- stay tuned for more!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Why Is City Hall So Thin-Skinned?

The call comes in Saturday afternoon while I'm watching the PGA Open; why, asks Mark Williamson between Tiger on 13 and 16, would we not cover the Mayor's Friday morning announcement that Keep Akron Beautiful is the clearinghouse for city projects on whether they meet the "green" environmental litmus test but we did cover the Friday afternoon campaigning from challenger Joe Finley?

Here's why: the Mayor's office doesn't bother to tell us what's newsworthy about the third in five days availability and Joe Finley's campaign did. With a month to go before the election both candidates deserve coverage, not just the Mayor, and some of the numbers comparing coverage (see below) are striking. The biggest pure campaign event so far has been the sniping over campaign finance; we ran copy stories from both Finley and Plusquellic.

On Friday the choice came between assigning Larry State to cover the Mayor -- on the tease of something "environmental" at the Zoo -- or keeping his appointment for a tour of Babcock and Wilcox's new $15 million dollar R&D Center in Barberton for a more in-depth look ahead of the official ribbon cutting in Barberton this upcoming week. What's an editor to do? No contest: $15 million versus a 15-second sound bite on an unspecified topic. Next time, Mark, practice a little openness down there on High Street instead of acting as though every cough or burp is Top Secret.

What amazes me is how the Mayor is still so thin-skinned after more than two decades of rule (and it has been rule) to the point where he presumes any mention of an opponent is a personal slight. Just to be on the side of the angels here I did a simple archive search of stories with Plusquellic versus Finley posted to AkronNewsNow; the results:

Joe Finley: 33 stories since April 10, 2007 when his campaign started
Don Plusquellic: 124 stories since January 4, 2007 when he announced

The bulk of the story count since Finley filed: overwhelmingly to the Mayor's column.

It's also important to note the Mayor got plenty of easy passes in that time period; those stories included how he did against Coondog in a hamburger eat-off; the routine observations on the impact of the World Golf Championship in Akron (we call that a "duh" story but do them anyway); the Mayor's cameo in a comic book with Jughead; what concerts are playing at Lock 3 (does Frank Jackson announce concerts in Cleveland?); and support of various charity and public service campaigns such as "Walk A Mile In Her Shoes"...

Coverage also included notice of his divorce; losing his tussle with federal judges over a new building right next door to the Seiberling federal building; support of tax issues for schools; the fate of Highland Square; troubles with the police union; picking a new fire chief; his State of the City; dealing with the University for new hotel space and a new stadium and arena; and that little thing called keeping Goodyear in Akron.

I'd also note we posted stories on how he wasn't available to personally answer one-on-one questions regarding the Vinson police shooting report from Cuyahoga County, opting for a canned audio release we did use; he also wasn't available for the back-down from federal judges when plans to put up a new office building were scrapped.

It's also important to note we were there when he came out of his first meeting with the judges; my extending our Q&A on the plaza gave our friends at WKYC time to come over from their offices across the street, which meant he got play on radio, web and TV.

I also gave him a ride back to City Hall that afternoon -- never did that for Finley, although if he needed to hitch a ride I'd do it for him, too.

I have frequent conversations along these lines with my boss, and I know he gets frequent feedback not only from the Mayor's supporters but also his opponents on just what's fair. Four times the coverage for the incumbent, even considering the power of the office, just might be enough for the challenger to have a legitimate bone to pick with Akron's editors on why they don't think the democratic process is worthy enough for voters to decide for themselves.

What To Do About The Bowl?

Now that plans to build a new University of Akron football stadium are a done deal (get ready to start saying InfoCision Stadium instead of the Rubber Bowl) where are all the howls from preservationists? Since Larry States first reported on the fate of the Bowl here on AkronNewsNow, and Mayor Plusquellic weighed in a couple days later with Larry, it isn't as though hundreds of cries have been raised, ala the Highland Theater.

Not many to be heard at all, despite the fact the Rubber Bowl is old enough to start collecting Social Security. Even the Akron Beacon Journal found the best it could do to highlight it's story this morning was a severely out-of-date black and white photo. Not even color.

The monochrome silence from most people about the stadium carved into a hill within easy view of Strickland's, Derby Downs and the Fulton Airport can be pinpointed to a couple of things, the chief being what highlights it brings to most people. Take away Simon and Garfunkle and a couple of other concerts and for the most part there's been no massive title defense on the frozen tundra; no Wrigley Field or Fenway Park dreams; no drive to grab a seat or a piece of plumbing as fans did when we tore down Cleveland Stadium to build a new football palace for yuppies to share their club seats with the Dawg Pound. No, the Rubber Bowl won't become the next home for NASCAR nor will it re-emerge as a venue for local high schools. Too beat up, too out of shape, too black & white: this patient is already at fourth and long, waiting for change of possession.

Friday, August 10, 2007

More Twister Photos

More pictures coming in from Thursday's storm and these again show the power packed by those 70-mile per hour winds, whether the National Weather Service classifies the funnel cloud reports as a twister or not.

I'd like to thank Jeff Stull for this photo he snapped in Uniontown; even without seeing the traditional signature "funnel cloud" there's no mistaking the ominous nature of those pitch-black skies and heavy clouds overhead.

This photo really captures the essence of what residents in Holmes County experienced Thursday evening:

Liz Duncan took these pictures around 4:45 p.m. about a half-hour after Candy and Scott Dickey snapped their shot in New Franklin.

At this point one death has been reported; Marion, Ohio just north of Columbus. The worst of the damages here seem to be centered on local businesses and Black River High School in southeast Medina County.

The Akron Beacon Journal had a great photo this morning as firefighters comforted a cow trapped in the debris of a barn collapse in Lodi.

You'll find additional coverage on AkronNewsNow including interviews with Scott Dickey, who eyewitnessed the funnel cloud as it passed over his home.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

What A Rush Hour!

Still keeping our fingers crossed nobody was hurt when the funnel clouds came roaring through. Probably the worst summer storms we've seen in a couple years, even since those tornado winds roared through Wooster and left a swath of damage that December evening.

From AkronNewsNow coverage today a milestone of sorts for our young website: our first photos submitted by John Q, in this case a family in New Franklin.
Candy and Scott Dickey had a front row seat of today's funnel clouds, you can read more and hear Scott's account as well as other audio reports here on AkronNewsNow.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

So What's A Round Worth?

One must sincerely hope the Democrats learned important lessons in paperwork from the ethics nightmares of then-Governor Bob Taft when he was dinged for not properly reporting golf and even frozen steaks.

The thought jumped out at me when I got a solicitation from the Ohio Democratic Party (you can read it on this website here from the ODP) to shell out $500 bucks a pop to take in 18 with Governor Strickland and ODP Chair Chris Redfern (also a member of the State Legislature) in their pre-Labor Day outing at Blackhawk Golf Club in Galena.

Just in case you planned on a discount with three other pals there's no benefit to a foursome; it's $2,000 so everyone pays full freight. In case you have cash left over and want to further support the Party tee sponsorships are another $500, hole sponsors an even grand and to sponsor a cart for folks who don't want to talk is a cool two thousand.

Hope those folks who pushed so hard for Akron's campaign finance limitations don't have a hand in doing the same for state politics; at $300 bucks a cycle you would barely squeeze in nine holes!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Loading Up The Inventory

Welcome to my blog...and thanks to my pals Eric Mansfield and Kevin Mason for kicking me in the kiester to post the blog content I update on AkronNewsNow to my very own blog page. I've reposted content from the past few weeks to build an archive, so posting dates aren't writing dates but that'll change after this posting when I'll use not only the ANN site but also this site as well.

Comments always welcome -- feel free! It's free!

More On Northern Summit Cable

Thanks to Bill Jasso of Time Warner Cable for his response to my earlier posting...and thanks for his patience in trying to jump through all the hoops we need to fix to make commenting more friendly and inviting to the site.

In my earlier posting found here I was whining about not getting the Time Warner Akron/Canton News on my former Adelphia now current Time Warner cable system. It's been long enough, I think, for Summit County to again have the benefit of news from our county seat.
Bill Jasso's one of the higher-ups at the cable company (and ex-radio broadcaster) and was gracious enough to get in touch despite frustrations with OUR technology in posting a response;


I couldn't post a comment to your blog (on AkronNewsNow - editor) because the story was more than three days old.

The reason the A/C News isn't seen up in the northern most communities of Summit County is because we don't have available channels on expanded basic service up there. Unlike everywhere else in our service area, these six communities require by franchise that we provide six, yes SIX Public, Education and Government access channels on their Basic service. This takes up significant prime channel space for highly duplicated programming, and thus we are unable to carry own local channel (Channel 23 in Greater Akron) up North. The new state law on cable franchises will allow us to move three of the six channels up to Digital Cable, and we will then have the channel space to add our local channel, which includes the Akron/Canton News.

Hope that explains it.

-- Bill

Now you just know the 'burbs making up the old Western Reserve service area won't be happy losing their channels, despite what should be an obvious solution: have Macedonia, Hudson, Twinsburg, Sagamore Hills, Northfield Center and Twinsburg come to terms on sharing those channels. After all, they all seem to do OK on community channel 9 (similar to what Akron viewers see on Channel 15) and Lord knows there's enough hours in the day to carry all those rotating slates telling us when the trash will be picked up Labor Day weekend. The new law notwithstanding (and there's plenty of yapping over that one, too) it will be nice to finally be able to watch what happens in the county we pay taxes in -- and that's not Cuyahoga.

On the subject on comments: I'm a fairly chronic complainer to our own web guys at (they'll probably note it in their own blogs) about making the site easier to post to...and I know they're working on it. Many bloggers (including Ohio Media Watch) have grown increasingly frustrated at the poor manners shown by commenting. I still believe shy of the deadly curse words and obvious out-of-bounds personal attacks it's important to keep the site open for public posting.

That First Amendment thing again...

Take This, Eric!

My buddy Eric Mansfield has an interesting post on his blog regarding the Akron Mayor's race; here's a preview of the on-camera tussle we'll probably have on NewsNight Akron Friday.
At stake: the Mayor's office. As I wrote here last week, the story about Joe Finley charging the Mayor with dodging the City's campaign finance law finally got the Finley campaign what they've been working hard for: traction with the media as they try to stake out some territory playing David versus Goliath.

The story got play on local radio when it first came out on Tuesday, but it really didn't get the attention of the Print Lords of South Main or local television until Don Plusquellic decided to respond.

(It's interesting, by the way: the new ABJ site found the story from John Higgins after searching for Plusquellic but not Finley; maybe that's the problem. Click quick before it disappears into paid archive purgatory.)

Eric points out in his Have I Got News For You blog that the "Average Joe" campaign is spending more time busting the Mayor than articulating a vision for Akron. Hey, not really a surprise -- that's what challengers do! What may make for some interesting debate is just why the Finley camp took so long to get a message out, and why the media is just now waking up to the Mayoral campaign that ends early next month when Akron voters go to the polls.

Have we fallen down on the job presenting enough information on this city campaign?

I'd agree with those of you saying yes...but only because it is still way early, even with a month to go. This election really isn't on the radar, at least not yet, with the exception of fundraisers and door-to-door campaigning going on in the ward level. Sure, Joe and Don are doing their thing as well but the battle for Akron hasn't really been waged until both are face-to-face and that won't happen until August27th at the Akron Press Club's luncheon at the Martin Center, although there are rumblings of other appearances both on-and-off the airwaves between now and primary day.

Preparing For Golf Complaints

Tee times pushed to threesomes starting at 8:00 Sunday morning ahead of expected storms means the golf you may not see in person will be on tape-delay on television...and here's why we don't delay the reports on the radio.

Complaints from listeners and surfers that we "ruin" the experience have been commonplace for radio and websites ever since the Olympics took center stage in huge multi-billion dollar deals with the TV networks sending home those signals from halfway across the world, and it makes sense: who wants to take time off from work to watch the Olympics at 9:00 in the morning when they're live? It's a sign of how small our world becomes when satellites and broadband mean time zones are irrelevant.

So should radio and the web hold off on reporting results to allow television viewers to savor the experience without spoiling the ending?

We've made the editorial decision that the strength of our medium -- radio and the web -- is the ability to cover the story now, as it happens and we'll see that play out again tomorrow with the Bridgestone Invitational. Our hourly reports on the radio will include the leaderboard results, with the winner likely not only finishing at 18 but in all likelihood wheels-up, jetting off from CAK hours before you even turn on the tube to watch CBS-TV's coverage. It is what we do, ever since Edward R. Murrow and company elevated broadcast news to the level where we can see and hear it now. The web takes that coverage anywhere there is an Internet connection.

We apologize for the inconvenience but respectfully note life isn't on digital delay; if the world's top golfers are in by 3:00, we'll report they're in. The TV coverage won't pretend to be live and there are good reasons for CBS to delay the coverage, just as our reasons for not delaying the coverage hold fast.

The media landscape is changing, nothing more so than the reality of deadlines existing in real time. Newspapers have set deadlines allowing them to build coverage over a period of hours, even days; broadcasters operated with top-of-the hour radio newscasts and news at 6:00 and 11:00. Those rules are now in the past just as surely as your acceptance of cellphones putting you in touch with anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Making Sense of Cents

The tussle for the Mayor's office finally has what the politico's call "traction"; as usual it all started not with an issue but with a wallet.

Chances are you've heard the story by now; AkronNewsNow reported earlier this week when the upstart Finley campaign unloaded another broadside at the Plusquellic re-election juggernaut.

AkronNewsNow coverage: Joe fires off on the Don's collections

It didn't get much "traction" other than on local radio and online; for some reason, our friends with ink on their hands decided to blow this one off. But today TV weighed in as the Mayor elevated the issue with a hastily-called news conference at party headquarters, to deny the charges and even promise to release his campaign finance reports every two weeks.

AkronNewsNow coverage: Plusquellic fires back

Now you might agree with the Finley camp, that this is a blatant example of busting the law protecting us poor wretches from the excesses of money in politics. You might agree with the Plusquellic camp, that this is nothing more than a blatant bit of smart campaign management to split contributions between the two election cycles (primary and general) with one check.

Both are right. In the world run by green-shaded accountants and lawyers, campaigns would get separate checks for separate cycles. After all, the law the Finley camp says proves their point also gives the Plusquellic camp the ammo they needed to fire back.

This whole fight, however, really isn't about campaign finances; it's really about getting publicity and today the local media woke up and decided to do the story that's been kicking around for a week. It's just the thing the Finley camp needs with the election (uh, that would be the primary cycle, folks) coming up fast and it also sets the table for what we expect will be spirited yipping and yapping between these two when they hold their only (so far) scheduled debate August 27th at the Martin Center.

AUDIO Virgil Dominic's Still A Wise Guy

Now before you go all Soprano on me (remember I'm Italian, too -- don't go there!) the Wise and Guy aren't one word. The legendary broadcaster and journalist still has the pipes and the delivery to tell a good story...

I have to admit to always being a bit "star struck" when watching or listening to Virgil Dominic; after all, he continues to be the gold standard for electronic journalists in northeast Ohio despite being out of the business for longer than we'd care to admit.

Today Virgil was presenting a different side of the business, and it wasn't the type of thing they teach in the J-schools around the country.

Virgil Dominic on toughest stories, what we shouldn't report and telling the story of faith

Virgil set those standards not only as a reporter for NBC, WKYC-TV and WJW-TV but also in management roles as News Director, assistant GM and later President and General Manager at WJW, even overseeing the switch from CBS to Fox at Channel 8. His era goes back to the "City Camera" days and his legacy is still seen everyday, from Marty Savidge and Kelly O'Donnell on NBC to Denise Dufala on 19 Action News.

But he wasn't talking about the news business (although we'll get to that in a moment); Virgil was talking about his personal faith, and how those early roots in his Oklahoma Catholic school upbringing laid the groundwork. He still remembers the nuns and priest who helped him on those first steps of his journey, and how the lessons learned became the lessons used.

Here's a guy in five -- that's FIVE -- broadcast or journalism halls of fame; he's forgotten more about public service than most of us strive to accomplish in this new age of Web 2.0, texting and "social networking".

While much of his address was very personal in nature to the First Friday Club, an organization of Catholic business and community leaders here in Akron, his observations on the role of values in the news business are still thought-provoking to a greater audience. The message that values and, yes faith, play a role in what we do should resonate through newsrooms and even classrooms.

On Water And Air

This has been a hard week for travel; the horrible tragedy of the I-35W bridge collapse between Minneapolis and St. Paul and the Phoenix and Dallas news chopper crashes.

The folks at RTNDA (the Radio Television News Directors Association) have been in pretty heavy discussion since the crashes of two TV news helicopters in Phoenix last week that killed four, followed by this week's downing of a news chopper in Texas that injured three. Is it really in the public interest to put life and limb in jeopardy for photos and video of the latest police chase?

Then those amazing, troubling, awful images from the Twin Cities as concrete and steel crashed into the Mississippi River, burying cars and trucks in the mud and water below. As of this writing the death toll was seven, with dozens still among the missing. I pray those families waiting for word from still-unheard from loved ones get the call that it's OK, and not the call they dread.

But for the purposes of this blog, I'd like to address those critics of the helicopter coverage and just what's "worthwhile" news coverage. As I write this, virtually every cable news network has continued live coverage; we've even included live video streams as well as extensive video reports here on AkronNewsNow. That coverage brings home what all of us think as we cross Akron's High Level and Y Bridges; could it happen here? Without those stark photos our friends in the newspaper world have on their front pages this morning (well, most of the newspapers) or the video you see online and on television, the scope and breadth of the tragedy may not be so evident.

As a news consumer, I want as much information as possible; as a newscaster and editor, it is our job to present the most timely and accurate story as we can. Those images captured by the brave men and women circling overhead the Mississippi capture the story in a way words simply cannot describe with any justice. Indeed, many of those images may very well help investigators determine just why the arches on a 40-year old bridge collapsed during rush hour on a warm Minnesota summer afternoon.

This is the legacy of those lost in Phoenix; this is why those injured in Dallas went where most of us wouldn't go. Seeing the story from the air is a necesssary part of telling the story in this day and age when we have the resources to report the news as never before.

When Water And Tempers Attack

This isn't one of those TV shows with goats attacking farmers (although I really do LIKE those shows...); this is the tale of how news is made and what role relationships play in what you read, hear and watch in the news.

This is the tale of the water leak in the Lock 3 garage city museum. About 15 minutes of spraying discovered Wednesday evening, fire department called, water shutoff, and today cleanup. Some photos from the Lighter Than Air Society need to be dried out along with other stuff. We thought it was interesting so we pursued with City Hall.

Our call went to Dave Lieberth, the deputy mayor who's taken a strong personal and managerial interest in Lock 3. He's also one of Akron's unofficial historians, and a great resource on the city. Reporter Marcy Pappafava caught him on his cellphone, and told the newsroom he told her he was in a meeting and abruptly hung up.

The abrupt part is pretty well recognized as Dave's manner on occasion, but the hanging up isn't. She was pretty specific about it and felt it was rude; we dispatched her to Lock 3 to just see for herself what was going on without having to wait for Dave. She did, noting folks there at Lock 3 were wary of talking without permission and wouldn't allow her to record them. She relayed her story to Larry States who posted it for broadcast and on AkronNewsNow; I added the editor's note she sought more information and was hung up on.

Why? Because the personality of the news sometimes plays a role in collecting what you read, listen to and watch.

Dave called later this afternoon and was not a happy camper. He wasn't abrupt but felt strongly he hadn't been rude and had returned Marcy's call at the earliest opportunity. He got her voice mail, not unusual since Marcy works early in the morning and leaves after 1p. In this case she went home after phoning in her report.

Dave clearly felt cheap shot in the editor's note even though I didn't name him specifically; he disputed the assertion he'd been rude and I replied the recipient took his response otherwise. I think it is fair to note all of this because explaining with a degree of transparency of just how the news gets gathered is important.

I know the journalist purists think none of this belongs in the public arena; I respectfully disagree. The times, they are a changin' and the bulldozer called the Internet makes everyone a reporter, everyone an editor and everyone a news consumer in new ways.

Akron news gathering tends to be dominated by official speak; the media talks with official-dom, the establishment, and sometimes follows up with alternate views. The Mayor can be rough and tumble with us -- ask John Higgins of the Beacon Journal, Larry States of WAKR, or Eric Mansfield of WKYC about being on the receiving end of some of those broadsides. Eric, in particular, has been very open in his blog about the process he goes through in reporting Akron/Canton's news.

Personality matters in this town and in this case I made an editorial decision to open up the process, given what we felt was the unusual treatment of gathering facts for what was, in the long haul, an interesting but not drop-the-presses story. Should we hold our tongues over the back-end of stories, reserved just for reporter's boozy mixers or small talk before news conferences?

Should we be more open about the personalities in the news, including ourselves? It does play a role in many of the stories you see; the relationship between the Mayor and federal judges definitely colored the handling of the recent Seiberling Building flap; personalities boiled over to front page news when Plusquellic slammed the other Don, Cuyahoga Falls' Robart, a few years ago; whenever Democrats talk about Alex Arshinkoff or Republicans talk about Wayne Jones there's definately the strong current of personality at play here.

There's the background of today's reporting soap opera; today's use of blogs to go "behind the curtain" allows us to explain and report in new ways we didn't have available before. Just look at other blogs on this site, or the comments sections on just about every media and community site on the web these days. You even have the fun of joining the fray -- isn't that the full measure of a democratic and open society?

What do you think?

NFL Coverage You Can't See and Hear

In a bit of inside baseball but covering football, there's a battle going on away from the gridiron that will impact the type of coverage you'll see on websites all across the country, including AkronNewsNow. The NFL and the franchise teams, including the Cleveland Browns, have imposed rules on coverage that severely restrict just how much reporting we'll be able to do on your favorite team.

The problem isn't with radio, TV, newspaper or web-only reporting sources; the NFL has decreed that in order to spur traffic to their own websites (league and team) we aren't permitted to play audio or video clips longer than 45 seconds, total, and that only covers a 24-hour period. This effectively means any interviews we do on training camp grounds or even game-day coverage from the stadiums during the exhibition and regular seasons must, by NFL ruling, be removed from our websites the next day.

No more going to AkronNewsNow, WKYC, WEWS, WJW, WOIO, the Beacon Journal, Plain Dealer, or Canton Repository websites to not only read Romeo's wisdom but also to hear and see your favorite player. In fact, web sites such as AkronNewsNow have been informed by the Browns that we aren't even permitted to take photographs during games to augment our coverage on the web.

We think this is ridiculous, echoing comments from just about every other major news organization including the Radio Television News Directors Association, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and scores of other media outlets. The Houston Chronicle's football beat reporter for their website even produced a video highlighting just how foolish the 45 second rule is.

WATCH the Chronicle's team try to make sense of the NFL guidelines

We agree with these and other media outlets that these restrictions are unparalleled in the coverage of news and sports, and in fact is a direct affront to the rights of our respective readers, listeners, viewers and web visitors to learn more about the teams that play in palaces funded, in large measure, because of the largess of local government and local taxpayers.

It's why you won't see web video or hear web audio reports, even from the locker room, unless media organizations break the rule and risk losing the credentials needed to cover the games. It's why you won't be able to revisit coverage with web video or web audio to watch or listen again to a coach or player more than a day after the game. You won't, that is, unless you go to the league or team sites. Is that the coverage you'll fully trust as independent?

This is a disturbing trend in sports; the NFL has been the most aggressive in pursuing these policies but don't be surprised to see the other leagues pay very close attention as the digital age pushes them to weigh commercial considerations above the interests of the fans.

A cynic would note this is only the logical extension for professional leagues where sports is a sidebar to marketing. I wish I weren't such a cynic.

AUDIO The Vinson Case

Ever since that fateful St. Patrick's Day morning when gunfire took the life of an Akron man there have been questions about the death of Demetrus Vinson.

The report detailed here on reveals the findings of Pinky Carr, the lead assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor asked to look into the shooting by police of Vinson as he and a friend, Chance Baker, sat in Vinson's car.

Akron Police and the Summit County Medical Examiner's office had painted the police-involved shooting as a case of a self-inflicted gunshot by Vinson himself after cops stopped him and Vinson didn't want to cooperate after a night of drugs and boozing. The ME's report indicated none of the bullets fired by police, who say they were responding to the display of a gun by Vinson, were fatal. The only conclusion left, said Medical Examiner Dr. Lisa Kohler, was death by Vinson's own hand even as he sat bleeding from the wounds inflicted by the police bullets.

The family did not buy this and has questioned the conclusion and handling of evidence ever since, even going so far as to employ their own forensic investigator to review the evidence. Family spokesman Orlando Williams says Cuyahoga County has not been helpful in allowing access to the same evidence (seen here in a .pdf file) so the family's investigation is not as far along.

Mayor Plusquellic, who asked for the independent probe, didn't directly respond to questions posed by Mason's long-awaited report. Instead, the Mayor's office delivered his comments via email in an audio .mp3 file, thanking Mason for the report and noting Plusquellic considered the case now closed.

AUDIO The Mayor Comments

From a reporter's standpoint the decision of the Mayor to not deliver a more public and visible comment on this issue, which has provoked considerable debate in some quarters of the City's African-American community on the conduct of Akron's police department, was unusual. The Mayor's office notes the statement would likely have been straight-forward and limited to what the Mayor said in his "audio release".

Looking For News From Home

The Time Warner empire now fully extends from the suburbs of Canton, past the Pro Football Hall of Fame, through Akron and the Inventors Hall of Fame, to the lakefront and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Why can't northeast Ohio's dominant cable TV system work it out so Summit County residents can watch the local news?

It's not as though we don't have plenty of choices; Fox 8, NewsChannel 5, Channel 3, 19 Action News, CBS, NBC, ABC, both PBS stations, enough cable news to choke a horse, even the TV Guide Channel -- but still no Akron/Canton News.

How long does it take to flip a switch?

Up here, way to the north of Akron (almost as far north as you can go and still be in the county) in Sagamore Hills Township, we have cable channel 23 for Northfield Center and Sagamore Hills Townships (usually text messages and ads with radio playing in the background) and occasionally government meetings. Every once in a while we're graced with a local high school game or drama production. Macedonia, Twinsburg and Aurora all have their own channels, too, a virtual cornucopia of the workings of local government.

But no space to put their own partnership product online?

I know such things are very complicated, but given the advanced state of Time Warner's digital infrastructure and the ability to provide video on demand (VOD) services it is hard to figure out why the Time Warner Akron/Canton News isn't available to all Time Warner customers, at the very least in Summit County.

Smoking Hot Over Washington

Washington is surfing for more ways to squeeze more dollars out of us? That's not news...but when it comes to raiding my humidor it's time for action!

Disclaimer: I smoke an occasional cigar.

My wife absolutely hates it and won't let me in the house with one lit, barely one cut and ready to go. She did buy me a very nice humidor for Christmas but filling it up with stogies is up to me and she never misses the chance to remind me it is a dirty, filthy, awful habit bound to lead to mouth cancer, lip cancer, lung cancer and just-plain-cancer.

But ever since the Silva twins and I started puffing away on then-much-cheaper cigars during basement poker games while my reformed-smoker father looked the other way, it has been one of those lifestyle habits I cherish. I've given up just about every other hurtful habit but relaxing on the deck with burning rope after a satisfying steak is safe harbor, one of the last vestiges this aging scoundrel is still permitted.

Until now, that is, when the folks at Thompson Cigar forwarded this article from alerting cigar aficionados to the threat of politicians in Washington -- hell, those are the guys who CREATED the cigar-smoke filled room image of power and prestige -- raising the ridiculously low cigar tax from five cents a puro to as high as ten bucks.

$10 apiece? What are we smoking, gasoline?

It would be a tax hike of more than two thousand percent...a 2000% increase, something even oil companies cannot image. But to the eager-to-pillage political class in Washington, damn the torpedo, let's roll on those rolled stogies!

Thompson Cigar and just about everyone else associated with the pleasure of firing up a piece of rope these days express outrage and demand cigar fans call their U.S. Senators and demand this foolishness be abandoned. Light up those phone lines, stop the $10 tax!

Here's what will happen, though: the $10 max tax is really a brilliant political move, because who in their right mind really wants to defend just five cents on each $20 cigar? Raising any tax is always easier when you aim high and settle for mid-range, and that's what will happen here.

Cigar taxes will be pushed to the normal range (although still not as much as what cigarette smokers pay), health advocates will feel more satisfied they've been able to carve out a chunk of big tobacco to fund their favorite boondoggle, and cigar smokers will still pay for their favorite stogies while apologizing to their wives, family and lovers and promising the smoke will stay outside.

WaPost Weighs In

What else can you say of a review in the Washington Post applauding us for having the guts to build a new museum to celebrate our sorry little burgh?

My friend Stacey in Washington forwarded the review of the new Akron Art Museum from Washington Post staff writer Philip Kennicott, who sort of thinks we're the better for the museum that he compared to a Transformer toy. We are, after all, a "...small, Rust Belt city just south of Cleveland...this low-slung city of gritty buildings...(home of) the dutiful and sometimes tacky Akron convention center or the National Inventors Hall of Fame..."

Wait. There's more.

"But it's also possible that, paradoxically, Akron is behind the times just enough to be ahead of the curve when it comes to building serious and challenging buildings," a testament to architect Coop Himmelb(l)au "...doing cutting-edge work, its rhetoric is intellectually mired in the same era that saw the decline of Akron."

At least, Mrs. Lincoln, the play was enjoyable.

More On The Akron Aliens

While the official organs of Akron plump up the new Art Museum there are dissenting voices.
I've gotten a few emails...not many, granted...who agree there was "something wrong" with the design of the Akron Art Museum expansion.

Some just flat hate the space-age design of the new wing; to clarify, I don't "hate" the design. I think it works just fine for museum space in the 21st century, even in Akron, even if it does look like something hauled out of Munich or Hamburg. It does have a decidedly German/Austrian flair to it and why not, the architect is from Vienna.

Rich from Wadsworth agrees with my observation that the new just doesn't mesh with the old; leaving the old Post Office Building in place to serve as extra space and a pylon for the wings springing from the expansion doesn't look right.

When discussing the issue on PBS 45/49's NewsNight Akron program Friday night Eric Mansfield asked if they just couldn't have moved the old building if they didn't want to tear it down. Great question.

I stand by my opinion that Cleveland's call to build the new-age Rock Hall and Science Museum on the Lakefront -- rather than plant those buildings right next to the heritage buildings in the Warehouse District -- should have provided some guidance for those of us in Akron. There's nothing wrong with new architecture but even on the UA campus the "Landscape for Learning" knows enough to create a consistent mini-neighborhood by leaving plenty of space around conflicting designs. There's a good reason why the Polymer Building has the Chihuly art in front of it -- and not Buchtel Hall.

Aliens Land In Akron

What's interesting is that you shouldn't hide and protect your children; indeed, the whole point of the exercise is to make sure you TAKE your children to the mother ship.

My friends Chuck Collins of AkronNewsNow and Jody Miller of the Bath Country Journal and PBS 45/49's NewsNight Akron program must admit to a degree of frustration with me from time to time.

After all, my first thought on hearing "Guggenheim" is Red Skelton's Crazy Guggenheim, not the world-renowned art museum in Manhattan that makes so many vino-swilling brie-snarfing folks go positively orgasmic with art love. I spell Momma for my mother, not MOMA for the Museum of Modern Art. I love buildings with straight lines, even floors and windows that work.

But I'm not wedded to old buildings that should make way for the new, apparently unlike my art-lovin' buddies. I think the new Akron Art Museum expansion does look like a space ship, not that there's anything wrong with that. So does Inventure Place. So does UA's Polymer Center. So do most of the bus shelters lining South Main. In the greater scheme of things, that's O.K. What isn't O.K. is pretending construction of a one-winged overhang over the old art museum is art. It looks goofy, detracts from the expansion and paints us as a community that can't make up our mind.

Build new but keep the building used for 24 years? Post new tech building looming over the old like an ostrich looking for a hole to plant its head? I don't need some guy from Austria to tell me what I should or shouldn't like, and I don't appreciate being called a neanderthal (I had to look up the spelling on that one; thank goodness for spell check) to be carried screaming into the New World Order of the truly art-inspired. I think the marriage of the three-years in construction new museum and the 108-year old dowager on East Exchange and High is wrong, just flat wrong.

The good news: at least a lot of the wine and cheese set forked over their own foundation money to pay for it. That and the sprinkling of tax money we apparently didn't need to spend on more cops, better highways and more incentives to fix northeast Ohio's job competitiveness.

When the hubub dies down on this design-for-the-ages (and it will; after all, wine-and-cheese lovers are always looking for the next great design to fawn over) it'll be up to Akron's native art lovers and kids to fill the new gallery space. At least, that's the way it's worked for Inventure Place.

Akron's Fugitive Safe Surrender

If betting were legal I'd say absolutely, but on the face of it why should someone on the lam turn themselves in?

After all, there are literally HUNDREDS of folks walking the street with some legal issue or another hanging over the head, so they bury themselves even deeper in the system by blowing off a driver's license renewal, auto insurance, the works to stay free.

Problem is: that's not free.

It's why more than 90 people stood in line outside Akron's The House of the Lord Church to get right, not with Jesus but with John Law (the Lord can wait for another day but my guess is some folks may have knocked down both birds with one visit) and the U.S. Marshal.

CHECK OUT AkronNewsNow's slideshow report from Joe Jastrzemski

Best take: the folks who just said it was getting way too tiring to live life on the lam, even to the point of just getting legal behind the wheel. This is one of those great stories people complain we don't do enough of: most "fugitives" will get back to normal lives, their families can sleep easier knowing they won't get a call from the slammer or, even worse, the preacher and Medical Examiner, and cops all across northeast Ohio can scratch another name off the list and sleep safely themselves that they aren't put in harm's way -- again.