Monday, December 31, 2007

2007: Why I Hate Insurance Companies

This could be entitled "no good deed goes unpunished" after a very frustrating experience at the end of the year trying to use the HSA (health savings account) money I've salted away throughout the year for a new pair of glasses, right? Simple -- except they say I don't exist.

We started 2007 with these new debit cards from our company through a third-party provider (name withheld at this time). Good idea, giving people better access to their pre-tax health savings account to pay for stuff like out-of-pocket prescription, doctor visits, etc. and it even worked a couple times earlier this year.

But at the end of this year -- today, to be precise -- no go when using the plastic "convenience" card. I know I've got a couple hundred bucks left in the kitty so I called the number on the back of the card and after waiting for 9 minutes and 41 seconds (according to the telephone ticker at the Sears Optical in Twinsburg) I got a live person. All I wanted to know was my balance but the clerk checked my social security number four times, my name (first and last) three times and the card number itself twice before she told me I didn't exist.

"How can this be?", I asked, noting the number I used to call her came from the card she says doesn't exist. She even looked up my company (Rubber City Radio -- that only took another 3 minutes and 32 seconds) and says I didn't exist there, either.

I noted that was pretty strange since they've been taking money out of my paycheck twice a month and they didn't say anything about my not existing at the time. They didn't say anything about my not existing when I used the card in the first quarter of 2007 (that's when I thought it was convenient) but now when I want to cash out not only is the transaction denied but my very existence is denied, too.

This may come as welcome news to my staff.

Now I'm particularly paranoid when it comes to insurance companies and their minions, especially the third-party companies who manage all these programs for our benefit. I imagine the poor clerks answering the phones from pissed-off people such as myself at the end of the year dealing with slow computer uploads and missing records while the executives, who loaded up on six-figure bonuses for their golfing holidays in Hilton Head, celebrate at the end of the year. Personally, I believe America's health care system is crafted to do exactly what it's doing: frustrate and confuse the hell of out the rest of us so we just give up and leave our money with the insurance companies. I'm betting that's part of what leads to those juicy bonuses at the end of the year, as well as the generous lobbying fees to lawyers on Capitol Hill to keep the system as complex and byzantine as possible.

Not that I'm in a position to argue; I asked when a supervisor would be able to find the time to call me back but I'm not holding out my hope. After all, how much hope can one have when they don't exist?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Browns In -- Almost

Great lead from Tom Withers of the Associated Press on today's 20-7 win by the Browns over the hapless San Francisco 49ers: the team now has seven hours of overtime before they find out of there's postseason.

The Browns did their part today, a nice post-holiday gift for the faithful fans who steamed into the chilly lakefront stadium for the final regular season game of the season. We were treated to a win; Cribbs showing why he's Pro Bowl; even a sequence of plays from Brady Quinn spoiled only when a sure TD pass was dropped. Chilly, yes, but a ten-game winning season was enough to warm those beating orange-and-brown with a stripe of white down the middle. Think of orange and black and the suffering in Cincinnati or what it's like to be a 49ers fan.

Root for the blue and white; pray for Indianapolis to beat Tennessee even though the Colts would be incredibly stupid to put any of their starters in harm's way with a game that means little to them. Here's where you see just how much the drive to win is really on display amongst the professional sports class; no calling it in for the Indy 2nd, 3rd and even 4th string players because while this game isn't a must-win for the team it is a must-win for them to showcase their talent and heart.

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Most fun game points: not on the field but off. Ray Horner of WAKR included his Dad Lou and young son Rocco in our party this Sunday. It was Lou's first-ever NFL game and while he didn't forsake his beloved Steelers he did have a good time, especially ragging Ray for our leaving early (and for leaving behind Ray's favorite team, the 49ers). It was Rocco's first-ever NFL game as well and for a five-year old he did a remarkable job staying with the game despite sitting out in the cold just-above-freezing temps. Three generations of Horner; at least Rocco roots for Ohio State.

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Still a good idea to keep a close eye and ear on your kids during a Browns game. The language, for the most part, continues to be coarse (and I'm being charitable here) starting with the griping of folks getting through security before they even show their tickets, right up to simple talk in the stadium. And don't even get me started on the F--- Michigan shirts prominently displayed for all to see walking to and fro the stadium. I think the shirts are funny but could we get some compromise on not flashing it in the faces of the kids? The walk from Cleveland's bluffs to cross the tracks and enter the stadium should be a bit more kindlier and gentler than walking down the street of an Amsterdam brothel district.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Staying On The Straight And Narrow

Anyone else have the experience of seeing just about every police officer in the planet on the highways today? Nature Girl and I were driving to Cleveland's far west suburbs and using Interstate 90 from the Jennings Freeway; there was one Cleveland cop parked in the median (on a hill, no less) grabbing radar with at least SIX patrol cars about a half mile down the road, lights flashing with folks pulled over on both sides of the expressway -- and that's with two other patrol vehicles parked waiting for word to grab someone else.

And this was at 1:00 in the afternoon on a Saturday; wonder just how many light bars will be operating when the bars are celebrating the height of the NY Eve holiday this weekend and Monday night?

Driver beware...

Friday, December 28, 2007

Year End Chores

As part of our end-of-the year stuff in the Esposito home Nature Girl was insisting I get in our semi-annual property tax payment in so it clears before January 1...nice to know tax planning is in her nature.

So off I go to navigate downtown's Ohio Building to personally deliver the check because Nature Girl is not only thorough but also paranoid that we have a stamped copy for the files, and hence started my adventure.

My experience in the Ohio Building has been largely limited to walking in from the parking deck just east of the Building to the fourth floor atrium, then navigating up to County Council chambers. For the most part any other interaction I ever have with the county is handled with a check in the mail, but now I have a newfound appreciation for those who make the trek for business because there sure as hell is little pleasure in it.

From the fourth floor entrance off the deck you need to walk around and find the stairs; it isn't easily marked but thank God Fiscal Officer John Donofrio's staff has plenty of signs posted for idiots such as myself who need to find the third floor. After walking into dead-ends around the lighted atrium with the third floor taunting me from the open space below I finally find the stairs and make my way down...only to find more confusion.

Taxes and property is a big deal with lots of records so I'm forced to navigate to other offices away from the atrium; again, thanks to the proliferation of many signs although the people I literally bumped into were in the same boat. We find the offices, need copies of the bills that won't be mailed until next month, but otherwise the fine folks behind the glass are helpful and courteous.

After all this walking I need to...well, rest. So I notice in this public building on the floor where the people's business is done paying taxes there are doors to the men's room and a women's room at one of the dead-ends in the atrium. Of course, they have security keypads so they aren't open to the public.

Hasn't anyone in government figured out yet if it weren't so hard to find a place to pee in a public building we might not be p-o'd at government as much as we are?

Finally frustrated I opt to hop down a couple flights -- following signs again to tell me where the stairs are because the stairs aren't conveniently located where the giant atrium draws everyone's attention. Finally downstairs I see there is actually a convenient behind-the-glass window on the first floor South Main entrance lobby but it isn't for taking payments to the county -- that might be too easy. Instead it is for the CSEA (Child Support Enforcement Administration) leading me to conclude deadbeat parents needing to drop off a check have an easier time than the people of Summit County who own property and want to pay their taxes on it.

Suggestion to County Executive Russ Pry: the next time Summit County constructs a building for public purposes make every restroom open to the public (after all, they're paying for it) and by all means make the architects have to drop off tax payments in person so they get a full appreciation on how important it is to make doing business with the government as convenient as buying a burger -- not asking for Swenson's curbside service but it's a start.

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Ironman viewing note for tonight: as posted earlier the NewsNight Akron crew already taped our Newsmaker of the Year special but it won't air until a week from today (9:00 p.m. on January 4, 2008) because of scheduling conflicts from the panelists. Tonight Eric Mansfield does his own NNA Year in Review show; pray he doesn't run out of breath. He's also anchoring Channel 3's 6:00, 7:00 and 11:00 newscasts in addition to the Akron-Canton News at 6:30 and 10:00 in addition to the PBS 45/49 9:00 p.m. broadcast.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Holiday Irony

Some more random thoughts post-Christmas holiday:

- is it just me or did the fact Fox News was still running the death-and-destruction ticker while airing Rick Warren's religious hour-long A Purpose Driven Life holiday program sort of counter the reason for the season? I mean, I know the consultants say the 24/7 ticker is an important part of news branding but even during the hug-my-family program aimed at showing the power of positive energy? WWJD if He was the technical director?

- Also on Christmas Day: Instead of running their 7:00 news block WKYC opted instead for Christmas With the Stars which included Lou Rawls, who not only has been dead since January 6, 2006 but his widow's home in Green was burglarized over the holiday weekend and among the items stolen was his passport. I could have overlooked Susan Anton and Erik Estrada among the "stars" but dragging out poor Lou? He was the best voice of the holidays (well, second only to Nat King Cole but we can discuss that one later) but two years after he passed away? At least we can tell the Bing Crosby and Perry Como specials date back to TV's Stone Age...

- Nice headline on Drudge Report on how rotten this holiday shopping season has been for retailers: they reported only a 3% and change increase from last year. Now that's not big stuff according to the bean counters because they want 5% increases but note they never seem to have any problem with salary increases bumping up only 3% -- that's called "normal".

- State Senator Kevin Coughlin is weighing in with an email warning of "false" notices from his New Summit Republicans, now waging war on the Arshinkoff faction of the county party. With slates needing to be assembled for the full assault on the membership of the county committee (literally hundreds of folks) underway communicating the message just stepped up a notch. Add to it the stories from Stephanie Warsmith in the Akron Beacon Journal on expected costs allegedly OK'd by the Summit GOP Executive Committee to defend Alex ($350 grand) and the tough no-holds-barred fight ahead this'll be a gem to watch. Stay tuned...with the early primaries culling the Presidential herd the races for local party faithful in Summit County's GOP ranks may be the most compelling political lesson in the March primary.

- We tape the NewsNight Akron "Top Newsmakers" special this afternoon at Northside...sort of a return to the crime where we last led off with the best and worst of the year. I'm excited Eric Mansfield is at the helm for this one -- especially since he's kept plenty close to the vest so Jody Miller, Steve Hoffman and I are still in the dark. Note: this NewsNight Akron program airs on PBS 45/49 on Friday, January 4, 2008 at 9:00 p.m.

- had the occasion to visit with former WKSU PD and News Director Vince Duffy just prior to Christmas at his new (and impressive) digs at Michigan Radio in the Free Republic of Ann Arbor. He looks well -- I'd opine even younger now that he's back in the solid news trenches and out of the grind of program management. His stations stretch their signal from west to east coast and just about all of the lower half of the "mitten" in Michigan, with a heavier dose of news delivered (each hour) and the challenges obviously invigorate.

- speaking of WKSU these are the final days for Daniel Hockensmith, AKA Dan Taylor from his Akron Radio Center days. Dan's been hosting "Your Way Home" on WKSU but leaves broadcasting behind for a new gig with Plastics News. I'll miss him on the radio but look forward to his work covering such a huge beat that literally extends around the world -- good luck Dan!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Random Holiday Thoughts

I'm very thankful this morning for the energy and dedication of young people; the holidays are usually wide-open in terms of the news business and we are blessed at the Akron Radio Center with talented staff getting into the business. Kent State student (and very recent grad) Kristen Russo holds down the fort on Christmas Day, giving everyone else the most valuable gift of the season: time with family and friends. Yesterday KSU's Lindsay McCoy came in on Christmas Eve to do the same, along with soon-to-depart Rick Green (moving from the Akron Radio Center newsroom to similar duties with Metro Traffic in Cleveland).

Mike Glass, a recent addition, sat in for Joe Jastrzemski (and will on New Year's Eve, too...) with veteran Bob Allen hosting in place of Ray Horner. Ryan Haidet, Shannon Dailey, Shelley Blundell, Alan Courtright -- all work hard to keep our listeners and web visitor to AkronNewsNow informed, even at times when being informed is the last things on our minds. Thanks for the wonderful gift of your time, guys.

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I was saddened to read of the passing of Thomas Morgan III. He was truly a giant in our industry, not because he worked for the NY Times but because he was a leader in journalism and a role model for thousands of aspiring reporters. Morgan was the first openly-gay President of NABJ, the National Association of Black Journalists, earning his election after helping professionalize NABJ's finances while Treasurer. There was considerable angst on his election as President on what message it might send -- and thankfully those naysayers were proven wrong quickly. The message is regardless of color, creed, orientation leadership comes in all shapes. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Morgan (among hundreds of others) in 2005 when he was inducted into the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) Hall of Fame in Chicago, a much-deserved honor for his work bridging the two groups; his dedication, hard-work and focus on doing what's right should serve as an example to all of us.


- - -


On Thursday Eric Mansfield, Jody Miller, Steve Hoffman and I sit down for NewsNight Akron's best (and worst) of 2007 show. We tape at Northside (next to Luigi's) just after lunchtime with our listing of who we think the top newsmakers of 2007 were, good and bad. So far the input from the panelists as well as from other contributors has been weighing heavily in favor of Mayor Plusquellic and Bob Keegan thanks for the end-of-year gift from Goodyear that they'll stay put with a new headquarters building in Akron. Others ranking high on the list: Russ Pry, the Strickland Administration, Sylvester Small...a long list of positives. There are some making the not-so-nice list too, which opened up debate: are we obligated to make the top newsmakers someone (or group) because of good deeds? Should be an interesting chat...the program airs on PBS 45/49 Friday night at nine.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Using Hillary

The latest broadside fired by the New Summit Republicans against incumbent, long-time party boss Alex Arshinkoff is textbook, and right out of Alex's own playbook to boot: use a polarizing person, issue or thing to provoke action.

This brochure was dropped to select Summit County households just in time for the holidays (you can see the whole trifold with this .pdf file) and since I got mine in my northern Summit County mailbox ahead of the frozen candy boxes, bills, cards bearing holiday wishes and the usual hate mail I have to figure Alex got his in Hudson, too.

It has the usual: he squanders money with party money on his ride (an Escalade); expensive eats (more than $6600 bucks alone in one posh downtown joint); party time at the country club (five grand at the Portage CC! What did that buy, a burger and chips?...) and $600,000 on the party headquarters, including drapes. All this and Summit County doesn't have more Republicans holding office.

But in order to make this stick for people to actually care and 1) run for the GOP Central Committee and, 2) actually vote for someone who runs for the GOP Central Committee it takes a world of hurt to force said people to act.

Image from New Summit Republicans brochure

This ought to do it...


When in doubt and you don't have a cavorting Bill, or the Mayor cussing out parking lot attendants, or Nancy Pelosi arranging taxpayer-financed flowers for her office go with the big guns. Nice touch with the shot on the back of Ronald Reagan pointing with "how can you help" underneath.
Enjoy the holidays. The campaign for control starts in earnest right after we watch Ohio State play another national title game against another speedy SEC team. I'd rather bet on Alex versus Kevin...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On Sources & Reporting

I surely don't want to add the "we told you so" to such a horrible case...but it IS worth noting the reporting from AkronNewsNow and WAKR, WKYC's Eric Mansfield, 19 Action News team Sharon Reed and Ed Gallick, the Beacon Journal's Phil Trexler and the Canton Repository's team was pretty much right on the money in the Jessie Marie Davis case.

You may have missed today's widely-reported news on the filing from the Stark County Prosecutor with details on just what happened the day her body was found at the Top O' The World park site.


That day is still vivid in my mind; Toni Cicone and Joe Jastrzemski on WAKR, Kristen Russo's story on AkronNewsNow and 19 Action News anchor Sharon Reed first reported Bobby Cutts had confessed but our sources weren't holding news conferences -- that was two hours to come later. Eric Mansfield added critical details known only to investigators and his sources, including the report that Cutts himself led police to the site but at the time his report was dismissed.



Turns out he -- and other reporters -- were right.

Prosecutors, police and defense lawyers for Cutts and confessed accomplice Myisha Ferrell followed a self-imposed gag order before the case ever went before a judge, carefully limiting information in the case. It was a textbook example of controlling media we're now seeing play out in Chicago in the Stacey Peterson case, another high-profile missing woman that lept from the police blotter to the crime-and-punishment nightly TV lineup with a life of it's own.

There's plenty of room for debate on the treatment afforded these cases and the reporting style but what clearly isn't up for much debate now is that local reporters who trusted their sources acted responsibly, in large measure, in their reporting during the heat of the moment. Today's news reported first by the Canton Repository includes the now-confirmed truth from Prosecutor Ferraro's office: Bobby led them to Jessie's body.

The next step: will prosecutors take the death penalty off the table in exchange for a plea agreement? Ferrell took the deal, providing the State with damning testimony against Cutts and my gut tells me the filing by the Cutts defense team challenging the death penalty specification is positioning to force the prosecution hand on proving intent. If the capital spec holds, it puts more pressure on Cutts to accept a plea bargain if Jessie's family tells prosecutors they would be supportive. That's a question the family has been firm in side-stepping, and with good reason: it would weaken the case against Cutts to pull this legal weapon from their quiver.

Monday, December 17, 2007

We Used To Know How To Drive

I've officially turned into my grandfather; "these kids" don't know how to drive.

He used to crab about that on a regular basis, especially when he was being driven from one spot to another after he couldn't drive anymore. Especially in winter when it snowed, but it seems like we did a much better job back then in the 70s (when I was a teenage curmudgeon instead of an old man like Grandpa) even when it seemed to be snowing more back then.

What happened in the past generation?

Schools are closed all over greater Akron today but when you go to work -- and make no mistake about it, unless you work for the schools you ARE going to work today -- you'll find side streets snow-covered but the main roads wet and a bit slushy. Not impassable and certainly not the blizzard-like conditions that prompted Medina County to declare a Level 2 "get the hell off the highway" warning Sunday. Wet and slushy, slick ramps and bridges, about what we should expect in a typical northeast Ohio winter.

I know the arguments from the rural districts such as Highland will be those hilly highways haven't been cleared yet because ODOT and local salt trucks have been busy hitting the main roads; I hear the school administrators note it's unfair for the little tykes to stand in the snow waiting for the bus; I can only imagine the parents who won't clear their own sidewalks whining about the tough slog their kids will have getting to the bus stop.

People: you live in Ohio, for God's sake! It snows. There's slush. It can get icy.

In those good old days we still went to school unless it was snowing that morning or the snow totals started being measured in feet, not measly inches. And that was walking uphill both directions.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wasteful Workout

What a great example of tax dollars at work -- and the insolence of public officials in managing your money for the best.

Kudos to Phil Trexler for pointing out how well Akron's publicly-funded private club has been faring. The CitiCenter Athletic Club used to be exclusive but must now feel excluded, with membership down from an elite high of 700 to just a couple hundred now. Trexler's report chronicles how the high-and-mighty used to work up a sweat and then enjoy the perks of membership but now they sweat elsewhere, leaving Akron's taxpayers to pick up the tab.

According to the Beacon Journal article Akron shells out hundreds of thousands of dollars -- over a million in the past ten years -- for the exclusive workout center, complete with swimming pool and one-time restaurant. This generous subsidy came at the same time the Mayor was pushing to tax Summit County residents and City voters with levies to support the arts, schools, business development and more police. What's more important here, the chance for a handful who can afford the $47 bucks a month (it would be more like $100 bucks a month to balance the budget if it weren't for your wage tax dollars) to ride a stationary bike to keep on riding or getting more cops on the job?

All of this, as the ABJ points out, with the Canal Square Y up the street. Not to mention attractive fitness centers at the University of Akron (perhaps the finest in the City), Shaw JCC Recreation facilities on White Pond, AGMC's Wellness Centers in Montrose and Stow as well as community rec centers in Cuyahoga Falls, Green and Macedonia. That doesn't even include the private clubs in the Valley or all those Curves storefront workout joints at every strip mall in the area.

Dave Lieberth, Deputy Mayor, is quoted by Trexler saying the City isn't in the business of making of profit, it's in the business of providing service. Well, he's right about one thing: Akron's getting serviced, all right.

Do The Clothes Make The Artist?

Tonight's meeting of the Akron School Board may be a rip-snorter with parents up in arms over plans to have their kids follow a city-wide dress code; there's lots to talk about on a bid by some Miller South School for the Performing Arts protest and just how disruptive it will be to mandate the little darlings wear appropriate clothes.

By "appropriate" we mean the standards voiced by the Akron School Board; should Miller South students be permitted to blow off the rules because they're "special"? My colleague Eric Mansfield makes the point in his Have I Got News For You blog as well as during a spirited debate on NewsNight Akron last weekend: these kids have already been singled out as unique and worth getting a pass from the rules that govern everybody else. Parents reason their little performers should be allowed more creativity because, after all, that's why they fought to get them into Miller South in the first place. Anything less, they reason, infringes on their creativity and creates instead an undue burden.

Whoa. According to that scenario we shouldn't have dress standards for other "centers for excellence"; after all, Firestone's theater and international studies kids are certainly "unique" so do they get a pass? Buchtel and Garfield play some serious football, so should those teams get "unique" passes too? What about the kids going to private schools such as St. Vincent-St. Mary and Hoban -- they actually wear uniforms but I'm not seeing a huge drop in collegiate admission scores because the kids saw their creativity limited by the big bad headmaster holding them to reasonable dress code expectations.

Fact of the matter is: how much of a brain drain do public schools have when parents and students worry more about what the kids wear (or what they're allowed to wear) versus what they're learning? Some of the more dress-restrictive schools in Summit County are in fact the highest-performing academically (not to mention Walsh, SVSM, CVCA and Hoban usually kick butt in athletics on a fairly regular basis, too) and I'd hold the creative energies of students pointing to careers in the arts aren't impacted in the least by the dress code.

The point of public education is a standard for all, not the few. Selling the protest under the cloak of "my kid is special" seems to ignore the fact Miller South is, after all, a public school and not an elitist institution standing apart from the rest of the Akron district.

Proud parents have every right to want the best for their children, and the curriculum at Miller South promoting artistic creativity ought to be front and center for protesting parents -- not the worry they might have to use a rest room to change into their dance togs. Athletes and performers in every other Akron school live by their rules and fair is fair.

I can only imagine the response if I'd come home telling Mom and Dad how unhappy I was because I wasn't allowed to wear my favorite clothes and how that would make me a lifetime loser because I didn't get my way at ten years of age; Dad's size tens would be quick to follow.

How do we get to these points where the students run the schools and the parents?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Army Way

Only in America do kids sending "get-well" and holiday wishes to soldiers recovering from horrific war injuries get the cold shoulder.

From the Army, no less.

Check out Jeff Maynor's story at WKYC.com about the 400 students at Highland Drive Elementary in Brecksville just north of Akron. Talk about no good deed going unpunished! Walter Reed Army Hospital notes security regulations that say any cards or letters must go to patients or staff by name, no exceptions.

At least the teachers at the school are using this as a great tool to educate kids where there's a will, there's a way: all these good wishes and hand-made cards will go to a soldier and his unit in Afghanistan.

Friday, December 7, 2007

When Number 1 Isn’t First

Wanted to share some thoughts on a conference I attended in late October on the First Amendment sharing experiences with like-minded folks who wonder why #1 seems to have trouble even making the grade these days. The get-together was sponsored by ASNE – the American Society of Newspaper Editors – and included representatives from major newspapers, RTNDA, the Society for Professional Journalists, the Online News Association as well as musicians, library and free speech advocates. Needless to say, we all had similar ideas.

You should know these freedoms made possible by the founder’s vision of what America should stand for: freedom of speech, a free press, freedom to worship as we please, the freedom to assemble and the freedom to petition the government. It’s the “Fantastic Five” of liberties and a model for what so many around the world still admire about the American Idea even if they don’t like us much anymore.

It’s what gives conservatives like Rush Limbaugh the same access to our ears that Al Franken had, ratings notwithstanding. The First Amendment allows the folks responsible for Akron-area print layout and newscast stacking to make choices, such as what plays first? This went through my mind the end of October with the death of a six-year old Akron boy in a local house fire and the death of a Chagrin Falls co-ed in a Sunday North Carolina beach house blaze that killed her and six fellow college students.

These are the editorial decisions loaded with scrutiny; a young boy or a young woman? Both stories are tragic. One involved what firefighters believe is a pan of hot oil left over from frying chicken wings racing through an Akron home without smoke detectors; the other sparked on a deck and quickly racing through the beach house where college kids were relaxing away the weekend. Both avoidable with care, our hearts tell us, both horrible accidents ending young lives full of promise.

But what’s your lead? You’re in the news business so one story has to run first. Do you make your decision based on location? If so, Akron tops North Carolina. Is your primary consideration the date of the tragedy? You’ll be splitting some hairs on this. The Akron fatal fire came in the wee hours of a Sunday morning while the North Carolina blaze broke out late on a Sunday night. Is the story best told by pictures, and does the more spectacular scene of huge flames caught by citizen journalist aired on CNN trump the next-day photos of burned-out home shot by your weekend crew in Summit County?

The question not many want to ask, much less answer: do you base your decision on the makeup of the victim?

The media has struggled with charges there is a caste system in place when telling stories of tragedy. The best example is the story of missing Mountain Brook, Alabama teen Natalie Holloway during a class trip in Aruba. Many, including myself, were critical of the tenor of the continuing coverage so prominently displaying the picture of blonde innocence as a poster for the story while so many other children – not so blonde, not so white, not from such an affluent area, weren’t worthy of the nightly talk show spotlights.

This case makes me wonder about the decision making process, too. Two families ripped by tragedy, one white and the other not-so-white. One with attractive photographs, the other without the graphics. One from a middle-upper class background (hey, it’s Chagrin Falls) and the other from another side of the tracks.

Does race matter? Does economic and social class matter?

What I believe matters is these decisions are made by flesh-and-blood human beings who (hopefully) take their jobs seriously and give deep thought to the stories of life-and-death that may not hit home for all but certainly rip apart the hearts of some. Our job is to present the stories of our lives to others; to provide information and context and sometimes to stimulate debate, even if it turns inward and we are called upon to exhibit the same transparency of our decision-making process we expect from others.

The First Amendment exists to give voice to those who may be shouted down by the majority; freedom of speech provides the protection that the government won’t use all of the power given to it by the people against opinion from the people. Freedom to worship as we see fit keeps others out of a most basic and personal communication: between ourselves and our God, who or whatever He or She may be. We have a right to lawful assembly because the business of the people is that important. This is important stuff for each and every one of us. It’s why it’s First.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Where's Michael Vick When We Need Him?

There's a great adage in the news business that the story of a dog biting man isn't news but the man biting the dog? That's a different story. How about lawyer biting dog?

In a fashion that's the treat scheduled for Tuesday, December 11th from the Ohio Supreme Court -- and best of all we can all follow along at home thanks to the First Amendment and an enlightened court that opens up oral arguments of cases to webcasting.

Here's the gist: Rebecca Kim of Columbus got popped with a barking dog complaint from her neighbor, Joseph Berardi, who testified he just couldn't take the 90 minutes of Kim's dog "Lucky" going non-stop despite Berardi being inside his own home with the air conditioning on. Kim was found guilty and, not missing a beat, moved up to the 10th District Ohio Court of Appeals to argue the state law was vague because it doesn't define exactly HOW long or HOW loud barking needs to be to drive the neighbors nuts.

The appeals court didn't buy Kim's argument but as luck would have it the 11th District DID find the law in Warren (State v Ferraiolo) too vague in a related case, hence the Ohio Supreme Court having to decide just how loud a barking dog needs to be in order to call the heat. Now our highest-ranking judges will figure out when dog-barking becomes "unreasonably loud or disturbing” or “detrimental to the life” of one resident of a neighborhood when it may be completely inoffensive to another.

Lawyers being lawyers Columbus is arguing in their legal filings that the vagueness of the law isn't a problem so long as the court finds that "no reasonable construction that would meet constitutional requirements," or to paraphrase the only way to find barking dog laws unconstitutional is to find the barking dogs are protected by the constitution.

They point to court decisions in several other states that have struck down noise ordinances that are more specific than the Columbus ordinance at issue here, and they urge the Court to affirm the 11th District’s reasoning in Ferraiolo that the subjective standards set forth in the Warren and Columbus ordinances are unconstitutionally vague.

You have a front-row seat to all of this; all you need is a fast connection, a computer with Real Audio and this link to access all the fun. Best of all will be watching folks seriously argue the measurement of when dogs cross the line.

Who says government is boring?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Akron's REAL Good Year

Keeping the company here for at least 20 years: $30 million dollars.
Building a garage for 2900 workers and untold shoppers: $20 million dollars.
Keeping Akron the Rubber City: Priceless.

As expected Goodyear Tire & Rubber, flanked by just about every Don, Ted and Russ politico between South High here and South High in Columbus, announced it will stay in Akron thanks to a generous incentive package worth about $50 million in forgiven state taxes and loans with great rates, on top of plans to launch what approaches a one billion dollar redevelopment plan to build a new world headquarters, renovate the existing technical center and build Akron Riverwalk, an ambitious mix of retail in east Akron.

The collective year-long breath-holding can now cease. The giant that Seiberling built will remain on the banks of East Market and Martha in some form or another, retaining our image as the Rubber City even though most of the rubber barons left for warmer and greener pastures decades ago.

The questions about the deal are legitimate; as Council's John Conti is quick to point out there are plenty of states and municipalities looking askance these days at corporate welfare packages. In New York, for example, hundreds of such job-protecting job deals are under red flags with the discovery the jobs never materialized even after the tax breaks did; my own experience with Anchor-Hocking in West Virginia nearly 20 years ago (the state sued to keep machinery in a soon-to-be abandoned Clarksburg-area plant and won) was an early round in the war of politicians hungry to keep jobs at home getting snookered by companies who didn't keep their word.

The difference in Akron, however, is the tradition Goodyear holds over us; since 1898 the company founded by namesake Charles and built by the Seiberlings has steadfastly called this place home, even after the Firestone's left for California vineyards and Nashville; the Goodrich legacy is name only after that company even picked up what was left in Richfield and took flight to North Carolina; O'Neil doesn't even stick around as a department store downtown. Even after the Seiberling clan lost control of Goodyear the company called Akron home, and Akron has come to depend on it.

Rubber may grow on Indonesian trees but it also flows in our blood. Today's announcement is more than confirmation our money talks; the message just as strong, just as true, just as loud is that we take care of blood first. Other companies would have been fine working a deal for a new corporate campus near an airport and a golf course but Goodyear's rebuilding includes neighborhood development, which makes this deal unique. It's not just about keeping the headquarters and R&D center, it's about keeping the 'hood a place where we want to live. Using the power of Goodyear's corporate relocation decision to leverage improvements to Akron's neighborhoods is a deal too good to pass up.

It's the kind of deal we should consider priceless.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Goodyear, City Hall, Zips and Dog v Baby

OK, this has already been a big week; it's likely Goodyear will announce tomorrow it is staying put in Akron; two members of City Council tussle with the Mayor in an unusual public display of will and ego and University of Akron head basketball coach Keith Dambrot is so frustrated we're not showing up for Zips games he's promising to work to get us all free hot dogs.

On Goodyear: the State passes a big plan and now the world's top tiremaker has a news conference set for Wednesday to announce whether they stay or go. The developer will be in the house, and not just to hum the Clash tune; it's a no-brainer Goodyear will stay. As we told you last week the economics to keep Akron the Rubber City was on the fast-track to happen in early December (I noted this was coming during our "crystal ball" segment on NewsNight Akron a month or so ago). This isn't insider information but it is highly likely since Governor Strickland, Lt. Governor Lee Fisher, Summit County Executive Russ Pry (confirmed) and Mayor Don Plusquellic (we think) are all planning to attend the news conference. Ohio wins one in the war to protect our economic flank, and this is a HUGE win for Strickland & Fisher -- and Pry has a major feather in his cap heading into a March 2008 primary election. Plusquellic should share in the love, too as local government proves it can do what it is supposed to do: keep Ohio's businesses in Ohio. That hasn't always been the case.

I could opine further on both Mike Williams and John Conti taking on the Donald but this link to AkronNewsNow's coverage, complete with audio, is 'nuff said. We're working on getting Dambrot's full comments after Sunday's Zips-Wyoming game posted as well but in the meantime my favorite multimedia is included in this blog: who cries loudest and isn't it great we've finally found something other than a car ride to quiet the screaming baby.

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