Friday, December 26, 2008

VIDEO You Dog, You!

These are a few of MY favorite things to mark the holiday but they're all led by the four-legged thief who didn't think twice about swiping something nice.

Now keep in mind a dog doing what dogs do isn't news...but when it's caught on video surveillance it's worth another look:

I could watch this over and over again...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Why Radio Is Special: The Holiday Goat

The best things you hear on the radio are sometimes the things the audience never really gets a chance to listen to.

Take this past Saturday, when our friend Andy January opted to showcase a worthwhile program saving farm animals during his "My Beautiful Home" program. Truth be told, I think Andy's a softie when it comes to taking care of the four-legged but his heart is in the right place.

Problem is, it was more than just the heart in place when his guest showed up at our WAKR studios with two roosters (in cages) and a goat (on a leash) to help illustrate the plight of abused livestock. As you may know, pictures and video work great on television and the web but as-of-yet a radio-only show such as Andy's isn't quite the venue to show off goats and chickens. Thanks to for the informative drawing, at left, for those of you goat-challenged readers...go due east for a sense of the geography of this story.

The roosters did what roosters do -- and you could hear 'em pretty much along the entire third floor of the Akron Radio Center. The goat did what goats do naturally as well, turning "My Beautiful Home" into more of a "My Formerly Beautiful Carpet" show.

Now the Akron Radio Center isn't a stranger to animals doing their thing on our carpet; all three stations are long-time supporters of the Akron Zoo, and all have active segments on-air and online featuring dogs and cats available for adoption. Sometimes the puppies and kittens get a little nervous, and their nerves have been known to spill onto the floor. Usually no big deal -- I think it's why the carpet gods made Berber.

But goat poo steps away from Akron's largest radio newsroom is a relatively new experience for those of us here, even the most grizzled veterans used to dealing with BS from local political animals. I can tell you goats are easier to clean up after...and I'm just glad Andy didn't choose to highlight an elephant rescue operation.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Washington Just Doesn't Get It

We all enjoyed -- admit it, even you most diehard of Detroit automaker supporters -- all of us were glued to the set when the Big Three chiefs were grilled for their greedy and stupid business practices while lapping at the government trough for billions in loan guarantees and handouts.

Are you enjoying paying more for the self-serving blowhards in Washington who served up the fresh crow for the business executives? (for a primer in how Washington works there's no better than P.J. O'Rourke's book, at left -- check it out on Amazon) has a fascinating return to reality, Capitol Hill-style, with this word our courageous leaders (such as Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, the "look the other way" overseers of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's collapse) won't step in and stop the pay raises for -- themselves.

Congress, according to TheHill, has done this before; they suspended the automatic pay raise in 2000, but apparently the economy is so strong these days it's worth the additional $4,700.00 a year elected officials will be granting themselves. Yes, the same men and women who crabbed over bonuses due the wizards of Wall Street who took the American economy into the dumper will themselves take the money for their own purses and wallets.

Want real reform? Here's a suggestion: let's tie in the "automatic" vote period on congressional pay raises to the election cycle; they have to have a recorded vote turning down the raises but it has to be taken during the summer session, before the General Election, every two years. That way, voters will know before the ballot casting just how their public servants really define the word "servant."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Joe 1, State Dems 0

Joe the Plumber didn't get his candidate for President of the United States elected...but he did manage to bag a state snoop caught abusing the vast Ohio government computer database for political purposes.

Everybody remembers Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher, the Toledo-area guy who questioned Barack Obama and became a footnote in political history in the process. Even after he was left by the curb when John McCain's campaign came up short, the long shadow of this citizen everyman is cast over the state political system.

The Dayton Daily News reports tonight Helen Jones-Kelley, the Strickland appointment to head the Department of Jobs and Family Services, will be celebrating the holidays off the public payroll.

Jones-Kelley is the state official caught with her virtual fingers in the virtual cookie jar, plunging through state record after state record digging up dirt on Joe after he had the temerity to actually challenge her choice for President. State computers did their work while her fingers flew over the keyboard, which also included soliciting support for the Obama campaign using her state email service.

Man, stuff like this gives government workers a bad name.

Governor Strickland, shocked that such activity would take place under the watch of a political appointee, placed Jones-Kelley on leave. Republicans cried it was a slap on the wrist, easy for them to say since their candidate lost. In fact, very easy for the GOP to say since just about all their candidates lost.

The State Inspector General found Jones-Kelley had indeed strayed over the line, and now she says for the continued safety of her family and concern over the legacy she leaves behind after her year in office she must step down.

What, a legacy of snooping?

Memo to Lt. Governor Fisher: the next time you lead a group of state officials to Asia on a trade mission, make Japan a stop for a primer on Seppuku, the practice of doing one's self in with a ceremonial slash to the abdomen. The class should note that this form of bloodletting, while a bit extreme, does include the unique concept of admitting shame and taking responsibility.
Former Attorney General Marc Dann was the last statewide office holder admitting shame but not taking responsibility until forced to; former Cuyahoga Falls State Representative John Widowfield provided a similar profile in courage before bowing out disgracefully; former Governor Bob Taft even found his moment in the dock while pleading out on ethics charges that forever condemned him to a lifetime of 11% approval rating.

Now Jones-Kelley goes out with a snarl because she was caught rather than leaving behind a lesson learned for others to follow.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Watching Mr. Blago

The election cycle is over but the soap opera that continues to swirl around those in power (and those about to assume the reins) is mighty entertaining these days -- even hundreds of miles away from Blago Central.

While the "when will he resign?" watch continues in Illinois, it is stunning to watch how quickly we drop our fascination with Britney and Brangelina and LiLo (if you don't know who those folks are by their news nicknames, odds are you never will) fades to make way for the head of hair known as Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Unless you've been living in a cave he's the guy in previous posts with a full head of chutzpah, caught on tape dropping f-bombs all over the place while he tried to figure out how to make a buck off appointing Barack Obama's successor in the U.S. Senate. At least, that's what we are led to believe by Blago's failure to own up or deny, the leaks galore coming out of the U.S. Attorney's office (including juicy transcripts showing Mrs. Blago's mouth did a stint as a sailor) and the lightning speed with which some in the media are condemning Obama's apparent lack of clear answers or rushing to explain why Obama's staff needs time to answer questions.

From a purely observational position this has been heaven sent; something to get my mind off the continued economic free fall, despair over the next round of mortgage collapse to come, and just plain anger over the bailouts crappy executives get for putting their companies, their workers and the country in this position. It is news porn: the political version of reading the magazines Dad kept in the closet.

Of course, we've got to toss ourselves in that mix too, right? After all, we were the lemmings rushing to the brink to lap up no-money-down 30 year mortgages without income checks; we're the consumer economy that continues to make big screen flat panel TV's the top holiday gift despite millions of our neighbors losing jobs and homes; it's been our profligate spending like there's no tomorrow that puts tomorrow itself in jeopardy for the kids today. Don't we own a piece of pax Americana the same as the citizens of the Roman Empire pushed their emperors to watch while Rome burned?

We wished for easy, affordable housing and deep credit available to everyone without the lessons learned by our parents and grandparents the last time the nation saw so many in the unemployment line: we get what we pay for. If it sounds to be too good to be true, it is. There's no such thing as a free lunch -- someone has to pay for it.

Now we're learning the someone is us. We're the ones who collectively must pay for bank executives driven to quarterly returns that now sink more than a century of trust and community-building; it's been our hunger that drives Detroit's big three automakers to be more responsive to the more sensible world market (they do make money overseas, I hear) while feeding our selfish demand for models that don't make sense anymore. Is it just me disgusted to learn trucks and SUV demand went up when gasoline prices at the pump went down? Are we a generation and a society that learns nothing from the past, even when the past is only three months old, and is doomed to repeat the same mistakes again and again?

Congress gulps and passes a bank bailout that gives Hank Paulson a blank check to spend $350 billion dollars and even his people aren't sure how all the money's been spent so far. The same Chris Dodd-Barney Frank combo that helped get us in this mess is now charged with getting us out. How do ANY of these people -- Paulson, Bush, Bernanke, Dodd, Frank -- have ANY credibility left? Have we become so deadened to being led by venal self-interest that even when we become painfully aware our interest lasts only as long as it takes to jump the tracks for the next scandal?

A generation ago James Caan starred in a film called "Rollerball" where big corporations had taken over the business and government of the planet, and they created a game to placate the masses so nobody would figure out just how powerless they had truly become. It's a play on those who paint religion as an opiate, or those who marvel at the passion it takes to root on a sports team but ignore the real-life issues around us that otherwise leave a real impact on the lives we lead.

In that film a single individual brought down the machinery above by standing alone at the end, a survivor. In real life, however, we wait for someone else to stand tall for us because in the end our memory only lasts as long as the last commercial break -- and we're too afraid to move beyond the easy comfort of others making the hard decisions for us.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What A Moron

The news from Chicago today was just stunning, even by the bloated history of Illinois political corruption. Governor Rod Blagojevich -- his name caused just about every TV pundit to choke tonight, with CNN's Lou Dobbs offering the most comical mispronunciations during a quickie promo advance round with Wolf Blitzer -- wanted to sell off his appointment of a U.S. Senator to replace the White House-bound Barack Obama.

Also on the hit parade: trying to get newspaper editorial writers fired for daring to question him (hey, at least they aren't parking attendants; our mayor in Akron actually pulled that one off)...holding back millions for a hospital serving sick children to force a CEO to pay up on a $50,000 campaign contribution; and plenty of other slick deals involving road improvements, hi-rise construction and other public works projects. This from the "reform" candidate to lead Illinois from the dark days of political scum.

What is with these idiot politicians so clearly without the ability to look back at all the others who've already plowed this fertile ground? Illinois is especially a textbook case with four past governors moving from executive office to the slammer. The man Blagojevich replaced -- George Ryan -- is actually still serving time on racketeering.

Going back on the national stage: Dan Rostenkowski, the Chicago pol who also did time after big-shotting his way to prison from Congress; Youngstown's Jim Traficant, who used his influence shakedowns to try and fix his boat moored in the Potomac River; Richard Nixon's fall from grace and grand exit via Chopper One from the White House lawn after All the President's Men already did their various perp walks to prison or grand jury appearances.

Let's not forget the poster boy: Gary Hart, the Colorado Senator who famously told reporters to go ahead and follow him after they asked about reports of his infidelity. Ironic since Blagojevich did the same, telling reporters the whole world should listen in on his phone calls.

In case you aren't old enough to remember the story that signified the National Enquirer as legitimate outlet for political news (see at left) the reporters took Hart up on that tossed gauntlet and led to more pictures of the Senator and Donna Rice aboard the aptly-named Monkey Business charter boat. History.

Poor, stupid John Edwards of North Carolina forgot that lesson despite his trip to a national candidacy aboard the John Kerry express in 2004 with his recent visit to a former paramour and her child in the dead of night at a Beverly Hills hotel.

Man, was he surprised when the Enquirer popped up with reporters and photographers in tow, sending Edwards to seek solace in a basement men's room until hotel security could bail him out.

I've had the unique experience of seeing this kind of thing from a key vantage point, thanks to a view from the inside thanks to prior life working in politics. These things always come down to one person in power forgetting the journey and those around them afraid to stop kissing butt and point out the obvious. It isn't pretty to watch the downfall, regardless of how much they've got it coming to them after the excess of arrogance leads to the humbling in the witness dock.

In days gone by the Roman emperor would return home to Rome, fresh from conquest, with the spoils of war leading the way past the adulation of the crowd. The wise leaders at the time made sure to have a slave accompany Caesar on the chariot, whispering all the way that fame was fleeting and those adoring crowds wouldn't think twice about ripping him to pieces when he failed.

If only more of America's leaders made sure someone was riding shotgun.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Man Who Meant Magic

Larry Bidlingmyer never forgot where he came from or where his heart remained, even during some of the toughest times imaginable. This morning Larry lost his fight with cancer but leaves behind an example as testament to life lived to the fullest.

Guest blog: WAKR's Ray Horner and Joe Jastrzemski

You're never prepared to hear the news that a dear friend has passed away. The e-mail that told us that Larry Bidlingmyer had died meant a real tough morning.

We remembered Larry on the air today. We'll do more tomorrow, and we'll certainly do even more to remember Larry when the Greynolds Classic takes place December 29th and 30th.
Honesty, hard work and class. Words that come to mind when we think of Larry Bidlingmyer.

"From bike riding to making sure that every detail was taken care for the Greynolds Classic, basketball event that was his brain child, Larry dotted every "I". I visited Larry at Barberton Citizen Hospital last Thursday so see how our friend was coping; "do you have everything you need for the Greynolds Classic?," he asked, despite the pain and fog of treatment. Larry wanted to get out his computer to work on details.

Jack Greynolds was a dear friend of Larry's and he wanted to make sure people did not forget what Jack did to help so many of our area's youth. I hope people remember Larry for those same goals." - Ray Horner

"My first meeting with Larry was at the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State. Larry was there to watch his son coach the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Larry was so proud, and he didn't come by himself, there were a dozen or so friends to enjoy the experience with him.

I always looked forward to sitting in the stands with Larry before those CSU-UWM games. The talk was not only about basketball but about everything from Barberton to giving me a scouting report on the upcoming game.

It was never about Larry. He was always looking out for others. This really came into focus in talking with Barberton Mayor Bob Genet about how sorely the community will miss Larry." - Joe Jastrzemski

Larry was passionate in life: biking in Washington D.C., trips to see his son coach college basketball, over lunch pressing for help raising dollars needed for various programs in Barberton. Larry loved the purple of Barberton, but more than that he loved life and those he touched.

Every time a basketball bounces in Barberton, be sure to remember Larry Bidlingmyer.

Friday, December 5, 2008

You Never Know...

...who you'll run into when waiting for a plane. Walking up, newspaper in hand, was U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown for the 8:40 to Washington-Reagan Airport Thursday morning. Just like the rest of us -- he was running late.

Brown actually took off from his northeast Ohio home via Cleveland Hopkins International on the 7:30 flight, which would have gotten him to the meeting room where Senators (including Brown) were getting their pitch from the Big 3 automakers today.

Unfortunately, a glitch and a warning light turned the flight around. The next plane out was the 8:40, which didn't spell much hope he would be sitting in the hearing room on time but he promised me he would be doing whatever he could to get there before the testimony was over.
Funny how transportation humbles even the best of us; the Detroit automakers got clobbered for taking private jets, then drove this time to DC in hybrids. Brown normally would be moving heaven and earth to be there on time, but the craft taking him through the heavens is another story.

At least I had the pleasure of saying hello and playing photographer for a young mom from New Orleans who wanted a picture with the Senator and her two kids. No need to burn any fossil fuels for that task.

- - -

In DC on RTNDA business; this city is clearly chomping at the bit for Obamaville just about a month and a half away. All of the sidewalk vendors have Obamagear for sale, including sweatshirts, hats, buttons, dishes, posters -- you name it. For $20 bucks you can get a sweatshirt, some of the other take home gifts are a bit pricier but people are gobbling this stuff up like crazy. It's tough to imagine just where they'll be putting the four million folks they expect to squeeze in between the Dome and the White House. My friend Jane's PA nieces and nephews are coming in just to say they were here -- even if it means watching on TV.

- - -

If you are one of the millions here's a tip: Shelley's Back Room at 13th and F. Take the Metro Center stop and find it but advance notice: it is one of the few places in the District where it's legal to smoke indoors. A very nice cigar bar (enjoyed a fine Mac with a cup of clam chowder tonight, reasonable prices too...) with nice ambiance but air you need a chain saw to cut. It was nice to smoke a stogie tonight in some place other than 25 degrees. Nice to be at the center of America's capitol, within site of the Treasury Department and White House...dreaming of an end to the Cuban embargo.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008: The List

It's too early for Santa's list of who's been naughty and who's been nice, so maybe we just settle for a list of things we can be thankful for heading into the Thanksgiving weekend.

My list: friends and colleagues who are passionate, vocal and remain committed to what they think is important in their community -- even to the point of disagreement.

I'm always struck by folks who think Jody Miller and I treat each other like junkyard dogs because we find ourselves at odds on the issues on NewsNight Akron. Nothing could be further from the truth: Jody is one of the kindest, more thoughtful people I know and a forceful advocate for what she thinks is right (even when she's wrong.) I'd say the same for the Mayor (who probably won't like being lumped in as either friend or colleague on this blog) as well as Mendenhall (who will find it amusing.) Akron is fortunate to have women and men who give thought and aren't afraid to express themselves. The community is better for it.

I'm grateful we aren't Detroit these days, although Northeast Ohio ranks second only to Michigan when it comes to overall impact on the economy by automotive. God knows we have plenty in common -- their mayor wears a jumpsuit after a sex scandal, a pair of Cleveland's county officials had very public knocking on the door from the FBI and IRS; the Browns can't beat the Steelers or the Texans, the Lions can't beat anybody; Detroit has those wacky Big Three CEO's flying around on private jets, Cleveland has Dennis Kucinich flying around in other dimensions. At least we have to share Dennis with the rest of the nation every four years; seems like the CEO's are going to be with us (or on our dime) for some time to come.

Thanks to Luis Proenza and the University of Akron Board of Trustees for the most excellent timing of transforming the campus from commuter-ville to student magnet with an interesting mix of facility upgrades to put what was once Akron U. on the map as the U of A. At a time when dollars are expected to be tighter than ever, the remake of the downtown campus and extension to Wayne and Medina Counties helps find Akron well-positioned to display what the University calls the "Akron Advantage" in attracting students to take another look.

Thanks to the men and women who will get us where we need to get to tomorrow and through the weekend: the folks working the service stations, restaurants, airline ticket counters, pilots, attendants, baggage handlers -- even the TSA security acting as the glue holding the transportation system together. That includes the snow plow drivers ready to give up that leg of turkey when called upon to get a leg-up on Mother Nature. These folks are real heroes for the holidays, trying to make sure we are safe and sound.

Finally, thanks to the real heroes for anytime: the men and women who wear a uniform and put themselves in harm's way so we can overeat, collapse, take naps and watch bad football games without a care in the world. Whether wearing the uniform of police, fire, ambulance or half a world away wearing camo, these are the Americans to treasure because they shoulder the burden of keeping freedom and liberty our way of life. Politicians and pundits come and go but the true leadership of America has always been regular people capable and willing of making extraordinary sacrifices, even for those with the luxury of being ungrateful.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Property Tax Time Bomb

Heading down the stretch with a month and a week left to go in 2008 and I'm thinking the big story of the year won't be historic elections, perceived weaknesses in Mayor Plusquellic's political armour or even the crime blotter's sensational trials such as the Bobby Cutts, Jr. case.

2008 should be remembered as the start of America's major come-to-Jesus money moment.

In the past 90 days we've basically seen wealth in the wealthiest nation on earth take deep slices, with the market more than 40% down and confidence in our major institutions -- banking and homegrown automotive -- in the toilet. Banks won't lend to banks and Americans have clearly shown American cars are their top choice for wheels.

Today President-elect Obama unveiled his economic team, but there are still many, many questions to be answered on what to do. The existing Congress -- the same body that returns in power in 2009 -- seems impotent when it comes to forcing the outgoing Treasury Secretary to do what he said he was going to do with $700 billion dollars in bailout money. The housing bubble burst continues, banks say they aren't even sure what their complicated portfolios are really worth, charges are traded over backroom decisions that kill one institution to benefit another and the country looks divided over whether clueless Detroit CEO's (not only management but also union bosses) should be given a chance to manage their way out of this mess they've created.

But we aren't seeing the worst, yet. Just today, Ohio's Association of Realtors noted Ohio's average housing values (the total amount of residential real estate sold divided by the number of units) declined in value by 7.4% through October 2008 when compared to the same point last year. The Ohio average declined from $150,800 to $139,571. In real dollars, that amount actually declined by 19.7%, from $17 billion a year ago to $13.7 billion. OAR's member Realtors sold nearly a fifth less real estate and while that stinks for real estate agents living on a commission, it doesn't bode well for the local governments living off property taxes either.

Long-range thinkers are taking hard looks at how property taxes are figured -- an odd mix of economic formulas and the art of appraisers in determining what your house is worth. So much of government is tied to your property and this hits you whether you own or rent; after all, how do you think landlords pay their property taxes? When property values decline, those locked-in tax percentages are impacted, too. It hits schools (toss aside the talk of how its unconstitutional; the Ohio Supreme Court didn't provide a penalty for still using property taxes so the DeRolph decision remains toothless) as well as social service agencies, libraries, zoos, police, fire, ambulance and even road repairs and improvements.

Taxpayers are likely to take a dim view of appraisals that charged more in property taxes when values were going up but what about when those values are heading south -- does the County start reducing tax bills in comparison wholesale when those housing values drop just like your 401k portfolio? Government is used to adjusting up, not down, but with the value of what we own continuing to decline thanks to market conditions it can't control do tax collectors have little choice but to respond in kind?

In turn, will we see a rush to the ballot box by every agency receiving a penny of property tax revenue to help shore up those revenues? School districts have long known just how hard it is to go to the well again and again and again. ,With the property tax values of entire communities taking a hit, that whirlpool drags even more quasi-governmental groups into the swirl.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Enjoying Week's End

Been an interesting week and fun to read the give-and-take with mostly anonymous and a handful of others on my post to spin us for NewsNight Akron...too bad we didn't get to the local GOP shenanigans during last week's show. I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunity to do so next month when the financial reports start hitting.

I am struck by the vituperative nature of the comments in general local Republicans toss into the mix; personalities notwithstanding it is amusing and, if you're like my friend Ben Keeler who exhibits pain on a GOP loss, maybe a little sad to watch the knife fight while the political world around the combatants goes to hell in a hand basket. It's been instructive.

Here's my advice for what it's worth to the anti-Alex crowd: put your shoulder into the job of taking over the party apparatus or making it irrelevant. The crying game on how much of a loser the Arshinkoff wing is lacks any punch when you can't even get a full slate of your own candidates to step up to the plate during committee meetings. Stop hiding behind anonymous, for example -- use your names, be proud of your opinion and put some work into the change you want. You won't beat Arshinkoff by showing his weakness; you can beat Arshinkoff by showing fellow Republicans you have what it takes to win. Raise your own money; form your own political alliance and act like adults who have a vision instead of sore losers.

My advice to Alex: at some point these folks will figure it out and find enough allies to actually build a winning organization capable of showing you the door instead of just talking about it. When the GOP ruled Washington and Columbus life was good because you got your phone calls returned and your voice was heard. Figure the land of 202 is pretty much out of reach now, at least for the next eight years as far as the White House and executive branch is concerned. Based on the performance of the back-stabbers in the McCain-Palin campaign and the inability of Congressional back-benchers to get their message out in a timely manner I wouldn't be very hopeful about Capitol Hill, either.

As for Columbus, mid-term elections tend to be fertile ground for the loyal opposition but the GOP just lost control of the state House, leaving only the state Senate and Auditor Mary Taylor the stalwarts to spread the word after a generation of full-bore rule at High and Broad. The only chance to get a shot at taking back any of the offices you lost in 2006 and 2008 is to start playing as a team (just as Democrats did in Ohio two years ago and nationwide this year) with an eye toward doing something you took for granted: winning. Now's the time to re-evaluate the Rove tactics that worked and the Obama strategies that paid off, and figuring how to apply those rules so you too can have effective campaigns. No politician is unbeatable, but if you don't have the team ready to rumble the other side will get a free pass.

In the meantime, I'm home recovering from knee surgery. I thought today would be a total loss, forced to RICE (Relax, Ice, Compression and Exercise according to my surgeon) on the sofa with laptop and TV my only companions. Thankfully, the program lords at the SciFi Channel decided to have a mini-marathon of James Cameron's Dark Angel series with Jessica Alba (at left) playing the cat-like engineered soldier fighting a big corporate giant behind most of the evil in the world. No Alex in this show and the only Kevin was my buddy in Nashville who thanked me for the midday call to alert him our favorite show was on. I could say it's because I love science fiction and fantasy and think these programs are entertaining...but that would be wrong.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Spin Us For Tonight's NewsNight Akron

Tonight's NewsNight Akron show on PBS 45/49 (that's Western Reserve Public Media for those of you paying attention to the latest news releases, otherwise it's still channel 45 or 49) is an hour long with plenty of bloviating on last Tuesday's results.

It's Eric standing guard as anchor and likely playing referee as Jody Miller, Steve Hoffman and I bat around the election results that are and the races that were.

Here's some of what I expect will be the highlights -- or lowlights, take your pick:

- Issue 8's failure. We'll probably spend quite a bit of time on Mayor Plusquellic's outburst that his opponents deserve a "special place in hell" for misleading the voters. I expect that'll be Steve's take, since Plusquellic mentioned Steve by name as his justification for wishing the powers of Hell take those who dared to question his Akron Scholarship Plan. My take: put some ice on the bruised ego and work with instead of against people for a change. They agreed all along a scholarship plan was worth pursuing, they just didn't like all the strings attached and flushing public control over the sewer system to pay for it. Even the most successful quarterbacks need to pick themselves up off the field and try for the end zone again. If this issue truly was about building a scholarship plan, there should be plenty of room under the tent as long as winning the game is a team effort;

- Republicans took a kicking in most of the legislative and executive races they were looking to win; the Moran-Nero race was closest thanks to that district spreading out to make up one of two truly balanced seats by partisan label in the county. I suspect we'll also have some thoughts on just how Al Brubaker proved the third time was the charm in beating Greg Bachman -- or did Bachman beat himself in the County Engineer's race?

- There is a flip side to the GOP licking on page one; when it came to page two of the ballot they were clearly the victors in securing control of Summit County courts, with gains in Common Pleas court to give them control over the judiciary and the patronage jobs that come with it. The feature race will likely be the down-to-the-late-wire race between Probate Court incumbent Judge Bill Spicer and Common Pleas Judge Elinor Stormer. For what it was worth (and based on hundreds of thousands spent on these races for judge, it's worth much to both parties) Spicer can thank the election night counting gods for keeping Cuyahoga Falls and other northern districts late to the count because northern Summit really pulled his keister out of the fire;

- Alex Arshinkoff's in the crosshairs again as State Senator Kevin Coughlin was quick to call the 2008 General Election a failure. I'm sure Jody will agree and maybe Steve and Eric, too. Given the weighting of the Moran-Nero district it was perhaps the most competitive head-to-head race and they may have a point there, but Arshinkoff's support of the judicial ticket clearly was a win for him. I'd also note Coughlin and the New Summit Republicans (now the Dump Alex Anyway Party) were pretty scarce in terms of public money and bodies making calls at phone banks. They'll argue they see no reason to help Arshinkoff...he'll argue they're letting their hatred of him get in the way of constructively helping candidates on the ballot. How did Summit stand up compared to Stark? Lake? Geauga? Portage? Medina? How realistic can you expect the local party to impact the race when you start out the day 100-thousand votes behind?

- With all the talk on the huge turnout, the early voting proved to be the big winner even though the actual number of ballots cast statewide was actually lower than when Bush beat Kerry in 2004. From a political wonk point of view, the real change right off the bat isn't what we're being sold from Washington but how the marketing of ideas and candidates changed with vote blocs able to steamroll the results with the first pass of absentee counts. It fundamentally changes of the rules; Obama took local Democrats with him into the 21st century of campaign tactics, and it'll be interesting to see if Republicans can learn from the whuppin' in forcing their own change in two years with an electorate demographic (young people) not necessarily known for brand loyalty. Generations still revere FDR; a generation put JFK into sainthood and another generation fueled the Reagan Revolution. Will Obama's power extend to those levels?

On tonight's show, I think a nice addition: Kyle Kutuchief and Ben Keeler (those blog guys on and elsewhere -- they're in my blogroll on this page) will join us for their own take. Kyle bleeds blue, Ben still loves Red (with the exception of Alex) and it should be lively. Nice to see NNA get with the times and expand the voices to include those relatively new to the game but the future of it.

We tape at 6:15p; feel free to shoot me your thoughts this afternoon and I'll try to work them in, even if I think they're crazy. After all, I'm not the one who thinks there's a special place in hell reserved for people who disagree with me.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How Predictable

Really, no election is totally predictable. There are plenty of things that happen at the last minute, lots of items people mull over and weigh one way or the other when they walk into the booth or fill out that early ballot. Nobody really knows the result until the numbers come in, but what is predictable: folks who don't listen to the message.

Tonight's reaction from the Issue 8 folks, I figure, was what one would expect if it had just ended at disappointment...but this one is different.

Mayor Plusquellic: "there's a special place in hell" for those who "misled" Akron voters on his sewer lease to fund scholarships program. Nice. I guess that means nearly seven out of every ten Akron voters ought to be prepping for a suntan.

Why is it candidates or advocates who lose the hard fight have such a hard time admitting it either just wasn't time for the idea -- or, worse yet, it just didn't make sense to all of their fellow citizens? Instead, blast away. Look for the sympathetic editorials decrying the lack of vision by the voters; "tsk tsk," they'll say, "how unfortunate the sheep won't follow the lead we set for them. How dare they!"

The impulse to blame the loss on "misunderstandings" or "misleading" opponents is universal to anyone on the short end of the stick, but most handle it professionally and understand the rest of the story comes after the loss. If it were that easy to just float an idea and have everyone embrace it we wouldn't be going through this process every four years...we'd just wake up and have a new leader whenever someone got the itch.

Here's a thought: people weren't misled because they really do see through the blather and ask their own questions. When they aren't comfortable with an idea that's so bold it has to be rushed to market without any real, open debate and discussion the best course of action is to vote no. If City Council can't take the time to bore in on a truly "big" idea, passing it wholesale with nary a dissenting question after getting the goods a few days before the first (and only) vote why should the public buy into it?

It's easy to slap the voters around for not having the vision because it saves one the trouble of actually looking inward and maybe admitting the proposal could have been better to begin with. Saying Akron just didn't understand is calling the 20-thousand more people who voted no-than-yes too dim or selfish to embrace the grand concept.

How condescending. You want respect from people when you ask them to support an idea? Start by giving respect to begin with. A nice step would be applying some salve to the bruised ego and recognizing the common ground shared with opponents instead of each working so hard to destroy the other.

One is reminded leaders in the past were skilled at making use of the bully pulpit by understanding "bully" didn't mean then what it apparently means now. Preaching from the pulpit with a club in one's hand has such a poor track record of capturing hearts and minds, and getting folks to willingly stay on your side rarely comes after beating them with verbal two-by-four again and again.

That might actually prove a valuable lesson to the next generation that still could use a scholarship program -- but one that makes sense, even to those rubes who wind up paying for these grand proposals.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Has Hell Frozen Over?

Was it just four years ago (maybe two) when Democrats around the country were braying -- and Republicans were trumpeting -- the "bring an ID" rules to vote? Court cases were filed charging the requirement that those of us deciding the fate of the strongest nation in the free world would actually be called upon to show we were who we said we were came and went, because now those who cried loudest are making sure voters ARE who they say they are.

Or at least can prove it with a driver's license, state ID, bank statement, utility bill or paycheck stub. Knowing those last four numbers on your social security number will work as well.

I guess the ACORN really doesn't fall far from the trees. Thanks to Progress Ohio for the video and inspiration.

My Sister's Sense Of Humor

I have to hand it to my sister Patti; recovering from a cancer scare, navigating the normal tough economy, even having to put up with a difficult older brother and she still finds time to get the last word in thanks to -- pretty funny.

My personal favorite: the guy in Upper Mongolia afraid McCain will bomb his goats. Just as funny: she was the first but Kevin & Jane followed suit, all independent of the other. Nice to see they're thinking of me.

Well done, sis!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Joe & Jill Catch Akron

The big push of presidential politics surrounds Akron today with Obama's in Cleveland and Palin in Canton; tomorrow McCain/Palin include Lakewood, Cleveland and Columbus while Joe and Jill Biden hit Copley High School for a Monday night quickie. More details to come on the Biden local visit, but doors to the school are expected to open around 5:30 p.m. based on the early word for one last chance for local Dems to kick it with the top of the ticket.

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The beat goes on with about one full broadcast day left for those last minute radio and TV ads; expect to hear and see enough to make even the most experienced pol hurl. At least it's good for the media business. Looks like Ohio's margin and fluctuating polls will assure that the nation watches us Tuesday night like tea leaves predicting the future. Does B have the push to finally "close the deal", or does Mac comeback once again? Ohio's still too close to call when looking at the polling.

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My pal Steve Hoffman offers his predictions from the Akron Beacon Journal perch. I agree with most of his observations, with the exception of Issue 8. That one, I think, really will depend on the whims of the turnout Tuesday. I do know down the stretch it's gotten pretty ugly, with trash talk from both sides dipping into the gutter. One side accuses the other of lying, the other trades the charge by denouncing "gestapo tactics." Friday was a banner day, one at least four different news organizations made conscious decisions to spare readers, listeners and viewers the most recent round of name-calling.

It's a shame the voices in power are so thin-skinned as to paint any questions or opposition to their viewpoints is madness or evil. It is worth noting not much of this garbage made it's way to public view because the folks doing the editing (myself included) asked what all of the name calling had to do with the issue of forking over management of the sewer system to support a scholarship program?

The questions Akron voters need to ask when heading to the polls on Issue 8:

- are they OK with a company running the sewer system? Despite the kvetching from opponents, it does work well in other cities -- just not all cities. There are just as many local governments who shouldn't be operating sewer plants as private companies, and when there's a big rainfall it doesn't matter who's clearing out the pipes, a heavy rain will do it regardless of management;

- does the scholarship program sound like a good deal for your kids or grandkids? Supporters tell you the 30-year requirement is fair, opponents note it's like chaining someone to the table. And there's that whole issue of limiting choices on where you can get a college Kent State? During a recent visit with Leadership Akron I asked the class how many had hiring authority -- about half raised their hands. I then asked how many figured their new hires would be around in five years; no hands. It's a different reality and this generation understands mobility is a prime right often exercised. The Akron Plan may have been inspired by the Kalamazoo Promise but there are some big differences; if you're comfortable with limits, vote yes; if you think it's unrealistic and goofy, vote no;

- is Akron and Ohio so far behind the eight-ball that we've just GOT to do SOMETHING -- we're such basket cases that ANYTHING different becomes "visionary" and blindly saying yes to?Supporters almost have a sense of desperation, willing to take a plan that may be deficient just because it's going in any direction, while opponents often sound like they would say no to the Second Coming just because it's not the way things were done before. What's your take?

Hoffman's right on the money about one thing: this isn't do-or-die on Issue 8's objective, which ostensibly is to provide a helping hand for local kids to get a head-start on life with a college degree in their pocket. All sides agree that's a pretty good the details are what they're crabbing about. If the Save Our Sewers and Water people note it's a noble purpose, the table is already set for Round Two. That should be worth working on details that should be worth more than a month or two of private blue-ribbon committee meetings and last-minute ordinances passed without full debate. We took a year to decide what "Imagine Akron 2025" should look like, complete with public meetings and hearings; this should be worth the same effort.

The question is whether the brains needed to reach that goal gets swallowed up in bruised egos.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Can You Smell It? It's SOO Close...

Yes, Ohio matters. Canton gets Palin, Cleveland gets both Obamas Sunday with time running out to convince those undecideds to swing their way.
Governor Sarah Palin visits the Field House at McKinley High around noon Sunday, November 2, 2008 with a final Victory Road Rally (campaign's words) and big vote that's filed under GOTV (Get Out The Vote) label. Doors open at nine in the morning. Here's where Republicans and McCain-Palin supporters can get tickets:

Stark County - behind Gabrail Bldg. 4875 Higbee Ave NW, Canton. 9a-9p hours;
Portage County - 1180 West Main Street, Kent. 9a-9p hours;
Summit County: Canal Place Building, 520 South Main, Akron. 9a-9p hours;
Medina County: 124 North Court Street, Medina. 9a-9p hours.

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The Obama Campaign has Senator Barack and Michelle checking in with Bruce Springsteen supplying an acoustic GOTV set around 3:45p.
Keep in mind the Browns are home against the Ravens, so parking will be at an extreme premium but what great timing to draw a crowd. Depending on how tough the Ravens defense is even hard-core GOP Browns fans may be walking up the bluff to get a taste of something different.

Those of you with memory going back four years remember it was the site of a Springsteen show on behalf of Kerry-Edwards in 2004 to close out the campaign. This is also free and no tickets required but supporters are being asked to RSVP (don't know why if there's no tickets...unless they just want the web traffic) to ahead of the event.

Massive Turnout

Want an idea of just how things have changed since 2004? Think over a million people already in both Florida and Georgia alone, standing in line for hours in some cases to get in their vote early.

Here in Summit County, the same: Wayne Jones of the Board of Elections notes the following numbers as of yesterday:

2004 Absentee cast: 33,000
2008 Absentee requested: 53,671
2008 Absentee returned so far: 36,055
2008 In-person voting: 28,133

Forecast by Tuesday PM: 100,000 early votes (a third of the expected total)

Now there are two items to consider over the weekend: how long can you stand in line Saturday, Sunday or Monday to do your civic duty or how long will you stand in line Tuesday when it's E-Day across the nation? The early in-person voting at The Job Center on East Tallmadge (make sure you aim for the east doors; that's where the voting machines are) is likely to be pretty busy with 12-4 hours over the weekend and morning through 8:00 p.m. Monday. Summit County elections workers are putting in extra effort to try and make sure voter lists are as up-to-date as possible but don't be surprised to see this topic play out after the vote counting Tuesday night and then as a repeated theme through 2010 when Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner goes before voters for re-election.

ACORN-issues aside, we probably ought to note it is a miracle much of the registration and vote counting happens at all in a system for a national election that depends on what every local outlet does. We vote as a nation, but governed by the home rules of every state and, in the case of Ohio, every county level charged with administering and carrying out the vote process. In Ohio's case we can't even make computer databases talk with each other to figure out the bad from the good -- who thinks it'll work that way across a nation?

Some might make the case the easy answer here is to register nationally; how such a list might eliminate the talk of multi-state registration, answer questions over where college students vote (and how often) but it flies in the face of our time-honored tradition of the individual and not the group. We consider ourselves Americans but it is as Ohioans and then Summit County voters we make our decisions.

Basic message: vote early, but not often is what we'll take out of 2008. The irony of much of the political fighting over the process in 2010 is that Brunner's name will probably be the key target race for all to watch in just two years and her actions in this election will be sliced and diced hundreds of different ways just waiting for the spin.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Oops...More Biden

On this one I'm with Biden...if you're going to take a hard shot at least have the right facts when you go on the attack. Still, it takes the wind out of the sails of those who claim Democrats get a free pass. I'd still like to see the same kind of hard questions aimed at all the candidates, but it does call to question just lobbing the grenade without knowing where you are supposed to be throwing it.

Thanks to for this find...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

How About More Of This?

There's been quite a bit of talk lately about the strategy of the presidential campaigns in "using" local media availability to get their message out, and cynics opine it's because the rubes in the hinterlands are easy marks and won't ask tough questions. I'm one of those cynics, but the latest softball turned hardball and it would be nice if we local broadcasters held the glitz candidates to a similar standard.

This strategy is called "free media" because it turns to be another opportunity to enhance the candidate or campaigns brand or message without having to pay for it. Stations usually like to belly up to the bar for "free media" opportunities because we think it enhances our own brand, so it is few and far between when we actually treat it as a chance to treat the politicians like -- well, politicians.

Check out WFTV Orlando's satellite Q&A with Senator Joe Biden; it's pretty clear the anchor's strategy was hit-'em hard rather than the usual easy going...

This "cost" the local station; the Obama campaign cancelled another interview, this time with Biden's wife, and notified the station they were persona non grata for future interviews. I'm sure the station is absolutely crushed at the news they won't get to interview Jill Biden, who isn't running for any office. It also shows how the campaigns running for the most powerful elected office in the free world can't stand the heat when they visit the kitchen and have to defend or explain themselves against their most vigorous critics. Maybe this is why there are really so few head-to-head debates and unrestricted town hall format discussions.

It really isn't a partisan issue, examples frequently come down to the way the GOP goes overboard managing access to VP candidate Palin. She was far more photo-op than chat time not only with the softball locals but also the big media outlets, although national correspondents now say Palin's talking with them on the campaign trail far more than Biden. It shows the way the pendulum swings.

Overall, anytime local media gets the opportunity for a sit-down, the campaigns figure we'll lob easy questions such as "Gee, how are you liking (my city/state/region, just fill in the blank)?" so the candidate (Obama, McCain, Palin, Biden, spouses, again fill in the blank) can answer what he or she thinks they should have asked or they'll provide the soundbite on how tasty the local fine dining is (Stricklands, Swenson's, Skyline, Luigi's, fill in the blank.)

I'd suggest that strategy has merit because more local voters watch local TV, and besides the local broadcasters all want to showcase their "exclusive" three minutes one-on-one with the big names. Makes us look more important, even if we do treat the opportunity more like a photo op promo than a chance to hold feet to the fire and do what should be our jobs: cut through the bull and get 'em to the point. Make them respond to what their critics say; make 'em answer the questions the toughest voters ask; put 'em on the hot seat rather than add to the buildup of inane spin that seems to substitute for political coverage.

Kudos to WFTV for having the guts to jettison the same-old, hackneyed coverage model and doing the service to remind us all the media does a better job confronting and challenging than it does adding to the spin din.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Issue 8: Akron's Not Kalamazoo

"Kazoo" refers to Kalamazoo, Michigan, the mother ship of offering college scholarships to local students. Mayor Plusquellic frequently refers to this western Michigan city's Kalamazoo Promise as his primary inspiration for his Akron Scholarship Plan.

It is important to note there's some pretty big outstanding differences; one big item is Kalamazoo's big-dog status as the biggest city in the southwest corner of Michigan. It's not even close to Akron, however: Kazoo less than half of our population. We have names like FirstEnergy, Goodyear and Firestone as giants of our economy while Kalamazoo has Pfizer, Eaton and Stryker. We have UA; they have WMU, Kalamazoo College, Davenport University and Kalamazoo Community.

Our friends up north in Wolverine country have much in common with Ohio; we have Cleveland and Youngstown, they have Detroit; we have the free republican of Athens, they have the free republic of Ann Arbor. We both have lakeshore. They have Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo with economic engines driven by more than automotive; we have Columbus and Cincinnati. They have a tax system business says is enough to drive them south; Ohio's been working on that. Both states have an aging population watching too many kids head for opportunity elsewhere, to return for holidays and deer season.

Kalamazoo funds their "Promise" program through private donations, sparked by what Plusquellic rightfully points out are the founding families of Kalamazoo who still have the resources to pony up for the greater good. We used to have those kinds of families here in Akron, too, and our landscape shows much of their impact: Goodyear Heights, Firestone Park, Seiberling Naturealm...the Seiberling, Goodrich, O'Neil and Firestone names still live on even though most of those families have already scattered to the winds and taking their money with them. Our sugar daddy days are done, left with Harvey's bronze reminder off South Main of glory days gone by.

The economic impact of the dollars today, however, is clear in Kazoo. The promise of jobs and development sparked more interest in living in Kalamazoo since this program started in 2006, just two years ago. I've included a report from Todd Kulman, our news director at our stations in Lansing, on the impact with this link. It's not even worth debating -- the plan works well for Kalamazoo.

But it's not the Akron Scholarship Plan.

Kalamazoo sends it's graduates to any state college or university, 52 at last count in Michigan; Akron's plan limits graduates to just eight institutions, including the University of Akron. The Kalamazoo Promise pays tuition; Akron's plan is a considered "last dollar", meaning recipients would exhaust other avenues and use Akron's scholarship as last resort. The Promise doesn't require recipients to return to Kalamazoo or pay it back; Akron calls for a 30-year term paying city income taxes either as a resident of the city, a worker in the city, or even making tax payments from wherever they land.

These are important distinctions and driving much of the discussion. Kalamazoo estimates $200 to $250 million generating enough money to fund scholarships for 500 students to start, anywhere from three to five million in tuition payments.

There are plenty of reasons to support the concept; 1200 graduates estimated to benefit from a step up, not a hand out. As the Administration and supporters rightfully point out, Akron made history with the first free public high school and this is a logical extension of that vision. But it is worth asking the question: if graduates of Akron's free high schools in the 19th and 20th centuries were free to move about the country without strings pulling their wallets back to Akron shouldn't the graduates of the 21st century version have the same ability to become ambassadors to the world?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Issue 8: The Royal Flush

With dozens of candidates on the ballot -- ranging from national, state and local -- it may very well be the future of the flush that attracts most interest from Akron voters once they've made their choice for the White House.

Not to dismiss the importance of the other contests, mind you; after all, I'm sure Summit County awaits with baited breath the result of the Engineer's head-to-head. But much of the smoke from the political fires seems to burn around Issue 8, Akron's sewer lease-for-scholarships program.

On Wednesday we aired on WAKR a discussion program that provided callers the opportunity to pose questions directly to supporters and critics, and the late decision by two of the participants added some fireworks to the program. Mayor Plusquellic clearly has no time for Warner Mendenhall, the former councilman and now lawyer for the Save Our Sewers Committee which doesn't like the Administration's direction in leasing the sewer system to fund college with the Akron Scholarship Plan. Both were last-minute appearances to the panel and both took vocal and up-front positions in what turned into an excellent debate running over an hour.

The full program is available for listening using this link, but in the event you want to catch this on the air WAKR is airing an encore presentation following the noon news this Sunday, October 26th.

Overall, I think the debate showcased both sides favor some type of scholarship program; they disagree on how to pay for it. Mendenhall is fairly late to the party (less than two weeks from the election) with his idea of a city income tax to fund a scholarship program if Akron voters think it's that good of an idea. The Mayor jumped quick to tag Mendenhall as favoring increasing taxes, but the former councilman-turned-thorn-in-the-Don's-side didn't seem too bothered by the label. In fact, should Issue 8 fail it does offer supporters a comeback proposal to make.

A key issue here is whether Akron is willing to put either it's sewers or its money behind where their mouths are. It is easy to push for a more educated workforce and this is one way to get there, but it's another to take the money directly out of your pocket (as an income tax would do) or even push off a city asset to private management (as leasing the sewer system would do) to raise the cash.

There is a great deal of talk surrounding comments made by Public Service Director Merolla in The Bond Buyer, which bills itself as THE newspaper of public finance. On this topic I think the Administration has some work to do in more fully explaining what Merolla's comments mean, especially how any up-front payment for a lease would mean a net benefit to the scholarship plan. In the September article he notes the debt from the system would be paid first, and there seems to be some confusion on that point.

Another sticking point is the Administration's insistence that Akron get a payback from the scholarship in the form of income taxes, whether the recipient works and lives in the City or not for 30 years. The critics score points when they say it's a loan -- after all, it comes with strings. Plusquellic counters it is fashioned on the federal government's description of education assistance scholarships tied to working in rural areas, for example as doctors. Sure, Uncle Sam may call it a scholarship -- but most folks I talk to understand if getting money comes with strings we usually call that a loan.

It quacks like a loan, why not call it a loan? Because "scholarship" sounds like an easier sell, and at this point in the campaign it is doubtful supporters will back off such a key selling point. Issue 8 signs are growing, especially on every piece of public real estate around schools, and the cable TV ads are already on Time Warner Cable with radio expected to follow next week.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Cost of Presidential Politics

A recent trip to the Big Apple actually provided some needed quiet moments -- from political ads. Unlike Ohio, mother of all things Presidential every four years, the leaning of the Empire State is a given and neither the Obama nor McCain campaigns were wasting much money convincing blue-state Noo Yawka's how to vote. TV was actually fun to watch again.

Fast forward a week, and this morning's observation by Sue Wilson, WQMX's Program Director, on the complaints we've been getting to "Your Station, Your Country" from listeners who usually don't get the political spot carpet bombing.

WQMX is one of those stations that usually airs only the political ads we're required to by federal law, such as for President. Listeners to the FM dial have been getting an earful from Obama and less-than-an-earful from McCain, and their music-fed ears are getting weary from the political talk. Unfortunately, it won't end until November 4th because as noted above -- federal candidate ads can't be turned aside. It is one of the costs of doing business when you hold an FCC-granted license to broadcast.

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On the subject of real costs of the media: the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet has done some great reporting on this year's election...and her piece today on charges to cover the Chicago election night party for the Obama campaign is a classic.

A thousand dollars to play for TV and radio types -- newspaper folks will have to pay for phone and web access, too, including reservations of the prime spots photographers need to get those shots of the candidate on election night at the podium. Best location to watch, plus a heated tent, phone, cable TV and web service and some grub hits $935...less attractive location with a view from the riser about $880.

Reporters too poor to pay can still attend free, but will have to provide their own phone and web access and we assume a couple bags of Cheetos and a six-pack.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Notes From the Leadership

An interesting session with the latest class of Leadership Akron at City Hall, as the NewsNight Akron panelists got in an hour of yapping (our favorite pastime) in between University of Akron Bliss Institute Dr. John Green and Mayor Plusquellic.

On center stage: Eric Mansfield from WKYC-TV; Jody Miller, formerly print but now more work for public television; M.L. Schultze of WKSU-FM; Steve Hoffman of the Akron Beacon Journal and yours truly.

After doing more than a few of these panels I am always struck by one thing just about everyone agrees with, regardless of their political much danger Akron is of becoming marginalized as yet another suburb to the idea of "greater Cleveland." Some may view this as rather parochial, opting instead for a more regional approach to solving the considerable problems here, but I think it goes deeper than simply waving that magic wand of government consolidation. People south of the lakeshore really don't want to see their identify swallowed up in the whole of a larger NEO-identity.

From a radio perspective I think it is important to note the Akron market ranks 75th nationally with 596,500 listeners measured by Arbitron, the ratings company. Among the big markets in Ohio, the Cincinnati market (#28 with 1, 773,000) outranks Cleveland (#29, 1,764,000) by just a tick. In reality the Cleveland market is generally considered bigger because of it's "throw" across the market boundaries to include influence into Akron, Canton, Lorain and a reasonable chunk of the Youngstown area.

But if you were to consider Akron and Canton (#129, 347,800) markets as an area with far more in common than apart it puts our interests at 944,300 -- comparable to a Buffalo, New York, Louisville, Kentucky or Richmond, Virginia. This is something we've long seen in TV coverage of this area -- a third of the Cleveland television market, big enough to pay attention to but small enough to warrant the same kind of coverage given the "East side" or the "West side" when making editorial judgments on stories earning precious time in a 30 or 60 minute newscast.

Now you can call me parochial for the mindset that the five-county metro of greater Akron (south Summit, northern Stark, parts of Portage, Wayne and Medina) matters more to the economic health of Akron-Canton than what may necessarily matter to the NEO-region led by Cleveland but it is those local interests, I think, that hold the key to how and why Akron-Canton can prosper as an entity and market unto itself.

Most would agree the health of the region is important, but political decisions are still made on a local level and not as a region.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Talking Points: Issue 8

Both sides seem to have their talking points down pat in one of the few face-to-face forums on Issue 8 and 9...not that everyone at the Town Hall meeting sponsored by the League of Women Voters seemed to have an open mind in listening to the other side.

About a hundred people were in the FirstEnergy meeting room in the basement of the American Red Cross headquarters on West Market Street, a decent turnout for a Saturday morning. It was pretty clear the room was half-for, half-against judging by the number of city and community officials in tow to push for the Akron Scholarship Plan and the half-dozen or so wearing lime-green t-shirts reading "Hate 8, Vote No" above a "City of Akron For-Sale" sign.Following the opening statements moderator Susan Vogelsang noted the tenor of the meeting was non-partisan, and said they wouldn't proceed with the rest of the program unless the t-shirts were either reversed or turned inside out. There wasn't much grumbling -- in fact, even a few smiles -- as opponents of Issue 8 complied and then sat down to the ten work group tables set up to encourage more focused debate and working together to come up with ten questions for the panelists to respond to.

My favorite "strange bedfellows" pairing was the table where Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth sat opposite frequent Administration critic Greg Coleridge of the Save our Sewers and Water Committee. Not exactly your normal buddy-buddy combination but both were far more civil than the normal chatter heard at Mayoral news conferences.

The questions:

1. Can the operator of the leased system commit the City to spending decisions?

No, says Akron Public Service Director Rick Merolla; rates can't go up more than 3.9% but he added EPA mandates have to be paid for regardless of who operates the system, and that falls to ratepayers. Save Our Sewers and Water Committee campaign chair Jack Sombati says the City can't make promises it isn't sure it can keep and it's tough to answer because no lease exists.

2. Why not look at another way to fund scholarships?

Sombati says they asked Mayor Plusquellic this when he first made the proposal and he wasn't interested; Children's Hospital CEO Bill Considine noted Akron is a generous community but raising $200 million privately won't happen. "We can't wait for someone to win the lottery," Considine said, adding "there's a sense of urgency here."

3. Explain Issue 9 pro and con.

This one was easy; both Merolla and Sombati agreed a "yes" vote was a good thing to make sure the public has the ultimate vote in the lease, transfer or sale of city-owned utilities.

4. How to you ensure compliance with EPA standards?

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Washington-based Food and Water Watch, says we won't know until we see the actual lease agreement -- which doesn't exist. Merolla says nobody gets away with violating EPA options and there are a thousand municipal-run systems with problems just as there are with those run by private management. "I'm not going to sign a contract that puts Akron at risk," Merolla said.

5. What if the company breaks the lease or doesn't live up to its side?

Merolla: if there's a breach, the City takes back control with no payment to the lessee. Sombati says it would still be costly by the time lawyers got involved and used Akron Thermal (the bankrupt Akron municipal steam generator) as an example, noting the millions still owed the city in back taxes.

6. How do you link the scholarship plan with the business community?

Considine pointed to the BioInnovation agreement involving local universities and Akron's three major hospitals as programs bringing 2500 new jobs here in the next five years, and how they'd like to have those skilled jobs filled by Akron residents. Sombati charged the scholarship is really a loan program because of strings attached that tie graduates to paying Akron incomes taxes by staying here for 30 years, continuing Akron taxes if they leave or repaying the scholarship. He also noted Michigan's Kalamazoo Promise, offered up as a blueprint for Akron, provides a free ride without a 30 year commitment. Merolla shot back in a later segment the City was simply asking for a continued contribution to the community that made college possible, and wouldn't collect if graduates had no income (such as stay-at-home mothers or fathers.)

7. The City didn't enforce Time Warner's obligations for public access channels, why believe they will hold a lessee to an agreement?

I'll take this one...and note the cable TV issue has nothing to do with the City. The State of Ohio actually changed the law mandating cable companies hold responsibility for so-called local access channels, turning over the burden to local governments to manage. Not the same thing since it was the State, and not the City or a lessee, to actually change the rules.

8. We want more details on how the scholarship plan works.

Already covered above, but Merolla said 1500-1600 students would be eligible in the first class. The trigger on "repayment" comes with whether graduates pay Akron income tax by living or working in the City; Sombati says that's a loan, not a scholarship.

9. Who's responsible for storm sewer runoff?

More agreement; Sombati says the City is responsible and turned that into an attack on "just trust me" power voters would agree to without more lease details; Merolla countered the City is responsible and either way ratepayers would still pay the bill, lease or no lease.

10. What's the oversight, and how could we terminate the lease if needed?

Merolla: City still owns it, and there are plenty of examples of third-party managers doing city work -- such as highway construction and road resurfacing. Hauter says road maintenance isn't a good example since there's a big difference involving water and sewer quality.

11. Why does the Akron plan cover some communities but not others outside of Akron?

Suburbs are simply customers, says Merolla, and aren't owners so they don't have a voice in this decision. It's different for Akron residents who have children in non-Akron districts (such as Woodridge, Revere, Copley-Fairlawn, Coventry, and Springfield) because JEDDs have them in city limits but attending other schools. Sombati used this to say suburban customers will be just like Akron customers, at risk of big rate hikes because a lease operator will have to get their profits from somewhere.

It was interesting the Mayor wasn't in the house, but was keeping tabs on what was going on.

Proponents tell me this is by design because the Mayor doesn't want to have Issue 8 turned into a referendum on him, although that's probably a little late by now since he's already called those who disagree with him liars. It was a refreshing change to listen to competing sides made their points without calling each other names.

WAKR will air a live version of this town hall Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. and while we'll get the same points it offers folks playing at home the ability to pick up the phone and get their questions right from the source.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ohio's Voting Mess

As the final Obama-McCain debate starts what a sad story crosses the wire from the AP's Terry Kinney:

"Close to one in every three newly registered Ohio voters will end up on court-ordered lists being sent to county election boards because they have some discrepancy in their records, an elections spokesman said Wednesday.

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner estimated that an initial review found that about 200,000 newly registered voters reported information that did not match motor-vehicle or Social Security records, Brunner spokesman Kevin Kidder said. Some discrepancies could be as simple as a misspelling, while others could be more significant."

What is really sad about this is it comes after a court fight where Brunner had to agree with judges who determined she simply had to get off the can and start doing the job.

Some basic questions we should be asking all of the politicians, statewide and local, charged with safeguarding not only the right to vote but the expectation it's clean; starting with why did it take so long? Why did it take those embarassing reports on (a college-based news took college students to get to the meat of this story) to force an honest evaluation of the shenanigans going on? Why did it take stories of one person registered 76 times and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo listed as registering to vote in Ohio to wake up Columbus to the fact that something was amiss? Why does it take a lawsuit in federal court to make elected officials do their duty?

Critics say ACORN...the group of community activists who earlier noted there were problems with their registration drives but it really wasn't their fault...knows full well how these numbers look more like a parody of Chicago-based ward politics. I did a quick Google search this evening on ACORN offices located in Ohio and no surprises as offices in Akron are not only in the same block as local Democratic Party headquarters (also the Obama local campaign headquarters) but the same building. One is 3 Merriman Road, the other 9 Merriman Road. Add that to the growing list of search results on the story. At least there's a nearby Rockne's for lunch to compare voter registration strategy, maybe over a Firestone salad.

There are local examples of this mentality. Summit County Elections Board member Brian Daley took issue with a recent posting where I took the four members of that board to task for the excessive partisanship that's led to decision after decision having to be decided by the fifth member of the board -- Secretary of State Brunner. His point was that much of the blame should go on the shoulders of Democrat Wayne Jones, and for him to side with a Jones-Tim Gorbach block would ignore the issues. The flip side argument, of course, is that Daley and Jack Morrison do the exact same thing on the Republican side.

My response to Daley was that he and Gorbach actually have a great opportunity if they both were to exercise judgment on behalf of the people instead of partisan interests. Should the voters and taxpayers tolerate these blind lock-step votes that deny parties and candidates the opportunity to have observers at early voting? Our Summit County board deadlocked on what is a basic premise of fairness: watching the watchers.

Must the hiring of clerks actually become something that requires a decision by a state official? This week two Summit County elections workers, both in their 70s, actually got into a physical fight with one another when one was apparently marked a ballot for Obama when the nursing home voter wanted to vote for McCain. It was enough to trigger a police report and now a special meeting Thursday morning (yet another one, so how special can they really be?) of the elections board members to review the case. The issue: the one worker who discovered the problem was taken off the job along with the one who made the mistake.

According to this rationale both Jones and Alex Arshinkoff should have been removed from the local elections board on the philosophy that since both of the kids are squabbling send 'em both to bed without supper.

Should any of us be surprised this winds up as yet another tie vote?

We deserve better. A lot better. From all of 'em.

Last Bad Words

An interesting discussion for the journalism wonks: if the last words are words you cannot say on broadcast radio and television or print in the family-friendly newspaper are they still newsworthy?

First, bad words.

When asked for any last words before execution Richard Wade Cooey responded " mother******s haven't paid attention to what I've had to say the past 22 years, why are you going to pay attention to what I have to say now." It isn't surprising to know that would be his final statement; Cooey never took responsibility for the kidnap, rape and murders of Dawn McCreery and Wendy Offredo during interviews in 2003 with the Beacon Journal's Phil Trexler or myself, and he didn't seem to have any remorse in his last interview with the Associated Press.

Behind the view of the story: this was one of the topics our reporter, Chris Keppler, was concerned about before heading down to Lucasville. What if those last words were nothing but profanity? How would we -- should we -- report for the record? Should his reporting of Cooey's statement exclude those words we won't say on the air out of deference to our audience and the threat of hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines? Does it glorify someone of Cooey's stature to give his vulgarity the same treatment we would a White House pronouncement?

Phil Trexler and Eric Mansfield, our colleagues at the Beacon Journal and WKYC Channel 3 News, must have had similar thoughts. These are words we hear often in the context of anger and hate, far too often...but not those we would share with friends and family back home. They carried the additional burden, as did Chris, of serving as witnesses for the media and charged with presenting what happened in Ohio's death chamber to the rest of the media waiting outside.

They were the record.

The concerns Chris had were appropriate and on the money; it was profane, it was something we would normally not report verbatim on the air, and like it or not it did get the treatment of a top story, even to the point of making national newscasts.

State executions in Ohio are still relatively rare enough to make the news, although certainly not at the level when they first resumed in 1999 with Wilford "The Volunteer" Berry. Summit County's Robert Buell died by lethal injection in 2002; their story and that of the victims of their crimes were and will continue to be news. We are an odd mix of readers, listeners and viewers when it comes to these stories: on the surface we don't want to be confronted by such evil, but we don't shy away from looking for these stories. In a world of grey the choices of right or wrong are never more stark than in capital cases, even as the debate continues on whether the death penalty is ever appropriate.

For our part in our newsroom, we decided it was important to frame what Cooey said as clearly as possible. Our Operations Manager ran into the room when Chris first filed his report on WAKR, saying the use of "M-F" was wrong. I disagree, and told Chris this morning it was appropriate since it conveyed the record of what happened -- the reason Chris was in Lucasville as a witness. His job was to act as the eyes and ears of those back home, and act as a filter only in the extreme. Not using the entire phrase verbatim was responsible, but somehow downplaying it as "expletive deleted" soft-peddles the evil killer without a soul portrayed by Wendy and Dawn's families.

It isn't pandering to report how and what he said, as clearly and honestly as we can without crossing that line. I tend to side on reporting the truth, and the truth is Richard Cooey left this world much as many of you reading this post expected -- a man condemned by more than a three judge panel.

I had a similar issue in 2006 when Glenn Benner was executed for the slayings of Cynthia Sedgwich in 1985 and Trina Bowser in 1986, but this time the profanity came from a family member who wasn't buying Benner's last words. As a pool reporter it was my job to report what I had seen and heard, which I did -- in true detail -- following the execution. For our reporting I noted the family had strong language but didn't cross the line of a verbatim report.

It wasn't my job to filter what was happening; we can leave that to pundits on news talk shows; as reporters it is our duty to report.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Web Weasels, Part 2

According to an Akron Beacon Journal story -- updating this blog's report last Friday -- the Summit County Prosecutor's office is now investigating how two County Council members wound up with campaign links on their county websites.

You'll recall the original story I posted last week, and the broadcast reports on Sunday and Monday morning. Now the other shoe is dropping with both District 1's Nick Kostandaras and District 3's Louise Heydorn denying any knowledge their county-provided sites contained links to their campaign sites.

I'd give 'em a benefit of a doubt, especially after seeing quotes that putting the link up was either a "bad joke" or came on behalf of a candidate who doesn't even "know how to use a computer."

That means one of the webkins at the county took it upon themselves to add the campaign links to both a Republican and Democrat, right?

This kind of stuff usually launches theft in office charges, but since the links were taken down today (the first business day following the Columbus Day holiday period) it may be found it was just a mistake by someone who thought they were being helpful without giving any thought to the ethics of putting campaign links on a publicly-financed web site, in this case the County of Summit official pages.

Likely every other office holder right now is asking the web gurus to do what's called a "site audit" to make sure they don't slip up along these lines as well.

Nice to see sunshine will works so quickly...and the folks on Exchange and Main do pay attention to stories that don't necessarily start in their pages.

- - -
On another subject, webmaster Bryan and I are wrapping up a trip to New York where this website was honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. At the same time Chris Keppler of our staff was covering today's execution of Richard Cooey for the murders of Wendy Offredo and Dawn McCreery 22 years ago.

While our feet are on the ground here our hearts and thoughts are with the families Richard Cooey and Clint Dickens actions ripped apart -- including their own. Cooey went out pretty much the way I imagined he would when I interviewed him five years ago on Death Row; a man who showed no remorse, asking for no forgiveness, telling me his appeals came "because he could" and his legal defenders honored that to the end.

There are few lessons to be learned we don't already know but the chapter closes on this part of the nightmare for family and friends of two women described as vibrant and full of potential and life. The chapter closes, but the nightmare will only fade -- it never goes away.

Opponents of capital punishment say it doesn't solve the crime or bring back loved ones, but for many that isn't the argument.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Cooey Isn't The Victim

There's been plenty of writing and reporting over the past few weeks on the scheduled execution of Richard Wade Cooey that refers to his kidnap, rape and murders of "...two University of Akron coeds."

Enough. The real victims have names.

Wendy Offredo and Dawn McCreery were simply wrapping up a night's work at the Brown Derby restaurant and were looking forward to a night of fun before turning in. It was simple until Cooey, buddy Clint Dickens and a friend thought it would be a hoot to drop chunks of concrete from a highway overpass onto the vehicles below.

Vehicles driven by people just like Wendy and Dawn. It was Wendy and Dawn in that car when the man-made rock crashed into their car. Cooey and company flocked to the scene like vultures, but at first they were the doves of peace -- offering to help, even driving the girls to use the phone to call their parents. Wendy and Dawn were found later, when it was too late for any help.

Cooey, 19, got a death sentence handed down by three judges; Dickens got life in prison thanks to the calendar and being under 18 at the time.

Wendy and Dawn had full lives ahead of them, both attending University, both working hard to make their way through the world. They were so typical of young women then and today: opportunities they had the power to make for themselves. Wendy and Dawn are your daughters, your sisters, your friends, your girlfriends, your mothers.
But they've been somehow lost in this equation as the attention of the legal system and the media following behind focuses on one of the men who victimized and are not victims. We must remember them, we should mourn their loss, we shouldn't forget their faces forever frozen in memory, we shouldn't describe them as just the "coeds."

What he took away from Dawn McCreery and Wendy Offredo and their families is the reason Richard Cooey is where he is. He's not in this situation because the law was stacked against him; judge after judge has heard the case, to the point where it is a new generation of judges and appeals panels that listen to the petitions of an even newer generation of public defenders who represent him. It is a new generation of prosecutors who represent Dawn and Wendy, and the families that have waited for what the justice system promised them more than two decades ago. It is a new generation of reporters who write the stories who need to remember behind the tale of a killer is the stolen hope and promise of two young women who deserve to be remembered for who they were, not what Richard Cooey turned them into.

On Tuesday morning, barring again any last-minute rulings from appeals courts that have already ruled on fitness to take a needle, or turned aside arguments prison food made him too fat to kill, or the medicines he got behind bars makes injection cruel, Richard Cooey will lead the story but it is Wendy and Dawn who should be on our minds.