Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wanna Really Make Elections Nonpartisan?

The dust should have settled on the decision by the Ohio Supreme Court decision in Summit County GOP v Jennifer Brunner now that the Secretary of State was forced to put Brian Daley in the post he was supposed to take before local democrat boss Wayne Jones got involved, but already the revisionist history is being written.

The reaction from the Alex Arshinkoff haters has been amazing, to say the least, almost pathological, especially if you apply a simple test to their argument: take the name of the person you want out, insert the name of the person you support, and see if your argument still holds.

Apparently the editorial writers at Exchange and Main don't like playing Switch the Names. Normally I figure what they write is their business, but this morning actually had my head spinning trying to dodge all the rationalizing whizzing past my head.

This morning's diatribe over not getting their way shouldn't be surprising, especially since the writer apparently sees no conflict of interest with the local Democrat boss handing over "anonymous" material (primarily ABJ newspaper articles) to an official representative of the Democrat Secretary of State, who then delivered the material as "anonymous" even though he personally picked it up and hand-delivered it to the Statehouse. I guess FedEx didn't have service to Columbus that day.

The political gambit worked: Republican Arshinkoff was deposed, then Republican Daley was denied despite a vote by the Republicans charged with selecting him to represent their interests. THEN the Democrat party boss got the Democrat Brunner to appoint a hand-picked candidate of choice. In a nutshell that's what led to the Elephant Wars when the State stepped in.

If you play Switch the Names here's what we would have: Wayne Jones shouldn't be on the board because he's too partisan, often votes to tie decisions, and is manipulative (according to the accounts of the paper editorializing Wayne should go.) Alex calls Ken Blackwell, who not only kicks off Wayne but denies local Democrats their second choice and then installs an Arshinkoff buddy who's got a (D) at the end of their name. The target is argumentative and overbearing, so any method to make the change works, right?

Can you imagine the wailing if that were to happen with names reversed? The problem with the politics in this case is there should have been a word of caution to begin this sordid tale given the political shenanigans going on behind the scenes. Even some of AA's most vocal critics admit this who process stank from the beginning, but so long as it met their political goals did it really matter?

What is ironic in this whole case is the heavy-handed approach actually worked against the Republicans who were working the system by the rules to challenge Arshinkoff's leadership and try to force a debate on the running of the GOP party. Any cogent and well-argued points made by Carol Klinger were drowned out in the minds of Republican Central Committee members who didn't need the newspaper to tell them they were being stiffed by the enemy. One member summed it up when I spoke with him while waiting for the show to begin: he was here to vote against Wayne Jones. Talk about overplaying your hand...

Instead we're treated to high-minded arguments that it's shocking, SHOCKING, that the Board of Elections is partisan. I've included Inspector Louie's photo from Casablanca (left) to make the point a bit more graphic. The Board of Elections is designed to be partisan; it's why there are two D and two R members no matter who's in power; it's why every job at the Board has two employees, each to watch what the other is doing. For that matter, the Secretary of State is a partisan because she's elected on a partisan ballot, just like the people she's now charged with riding herd on to protect the election process.

The system itself is designed to be partisan, from Columbus down to the smallest precinct. Acting as if it shouldn't be that way because you didn't get the person you want in office isn't just silly, it is intellectually dishonest. Using the elections system to get rid of a party boss, whether it be Alex or Wayne, ignores the fact both of them are where they are because the people who vote for them make it so. Democracy at the finest: if you can win, you win. Want to get rid of Alex/Wayne: put up superior challengers. Question what they do instead of looking the other way, making excuses, and rationalizing away the basics.

Now if reformers really wanted non-partisan election operations they could fashion a professional civil service structure similar to many state boards and commissions, where the executive nominates a choice subject to advise and consent of the legislative body; that choice would exercise similar judgment in appointing workers regardless of party affiliation, those workers would be given professional civil service protection and the parties (both of 'em) would stop using elections as patronage plums. No more failed candidates for Mayor or relatives of sitting office holders serving as Executive Director; no more annual stories where elections workers pony up with either time or money in support of local parties; no more phony talk of "non-partisan" management of elections. Say goodbye to thousands of jobs controlled by the politicians, including the job of the top elections officer statewide.

Think that'll happen?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Award-Winning Money Trail

Already this is shaping up to be a banner week -- and it's only Tuesday.

Yesterday we reported details of just who paid for what to send a 66-person strong contingent to Tampa to campaign for Akron's three-peat All-America City. According to information from the Mayor's spokesman Mark Williamson and Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth, $25,000 of the tab came from City funds...Lieberth says he raised another $13,000 from private sources (now identified as FirstEnergy, Summa and the University of Akron) for a total of $38,000 to cover expenses of those who didn't pay their own way.

Today I get an e-mail from the Mayor (through Williamson) wanting to correct where the money came from. Plusquellic says JEDD money pays for "these programs", and it really isn't costing Akron taxpayers.

Come again? So now instead of Akron paying for Akron's award the bill was really paid by money that came from Coventry, Springfield, Copley and Bath Townships? So now the Akron All-America City Award should really be the "Akron-Coventry-Springfield-Copley-Bath" All-America City Award?

Workers and businesses in the suburbs are the ones who wound up footing the bill for the trip without getting any credit (until now), but thanks to the Mayor for clearing up exactly where the dough came from, and insisting we make note of the fact that Akron's taxpayers didn't pay for Akron's All-America City Award.

My colleagues on NewsNight Akron this past Friday -- Eric Mansfield, Jody Miller and Steve Hoffman -- all cried foul that I would dare pose the question of who paid for what, and question the need for more than five dozen people to join the cheerleaders squad. Shouldn't we be basking in the three-peat, and not wasting time asking questions over a piddling $25,000? What's $25,000 in the greater scheme of things? (One way to approach it: it's isn't "25 grand"; it's twenty five thousand dollars...that may give you a more personal perspective.)

My point isn't to take away from Akron's recognition -- we were among the first to report the honor, and the City should revel in the Award as hard-earned proof we're still one of the best locations in the nation. My point remains it is a matter of public business who pays for what, especially when the Tampa-bound team numbered more than the typical football team on the road. It does matter who pays for what; $25,000 may be a dip in the bucket of a half-billion dollar budget but if it's coming out of your wallet do you still think it's just pennies?

Wags in Washington used to talk about the good ol' days when a million dollars was a million, meaning it's OK to talk about "big money" when it gets in the billions but a million here and a million there won't be missed. I daresay anyone outside the Beltway, or anyone who makes a living outside the Capitol grounds in Columbus or in the government buildings on South High in Akron would disagree.

As for the JEDD partners: thanks for the trip. I'm sure those signs showcasing the third award bearing the Mayor's name will make a nice reminder driving into the City...

Monday, June 16, 2008

4-3 Still A Win For GOP

The Arshinkoff-bashers will be churning over today's ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court with a split decision on issues raised by the Summit County Board of Elections musical chairs that left the longtime party chair in the cold -- just not on the sidelines as his opponents were hoping.

The ruling (here in .pdf form) isn't exactly the overwhelming endorsement for either side, but it is pretty clear even those in dissent seem to have been taken aback by the level of partisan participation Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner based her decision on when she yanked Arshinkoff from his seat on the BOE, then refused to seat the local party's hand-picked replacement. One could smell this kind of decision coming when the Court ruled earlier this year that her video deposition in this case, no matter how unseemly, would be fair game for the media and political watchers.

In point of fact, it gave Arshinkoff and his supporters exactly the kind of boost they needed when he marshaled his troops and turned aside the effort of Varian and State Senator Kevin Coughlin to give him the boot. As I noted in our earlier coverage on AkronNewsNow, one delegate to the Tangier Tango even thought Democrat party boss Wayne Jones was on the GOP ballot. He was there to vote against Jones; in a way, he did.

The establishment GOP'ers didn't get everything they wanted; they DO get Brian Daley on the local board, where he can establish his own credentials for Brunner to fume over rather than depend on Jones' hand-picked hit piece hand-delivered in "anonymous" fashion by one of Brunner's own representatives. The GOP does NOT get to turn back the clock on the seven firings that came immediately following Varian's ascension to the seat he's now been denied as the Supremes rule he was acting with the power of the law, even though he shouldn't have been there.

The forecast for the Board of Elections: Bryan Williams remains as Deputy Director without the shadow of Varian's vote with the Jones Gang to dump him. Expect more musical chairs in the ranks as Summit County's in-power Republicans work to re-establish their turf back in the BOE (which is exactly what the Varian-led reformers were doing when they started moving chairs) because those jobs are considered plum political patronage.

Expect more yowling among the various GOP factions and in-fighting for the biggest reason of all: November's not looking very pretty for the GOP, even to the point of supposed memos from the Obama camp showing strategy to win without the Buckeye State. If we're that much in the bag, one of the few things local Republicans have left to fight for is themselves.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Akron's Caddyshack Moment

This has nothing to do with the people in the movie...but in point of fact it couples the burrowing bane of Bill Murray's character with a scene straight out of "Meerkat Manor" as real-life drama plays out by the Hill.

This is a story you'll want to read, especially for Eric Mansfield's delicious writing and sense of timing in describing the tug-of-war Mother Nature decided to put on stage while Akron families were soap box derby racing. Eric's blog Have I Got News For You is good reading -- and this particular entry doesn't disappoint.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

It's been awhile since I've posted but there's movement in Columbus on the chess game called the Ohio Attorney General's race...and the King's decision to move a bishop isn't much of a surprise.

The Columbus Dispatch struck first with news that all the speculation of Ohio Treasurer Richard Cordray's selection to run for the A-G's slot left open by the departure of Marc Dann; the AP followed suit in this story posted on

Cordray may be the best bet for the Democrats who want to retain their newly-found wealth in the executive offices across the street from the dome-less capitol building; he's very well-respected as an official who has the smarts, hard work ethic and political savvy to hold on to office through the time-honored combination of respect and work.

Who will carry the statewide standard for the GOP? The Dispatch article notes just about every Republican worth his or her statewide weight is giving the race a pass, including the "dream candidate" former U.S. Senator Mike DeWine. Republicans will meet next Tuesday to kick the tires for Delaware County Prosecutor David Yost, who can be expected to provide a tough campaign for central Ohio as a well-known figure in the Columbus area and suburbs -- but will it be enough to solidify conservatives outside Franklin and surrounding counties when running against an incumbent statewide office holder, even if he isn't THE incumbent?

Some local thoughts:

Congratulations to Mayor Plusquellic and company for Akron's third All-American City nod, a considerable feather in the City's marketing and quality of life message. One does have to wonder, however, about the need to have 66 people make the trip to Tampa to "sell" the judges...and who picked up the tab for the trip. I'm told some of the cost was paid for by public dollars and one doesn't have to be a Finley or Mendenhall to question that kind of spending at a time when the economy screams in pain. Who picked up the rest?

Akron's list of corporate good Samaritans is relatively light, at least those who can easily write off a quick surf to Florida in June -- someone of the nature of the Akron Community Foundation, or Goodyear, or FirstEnergy. I also wondered why there were some folks missing from the list, including County Executive Russ Pry and some notable names from Akron's massive medical community?

It isn't really a big deal in the long run who paid for what or who might have been left off the list but these are the questions that should be asked as a matter of course, but instead we (the media as a whole -- including those of us at AkronNewsNow, the ABJ, local TV) are content to pass along the news and verbatim release.

It doesn't diminish the recognition that Akron is a special place; it shouldn't be treason to ask simple questions on who foots the bill for these kind of trips when it comes to taxpayer-supported issues and initiatives.