Thursday, July 31, 2008

GUEST BLOG: Lindsay's Hot Air

One of the good things about having your own blog is asking friends and co-workers if they want to contribute. Usually that gets a yawn, except in Lindsay McCoy's case where her experience high above Stark County is worth a yarn -- and a slideshow.

by Lindsay McCoy
It was a very early commute to Canton to ride in a hot air balloon, but I was awake and ready to go at 5 a.m. last Friday morning. I spent the whole night thinking about what would happen to me; was I going to fall out of the basket mid-air over the highway?

Well, thankfully I didn't. On my way down 77 South I noticed lights in the dark morning sky and as I got closer, I knew they were balloons that were lighting up. I prayed I wasn't late.

Shortly after I arrived at the Kent State Stark Campus, I was ready to go with Jeff Pestun, a licensed pilot from Zeeland, Michigan The basket went up to my rib cage and I'm about 5'3 ... short and sweet.

First, you lay the balloon fabric across the grass and hold it up so a fan blows air in to give it a rounded shape. Then the hot air is used, just as you get ready to sit the balloon upright. There's only about a few minutes left to jump in. As I we lifted off I was nervous, but the higher up we went the easier it was to get used to. Looking around from about 1,600 feet in the air, the Canton area looked pretty busy with cars everywhere that seemed the size of ants.

video

It's quiet when you're up that high without an engine. Jeff said "we were one with the wind". It did lack a little breeze up there so I believed him. Our blue and black checkered balloon joined about 23 others in the search for a target.

A competition between the pilots participating in the Balloon Classic Invitational included teams of three, with the team that wins taking home $3,000. It's a nice chunk of change, but then it's divided up between the team members. Some pilots got really technical and had their laptops with them while up in the air to measure the speed and direction of the wind. This looked involved, so I just kept my questions basic.

There are three propane tanks in the basket at a time, he told me. The pattern of the wind determined how often he used the propane to maneuver our direction, speed and height. Balloons usually cost about $10,000, so this is a pricey hobby.

When we landed, he described it would feel like we were jumping off a chair, which is similar to the thud the basket made at we hit the ground near an elementary school.

I was up in the air for about 20 minutes, but it felt like five...what a rush!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Walking 18 With Phil

In between the raindrops Firestone Country Club was a great place to be today; even though the crowds are noticeably down it's still a great way to spend time with friends and a couple guys who really know how to drive.

video

My camera, I will admit, takes some pretty crappy video (I have GOT to get a new Flip)...that said, however, there's nothing better than standing off to the side and seeing Phil Mickelson knock the cover off the ball from the 18th tee on the South Course.

Walking up and down the verdant fairways was literally a walk in the park, and this final day of practice round means golfers are somewhat more relaxed, more interested in putting the ball on the green where pin placements will be changed over the next four days, and more approachable. It isn't unusual, in fact it's normal to watch golf's best walk over to the ropes and sign some souvenirs and shake some hands. One golfer -- not sure of his name -- actually puffed away on a cigar while taking in the round. He had plenty of company on the other side of the green lines making no-fans land.

By one this afternoon, however, the klaxon call sounded with air horns to signal approaching storms and even lightning. Firestone and the PGA don't mess around, calling everyone in to take shelter. While some of the more foolish (that would be Ray Horner, Nick Accordino and I) tried to evade the rain under a tree the smarter folks had golf umbrellas and rain gear at the ready.

By the way -- it's pretty stupid to stand underneath a tree in the lightning storm. Electricity looks for something tall to zap, and a Firestone that's either a tall light pole holding up a sign or a tree. Either way, a tent is a much better idea.

Tee times start at 8:30 Thursday morning with threesomes heading off both one and ten. We'll have hourly updates on 1590 WAKR beginning at 9:30 through play into Sunday, and reports will also run on 97.5 WONE and 94.9 WQMX over the weekend. We'll also have the reports and even more in-depth coverage on AkronNewsNow.com through the weekend.

No Tiger? It's still a great event!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Of All The Times...

Eric Mansfield does double duty; first, as WKYC's Akron-Canton bureau chief he keeps the home fires burning in the newsroom the the north. He also serves as our fearless leader on PBS 45/49's NewsNight Akron weekly gabfest, so it makes his vacation time this week even harder to cope with.

Before leaving for camping time on the Lake Erie islands, Eric shot a quick note to Jody Miller, Steve Hoffman and I asking that we keep a close eye on things while he was out of the loop but returning Friday.

Turns out this week may have been THE week for Akron looping!

Last night saw Sylvester Small's final school board meeting; it also saw a feisty battle at City Council pitting Mayor Plusquellic against the folks who don't like his Sewers for Schools plan, and neither side seems willing to give an inch at this point with a November ballot issue looming large as the winner take all vote will ultimately decide.

Down at the courthouse trial began for the first of the Summit County jail deputies charged with murder in the death of inmate Mark McCullough; there was also news on a man charged with being a serial rapist stalking the U of A campus. Children's Hospital decided it's OK to discriminate by not hiring smokers (hey, that's perfectly legal!) on health grounds.

Oh, the folks up north in Cuyahoga County have their hands full, too, thanks to the FBI, IRS and I imagine even the EPA swooping down to yank records and evidence from top politicians in an ongoing corruption probe.

Hey, at least it isn't Akron, right?

Gee, and today's huge news came from South Main where Bridgestone-Firestone used a fairly private low-key affair to announce Akron won the Tech Center sweepstakes.

Because Akron's just part of the big Cleveland market it isn't surprising none of the TV stations were there when the message came down but at least Larry States was on hand. Cleveland's TV stations were too busy covering W's visit to Lincoln Electric, where he said nothing fundamentally new but at least their reporters got an easy political story to take a bite out of and look serious in front of Air Force One.

Nice pictures.

Keep this in mind the next time we go off-the-mark on NewsNight talking about how important it really is to have vigorous debate and many voices in our community. Personally, I think sending a reporter and camera to join the herd being spoon-fed by any national political figure is trumped by news a local community will save a thousand high-paying jobs but that's just me.

Oh, while we're at it those little get-togethers called the World Golf Championship and Pro Football Hall Weekend are underway in Akron and Canton this weekend, too.

It's a nice week to be south of 303...

Monday, July 28, 2008

So Much For Prison Lawyers

There's a common assumption that people behind bars have nothing better to do with their time than lift weights, make license plates and office furniture for the state and file lawsuits. Now a former Wadsworth Township man will have to concentrate more time on two out of three.

You may remember the name Steven A. Boszik (at left, photo from ODRC); he was convicted of murdering his wife Carol in 1999, even calling 9-1-1 in panic upon discovering her body in what police (and a jury) determined was almost-Oscar winning acting. He's now serving life in Mansfield, and won't even catch a sniff of a parole hearing until 2022.

Earlier this summer the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Bozsik was a "vexatious litigator", meaning a guy who will file a lawsuit at the drop of a hat. The tag means anytime Bozsik wants to file a lawsuit -- or even sneeze at a courtroom -- he needs permission. Most of his suits have been aimed at local judges and now the Supreme Court has turned down his latest request to sue Judge James Kimbler of Medina County Common Pleas Court:

In re Application of Steven A. Bozsik for Leave to File Original Action in Mandamus

On June 4, 2008, this court found Steven A. Bozsik to be a vexatious litigator under S.Ct.Prac.R. XIV(5)(B). This court further ordered that Bozsik was prohibited from continuing or instituting legal proceedings in this court without first obtaining leave. On July 23, 2008, Bozsik submitted an application for leave to file an original action in mandamus against Hon. James L. Kimbler. Upon review of the proffered filing, the court finds it to be without merit. Accordingly, It is ordered by the court that Steven A. Bozsik’s July, 23, 2008 application for leave is denied. [Cite as 07/28/2008 Case Announcements, 2008-Ohio-3704.]


By my count this is the 19th time Bozsik has gone to the well.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hopkins: I Can't Help It

Sure this sounds like a broken record from me but why can't CLE work?

Wednesday morning heading to Chicago: two legs of the eight-legged mechanical conveyance chain going from Concourse C to Concourse D are out of commission. These are two escalators going down what seems to be four or five stories worth of descent, two escalators going up from the tunnel to the concourse, and the four moving sidewalks.

I don't think all eight have been working at the same time during any of the eight times so far this year I've used the airport. This week, no exception, with two of the four moving sidewalks broken down on the way out. Coming back home this afternoon they had one working but one was still dead in its tracks and nary a worker to be found.

In fact, the electric cars you sometimes see skittering like waterbugs from one side to the other weren't even manned, and this around 2:00pm when there were plenty of passengers and flights coming and going.

I'd hate to be someone disabled requiring a wheelchair.

Score again for Cleveland making a good impression. With all the marketing going on about "Cleveland +" is anyone at the airport authority paying attention to keeping what many travelers see as their first impression one other than services not working, smoker butts all over the baggage claim exits and just a general, worn out demeanor?

This past year alone I've traveled through Washington Reagan (both the new and old terminals); BWI in Baltimore; Las Vegas International; Atlanta Hartsfield; Tampa; Houston; New York LaGuardia; Akron Canton; Port Columbus, Minneapolis St. Paul, DFW, Chicago Midway, Chicago O'Hare, and Ottawa for business and pleasure.

Even with construction at most of these facilities they still seem to keep things like moving sidewalks, escalators, and elevators in good working order.


Except home.

Notes From Chicago

My first UNITY Convention -- this is where journalists of color hold a convention merging four major associations every four years and while we didn't get the joint Presidential forum as promised (no McCain, Obama Sunday after most are scheduled to leave) it has been a rich experience.

NABJ President Barbara Ciara gave a rousing speech to help kick things off and the dance program featuring cultures representing NABJ, AAJA, NAHJ and NAJA were just spectacular -- check out coverage on the RTNDA website for video, photos and more. Special thanks to RTNDA's Tara Sheehan for the use of the Flip and Melanie Lo for making sense of it all!
One down note from my perspective was Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's welcome address, which he took up as an occasion to give the media a jab. Disappointing to hear those in the audience -- those folks who he was targeting his comments to as well as the "main stream" folks across the hall -- applaud. I'm wondering if Mayors Daley and Plusquellic have a Toastmaster's book they both use with a "beat up the media" chapter, 'cause it sure sounded familiar from the tongue-lashings from South High.

It was fun to get this assignment and RTNDF Chair Bill Roswell of KYW in Philadelphia and I shared a chuckle that it was the radio boys getting the nod to deliver the video. Another sign of the changing times as well as a tip of the hat to Poynter's Al Tompkins who's extensive reporting on the ease of Flip web presentation provided some inspiration.
Even with the dour talk (hard to escape hearing when print and broadcast media get together, especially with job searching on the line) its always uplifting to be around fellow journalists who still share a passion for the basic reason why we got in the business. Thursday night was no exception...

Personal highlight of running into someone you know: the six degrees of fireworks separation on the Michigan Avenue bridge crossing the Chicago River (it's that famous shot right below the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower) as we ran into Fox Chicago's Andrew Finlayson (also one of our Illinois RTNDA state coordinators). Andrew was just hanging out at the center of the bridge watching the Navy Pier fireworks show, totally unexpected (both the show and Andrew sighting) just after the sun went down Wednesday evening. Great show and fun sharing the moment with a friend-I-didn't-expect to see; he tells me he likes walking home on nice weather nights, just across the river, especially on fireworks nights. A great perk that probably isn't included in the job but memorable in Chicago, and not just for us tourists.

Also ran into Steve Hyvonen, the former WEWS News Director (now in Orlando); former Channel 5 GM and ND John Butte, now running his own talent management agency; Lyn Tolan from WSYX and WBNS's John Cardenas in Columbus; Dan Salamone from WOIO among hundreds of others. Nearly five thousand attendees for this largest collection of journalists under one roof. Very interesting experience for what also seems to be the biggest job fair in the nation for newspeople -- print, broadcast and online.

Random observation: Chicago is a vibrant, exciting city but with only one hotel attached to the giant McCormick Place exhibition hall means many attendees are a shuttle bus away; in my case, along the river at the Sheraton down from the Navy Pier. Buses serving attendees take the McCormick Busway, an out-of-sight buses-only route that runs beneath and adjacent to Grant Park. It's the roadway alongside the Metra commuter rail lines you see when walking in the park to Buckingham Fountain, Soldier Field or the Field Museum. Half of it is underneath the park, parking garages or elevated plazas so it's always fun picking up the legion of cellphone and crackberry users muttering 'can you hear me now?"

Nice sponsorship opportunity for Verizon '“ insert here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Don't Read This, Mayor!

A warning for The Don before advancing one more letter: I do worry about your health and want to make sure you don't blow too much of a gasket if going further.

OK?

I agree with you.

Sure, you're saying, what's the punch line? There is none, at least when it comes to management of Inventure Place, especially after even more consideration of their assertion Akron just didn't have enough critical mass audience to draw people in to what is now becoming a $38 million dollar middle school.

I guess that's why the Akron, Cleveland and McKinley museums of art are such failures; it totally explains why the Pro Football Hall of Fame can't attract a crowd, why the Great Lakes Science Museum never turns a turnstile and the Rock Hall next door has nothing but flies buzzing around the doors.

That's probably why Zoar and Holmes County live through the year thanks to summertime tourist visitors, and why Dover would be better off taking down those Warther Museum signs as a waste of I-77 space.

Why, there's no reason at all to believe a properly-managed attraction could do any business at all in a region with only a couple million people, not to mention hundreds of school districts in a 22-county area that makes up the northeast Ohio quadrant.

Take a deep breath, Don. We actually agree on something.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How To Invent Money

Consider this part two on moving the Inventor's Hall of Fame to Canal Place; in the strange world of your taxpayers at work the news the Hall's $38 million dollar home has to move to smaller, lower profile digs comes 13 years to the day Inventure Place opened for business.

The time line is depressing to anyone who values a public dollar: millions poured in after millions to keep the doors open and convince northeast Ohioans, at least, to support the middle gear of the Hall of Fame Highway stretching from the Rock Hall in Cleveland to the Pro Football Hall in Canton.

Maybe the problem was both of those Halls could be seen from the interstate, while the only view of Inventure Place was the proliferation of brown-and-white signs that seemed to beg people to stop.

It didn't work.

Launched with much fanfare and attendance hitting a quarter-million as a high, only 40,000 attendance in the final year on South Broadway, all the wind taken out of the concrete-and-sail shaped landmark building that was supposed to illuminate and inform but instead hangs like a millstone long after the mill's closed.

In 1993, Jim Quinn of the Beacon Journal reported (sorry, no link without paid access to their archives): "...Akron is to become the center of a national network of new science education reforms...a national resource for corporate creativity consultants." Mayor Plusquellic was quoted as welcoming the crowd to "...the opening days of the 21st century for Akron...I claim this high ground for our future."

Now-deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth, identified back then as one of the early planners, noted the museum built was pretty much the museum planned. It is ironic to note in the archives that City Council considered two loans at the same time in April 1995: $1.5 million in HUD (federal) money for Inventure Place at the same time they were considering a $2 million HUD loan to help pay to renovate the Cascade Plaza Hotel by a developers group led by David Brennan. Council and the administration just closed to books on a deal to pay back some of the money. Small world, isn't it?

In a 1998 article Quinn reported local officials were hoping to get a shot in the arm from Uncle Sam after Inventure Place showed a $2.4 million dollar deficit for the first year of operation. By 2001 updates were being handled by Beacon Journal staff report bylines, noting U.S. Representative Ralph Regula was working on the fourth year of Inventure Place getting federal money to stay open, at a then-total of $11.5 million dollars.

If we had been Akron, West Virginia instead of Akron, Ohio U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd would have simply moved the U.S. Patent Office to Akron rather than keep in Washington, D.C. but Inventure Place plugged along until closing the Museum and now moving the Hall.

Maybe it is fitting the move comes today not as Beacon Journal front-page news but on a section front, and not even "above the fold" in the newspaper that once held enough sway to demand and get first dibs on publicizing each new class of honorees. Those first black-tie "look at us" celebrations quickly denigrated to the point where even supportive locals blew off taking the time; what once stood as a way to treat inventors like rock stars now represents the equivalent of Eric Clapton playing a weekday gig at a Portage Lakes bar. No longer international in scope, now a program that lives only as a tag-along to Akron schools.

Mayor Plusquellic says this isn't a failure, it's a new beginning and blames management of the Hall and Museum. Looking over the pages of archives from the Beacon Journal offers plenty of backing of his assertion, especially under the acerbic but aptly-named David Fink, who never quite grasped the fact that tending to the home fires mattered. Ask the Rock Hall 45 minutes up the highway, which figured out pretty quickly they needed to be part of the community because that was their only salvation once the trendy fell off.

The Hall folks tell us they are still committed to Akron and that Canal Place will be a better home, especially with the focus on their partnership with Akron public schools.

Some questions some would prefer we not ask:

- the City handed the Hall an "emergency loan" worth more than $6.25 million; at last count about a quarter had been repaid, but we need to find out if that's been repaid or is at least current. It's a good question to ask, especially given the recent history with Akron Thermal, the downtown Radisson Hotel and a handful of other businesses radically behind in their taxes. Would Joe Citizen Taxpayer get the same deal?;

- what is the full utilization of the building going to be? When the Hall moves out in August it leaves behind essentially a $38 million dollar downtown school building -- in a district that already closed Central Hower High a couple blocks to the east and is in the process of building much more efficient schools elsewhere. Now we'll be running school programs in a building that's big enough to house an airplane hangar?;

In the business world stakeholders (those holding stock) wouldn't think kindly on a venture responsible for tying up prime real estate for 13 years and spending a considerable chunk of money ($38 million) to build to wind up as a middle school project.

Should taxpayers be any different?

Adios, Inventors!

Is it just me or are there TONS of questions left around by the departure of the Inventors Hall of Fame from what we used to call Inventure Place?

We spent plenty of taxpayer money on what turns out 13 years later to be such a white elephant; when Akron schools move their programs in the Inventors Hall of Fame and Museum likely becomes, at $38 million dollars to build, the most expensive public school building in the City. No more Central Hower high school a couple blocks to the east but we have a downtown City school campus -- again.

If this type of thing happened to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum (another Hall critics called a costly mistake at $90 million worth) there would be snickers and screaming; if Canton's Pro Football Hall of Fame closed it's doors there would be tears and outrage. Even if the Warther Museum shuttered in Dover there would be sadness and headlines, but here in Akron the demise of our spot on the "Hall of Fame Highway" merits a below-the-fold mention in the Beacon Journal, on the local section. History buried.

I've got more to add to this later today...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Back to Common Sense

I'm not saying it was right when it went on the air, but I do think a half-million dollar fine for Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction was one of the more foolish things to come out of Uncle Sam and now a federal court agrees.

The real issue, of course, is just what we have a right to expect to see (and not see) on the tube while relaxing at home with the kids. Not everyone wants it to be the "boob tube" or worse, and that little thing called "community standards" is taken pretty seriously. Personally, I find it ironic broadcast television won't replay nor will most newspapers reprint the full breast version of this picture, including myself, although the BBC and British newspapers are already having a field day with it. (photo from the Daily Mail)

Unfortunately, real life doesn't always honor community standards. That other little thing called "free speech" shows up when Bono drops an f-bomb during an awards show, or when a piece of costume gives away, or even more recently when David Carradine (yeah, Kung Fu) let loose with the f on a Chicago television station's live morning show.

When it gets to the point where you can't even interview the Grasshopper without a delay we've got serious thinking to do, and the problem is the Federal Communications Commission and most of our elected officials in DC were pushed into a corner where it was easier to react than think.

Following the wardrobe malfunction on the Super Bowl, every politician worth his/her salt wanted to wrap themselves in the comforting blanket of protecting families from their own TV and radio sets. Public-interest groups now able to generate thousands of complaint letters with prepared email campaigns made the most of this golden opportunity, and vote-hungry political figures found it was easy to launch a tirade on the erosion of American values and slap EVERY expression of four-letter word speech (even a visual boob) with a fine heavy enough to sink a battleship. This'll teach 'em.

Problem: the FCC also had a rich tradition of recognizing the "fleeting expletive" wasn't a purposeful expletive. There are even times when the expletive carries with it meaning intended to illustrate ("Saving Private Ryan", for example, led ABC stations such as Channel 5 in Cleveland to not air this important movie because combat is all about F.) Throw the baby out with the bathwater.

But the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (the federal appeals bench in Philadelphia) has tossed out the heavy fine against CBS instead.

It is more than a win for the network; it recognizes that life isn't always sanitized, that sometimes bad things happen because life isn't scripted and expecting our view of life to come only through a 14-second delay is pretty foolish. It isn't a license to let loose but it is a swing back in the pendulum to help set a baseline on what true community values are, and that includes common sense and speech.

Is Talking Cop Anti-Cop?

Another chapter in the story of Akron's police community relations comes tonight as FOP Lodge 7 -- representing Akron police officers -- helps with a pro-law enforcement rally downtown. This follows last week's march and rally at the Justice Center by residents of the Celina Avenue neighborhood where Jeffrey Stephens, Sr. was shot and killed by police officers over the Independence Day weekend.

It is a great aspect of our society that for every opinion there is at least one opposing opinion, and in this case the opinions of some in the Akron community questioning the actions of the APD will have a counter-point leading up to tonight's City Council meeting. It is unfortunate, however, that the rhetoric on both sides clouds what should be a central question, and that is what the community considers appropriate policing.

The voices who cry "No peace, no justice" seem to employ a deaf ear to considering circumstances of the Stephens and, before that, the Vinson case. Those harshest criticisms seem designed to divide and benefit those screaming the loudest, not thinking the wisest. Conspiracy theories abound in the latter, while cooler heads in the former acknowledge they are at least separate and distinct incidents. Even if the motivation for some community organizers is to use these cases for their own agenda, does it make asking for more of an explanation anti-cop?

On the other side, there are those also using the community outcry to paint their opponents as anti-cop -- a broad brush to use in an open society where it should be natural to ask questions anytime those legally permitted to carry guns for our protection take a life. The Stephens case isn't cut and dried; there are still important questions to ask, especially whether and if Akron's new police auditor Phillip Young has been able to employ the tools available to him to report back to the citizens of Akron.

We should consider the asking a duty; there should be no shame or negative to question the need to pull the trigger. It's one of the controls that makes law enforcement worth our faith, the understanding that those who protect do so with standards understood and embraced by the community. It doesn't help the APD to have a populace suspicious and feeling threatened, nor does it help the community to have a police force paranoid and feeling unsupported.

For the community, there must be transparency in the system to understand why officers take the action they do; for the force, they must have the backing of the citizenry to protect and serve.

Tonight's pro-cop law enforcement can be seen as a reaction to last week's anti-cop rally, and so it escalates with each side getting tit-for-tat while the search for answers is lost in the smoke and shouting. It would be a shame to ignore the core issue while getting lost in the periphery.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

When Radio Does TV

One of the more entertaining video sites on the web is from a guy best known for "This is Spinal Tap" and voicing "The Simpsons." Harry Shearer's My Damn Channel, especially when it comes to snippets culled from what we don't see on the screen during TV news shows. It makes me very happy Harry hasn't extended the brand to radio.

In this clip, radio talk show host Laura Ingraham goes off on the set of her Fox TV tryout...one friend in the TV business tells me he felt "itchy" watching this:



My Damn Channel also has Katie Couric outtakes, as well as some amusing items from Dan Rather's hit parade. Good lesson for anyone in broadcasting: if there's a camera and a mic, are you comfortable with everybody watching?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Why We Played It

At noon today we went a bit long on our 1590 WAKR newscast, putting Gov. Mike Huckabee's fill-in for Paul Harvey on delay for six minutes in order to present the full 5:14 audio from the shooting of Officer Joshua Miktarian. Today's noon newscast is the only time we will broadcast the full audio, although the news department will use excerpts during other newscasts on our stations today and tomorrow. It is not graphic but it is disturbing, and some will question why it is necessary.

Here's why we decided to air the dispatch audio.

Tape from the dispatcher's radio log is important not only to show the tenor of what seemed to be a routine traffic stop but also to provide listeners and web visitors more information on this case. There's been quite a bit of talk after the lawyer for the suspect raised self-defense as a possible issue. The dispatch audio doesn't provide answers to exactly what occurred after Miktarian stopped Ashford Thompson for playing loud music and suspicion of driving under the influence, but it does provide a greater sense of timeline in the split-seconds between Miktarian's communication with emergency dispatchers on what should have been routine and the tragedy that followed.

The audio is powerful; some will find it disturbing. Fellow officers race to the scene with sirens clearly heard in the background. The dispatcher and then first police responders to the scene just minutes afterward call out for Miktarian, identified as "45", then note a caller reported hearing an argument and "pops." The discovery of Miktarian alongside his cruiser and radio traffic of "officer down" complete the audio.

There have been many occasions for public debate on the use of 9-1-1 and dispatch audio; currently in Ohio this audio, for the most part, is considered public record. There is little doubt that this audio will be something family and friends of Officer Miktarian will not want to hear, and for that we are truly sorry. However, we feel there is also a compelling reason to air the radio traffic as the public interest in understanding this case, the danger involved every time an officer approaches a vehicle, and the split-seconds between routine and tragic.

Truth isn't found in just a written transcript; it is one reason why law enforcement recognizes the need for audio and video recording including radio dispatch traffic and even dash-cams. Understanding just what happened early Sunday morning, or for that matter in any such case, is more than seeing words on paper. It is important to see and hear with our own eyes and ears, tools we all use to determine truth for ourselves rather than filtered through an "official" version. When the picture (and sound) are given we can trust ourselves to determine truth; all of the senses are important.

The public -- we -- have an investment in how our government responds to our needs, including law enforcement. Acting in the open is often a messy business but in the end the debate makes us stronger by making sure all voices have a chance to be heard. There are many common sense exceptions to what becomes public information, such as protecting children or even our personal medical records but in the cases where our faith in law enforcement is at stake seeing and hearing is believing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Who Blinked?

Mayor Plusquellic has a knack for trying to out-maneuver his opponents...and today's push from South High Street to put Sewers for Scholarships on the ballot is a classic political move.

There really was little doubt the move by the City Attorney in sending back petitions that would have forced a public vote if City Council went along with the scheme was only buying time. Opponents of the "rush to flush" the project wanted to make sure it didn't move as quickly as most city votes do, so tying it to a public vote slipped a considerable roadblock on the Mayor's road to progress. So while the "scare-erists", as the Mayor describes his opponents, work to correct their paperwork he launches a preemptive strike and moves to put it on the ballot anyway.

Now the real politics begins. Since it is the Mayor's version he's pushing to get on the ballot he'll control the language he hopes will convince Akron voters to go along with his proposal, often called the "Kalamazoo Plan" after the Michigan city that first had the vision or chutzpah to suggest selling off a sewer system to plug an education hole had merit.

When the Mayor formed his special task force to give the idea the once-over there were whispers some had been told to meet quickly and apply the rubber stamp as soon as possible. Now that won't be a criticism, because City Hall is asking voters directly to apply the rubber. It will be interesting to watch this play out in an election year already chock-full of other drama: does Akron's causeway to the classroom make a sexier issue than Obama-McCain, or Pry-Laria?

One has to appreciate the irony when the same political segment that screamed bloody murder when gubernatorial hopeful Ken Blackwell wanted to unload the Turnpike system now wants to unload the pipeline we really can't do without. There's an old joke that goes something like this:

Guy's organs are having a discussion; who is really indispensable?

"I am", says the brain, "because without my thinking we don't know what to do."

"It's me," says the heart, "because without my beating the blood won't move."

"Think again," says the stomach. "Without food all of you would starve and wither away."

Quietly, a voice from the bottom spoke up: "Without my work, wait until you see what backs up. That's why I'm really the most important, because without me you're all full of...."

Point made.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tragedy in Twinsburg

Another shooting involving local police -- and a young officer with a wife and three-month old daughter is dead.

Twinsburg police are coping with the first-ever loss of an active-duty police officer. During "closing time", just before two o'clock this morning, what should have been a routine traffic stop turned into just what officers fear the most. A suspect is behind bars but the brother/sisterhood in blue is in shock and mourning.

Josh Miktarian was only 33 years old; he grew up in Tallmadge, worked hard to build a pizza franchise business on the side in Sagamore Hills. He joined the Twinsburg police force in 1997, an 11-year veteran in a community where "mean streets" usually applies to cities 20 miles to the north and south. Fellow officers tell us he loved to play guitar with friends in a band. Just part of the story of the man in the picture, the life behind that smile. There is more we will hear in the coming days.

Miktarian's wife Holly and daughter Thea will find overwhelming support from family, friends and a community but never the solace of an answer to fully explain the reason why their husband and father was taken from them because any answer will never be reasonable.

At this point police are still trying to figure out answers themselves; why routine escalated, why the suspect (unnamed as of this post) may have pulled the trigger. At this point we're not sure if drugs or alcohol were in the car, why Miktarian didn't feel the need to use his K-9 companion (left in the cruiser), even if dash-cam video or audio will be of help in trying to fill in the why. The facts -- who, when, where, what, even how --will likely come out in the next few days, but not likely to ever satisfy why.

Midway through July, just barely into summer. An officer in Twinsburg killed in the line of duty; a retired Canton police officer murdered; a police-involved shooting in Akron that left a father of 12 dead. Is this a spell of bad times we are going through or do the bad times reflect something deeper, a change in our society where anger and rage so easily boil over? What triggers people to turn into those who take breath away instead of taking a deep breath ourselves?

Retired Twinsburg officer Tom Austin openly shed tears while talking about his friend Josh, and the changes he's seen over the years, trying to make sense of why people lose it faster or don't even seem to care about holding together.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cruel and Unusual

Richard Cooey has another date with the Death Chamber in Lucasville, but first the process takes precedence.

As we reported on AkronNewsNow this morning, the Ohio Supreme Court has set Tuesday, October 14, 2008 for Cooey's second trip from an Ohio Death Row to the Southern Ohio Correctional Institution in Lucasville (for the sake of brevity we'll call it a state prison). Back in 2004 Phil Trexler of the Akron Beacon Journal and I were among the local media covering the story, including serving as witnesses to the execution. It didn't happen after three different levels of federal judges -- a circuit judge in Cleveland, the Court of Appeals in Cincinnati and finally the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. issued stay after stay. The final order came down with about an hour and 15 minutes to spare; if the nation's highest court had ordered the lethal injection to go ahead Cooey's last moments would have ended the day of legal wrangling and nearly 20 years waiting for his sentence to be carried out.

Both Phil and I had interviews with Cooey on Death Row, then at the state prison in Mansfield. You can listen to portions of the interview through this link; it was chilling then and still has an impact to hear this man who has spent more time on Death Row than as a free man. At the time he did not dispute his murders of Wendy Offredo and Dawn McCreery in the woods behind Rolling Acres Mall after a night of terrorizing the young women; he asked no forgiveness, neither from God nor his victims nor their families. He didn't even protest that the Death Penalty was too strict for his crime: he was appealing, he told me, because he could. Innocence or legal malpractice weren't the grounds: because someone else was challenging it would be enough.


It worked, if only to give him a four-year postponement of what the McCreery family has pushed for since the 1986 death of their daughter and her friend: final justice. But don't consider October 14th to be written in stone.

There's a new Governor in office, and while Bob Taft swiftly denied any clemency that decision will now rest with Ted Strickland. This Governor, with his background of working with inmates and his faith, has shown he's not a rubber-stamp for opponents of capital punishment. It is hard to imagine he will stray far from the sentence in this case, either. The inmate doesn't really dispute the facts nor the punishment; his lawyers cleverly argued the case should piggyback talk that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment, and that was enough to extend another reprieve. There will need to be another hearing to determine if Cooey is worthy of executive clemency, and appeals of other cases may still carry enough weight to trigger another round of federal appeals. If so, the families of the victims will have to continue the wait they've endured for 22 years; when taking a life, society owes it to the process to make sure the process is fully satisfied, but the core question is determining that satisfaction.

I find the argument on "cruel and unusual" a crock. Each day across this country there are millions of individuals who undergo the usual of injection -- for regular blood tests, while in the hospital, even part of a legal system that may need a blood sample for prove or disprove charges. Hardly unusual. If inserting a shunt into one's arm is unusual, ask the thousands who regularly walk into dialysis everyday for life-saving blood cleansing.

As to whether it is cruel? Very few, if any, of those getting stuck think it's a walk in the park. But in searching for a humane way to put animals down society has chosen an swift injection which put them to sleep. In the case of executing men and women who have committed the most heinous of crimes, the argument that being forced to go to sleep while another drug stops the breathing and beating of the heart (a six-minute process, on average by my observation as a witness to three other executions) is not cruel, it is humane.

The case of The People v Richard Wade Cooey has victims all around: Wendy and Dawn, their families and friends, strangers who worried about their daughter's safety because of the case, Cooey's adopted father, an Akron police officer who died of a broken heart. It is hard to imagine Cooey as a victim, especially in listening to his own words to draw the conclusion he doesn't even see himself as a victim but as someone caught who had an opportunity to use the system he despoiled to live another day.

There are plenty of cases involving the death penalty that cry out for time to appeal, time to reconsider, time to examine whether the process was righteous, fair and proper. To say no one innocent ever walked those final steps is incredibly naive, but this is not one of those cases.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Facts: No Easy Answers

Hours before family and friends prepare to remember a father, husband and neighbor we learn more facts in the death of Jeffrey Stephens Sr. on Saturday morning in Akron.

The facts, as reported this afternoon just after three in the afternoon at the Harold K. Stubbs Justice Center, should be troubling to anyone; nearly two dozen shots fired and striking Stephens after officers reported he made what appeared to be threatening moves to his waistband and ignored orders to stand down. This afternoon police released more details of what happened July 5, 2008; tonight around nine his neighborhood holds a public memorial to remember his life even as the community still tries to find answers in his death.

Two officers now on suspension while this investigation continues, even as APD Chief Mike Matulavich describes the shooting as "justified". There is no doubt calls were made from the Celina Avenue neighborhood complaining about gunshots directed at the Stephens home.

Witnesses, police say, confirm at least one of the officers gave Stephens multiple opportunities to lay down on the ground but for whatever reason that command was either unheard or ignored. The heat of a summer night, fireworks exploding in air celebrating independence of a nation, the focus of a father striving to protect his family from unseen threats -- will we ever know for sure what was going through Jeffrey Stephens' mind as he set out, gun in hand, to put a stop to what he must have felt was some form of domestic terrorist striking at his family, his son, his home?

Contrary to the belief of some these are not the times men and women who serve choose to put on the uniform of a police officer; people who become officers of the law do so for a wide variety of reasons but upholding a sense of order and helping their community live in peace are common to everyone who wears a badge. Confronting angry, confused, or troubled armed persons in the street before dawn's early light is not one of those reasons but it comes with the territory.

For the most part, the warning is enough: when someone wearing a uniform and a badge tells us to get down the best course is to listen, comply, and if we are still in a fighting mood take it through the courts. There are plenty of lawyers who will take those cases. The problem comes when adrenalin is at its highest, when judgment abandons the mind in favor of rage or desire, when decisions made in the comfort of hindsight are instead shoved into a split second. Decisions made in the tick of a clock are rarely made well, and life-threatening situations often end with the wrong call.

This is a tragedy for the Stephens family, whether it was one shot or the 22 fired in blinks of an eye by two officers who's training told them a man standing in the street, upset and carrying a gun early on a holiday morning, was not a good thing. It is a tragedy for Officers Sidoti and Miles, trained to shoot only as a last resort; not trained to shoot to kill, only as a last resort when the decision comes down to shoot or be shot. Kill or be killed is something every officer trains for with hopes they won't have to use that training.

They have family, too; wives, parents and children who know their loved ones sometimes walk meaner streets so they can awake to a kinder world. Don't we all ultimately want the same thing Jeffrey Stephens, Sr. sought when he walked outside the morning of July 5, 2008: to keep his family safe?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

84 Hours

It has been 84 hours since something went very wrong on Celina in Akron, leaving a father of 12 shot to death and officers of the Akron Police Department on leave pending results of an investigation. Should it take this long to learn some of the basics?

The lesson left from last year's Vinson shooting was that the APD not talk before it was sure of the facts, and you really can't blame the police brass, the FOP, the Police Auditor, nor even the various city officials who got calls shortly after the incident led to the death of Jeffrey Stephens.

Talk too soon and open yourself up to attack from community sources who imagine the worst from the police, so the best course of action is to not speak at all. Better to let investigative nature take its course, don't interrupt the silence for speculation and don't encourage questions.

Fine advice from an attorney, and a solid course of action for the first 48 hours. But it has been four days now -- Saturday morning, afternoon and evening; all day Sunday, all day Monday and now close of business Tuesday -- without having some of the basic questions on what happened answered.

In many respects this has the potential to become a reverse Vinson; there, speculation was fueled by the facts contained in statements immediately following the shooting. In the Stephens case, the facts are those set forth by eyewitnesses and neighbors not handcuffed by this new don't tell policy.

There are some questions which the department should be able to address by this time, but have been addressed mainly by the Beacon Journal accounts of what happened in the early morning hours of July 5:

- a basic time line of when four officers responded other than a 4:40a call to 9-1-1 and the apparent shooting four minutes later;

- did all of the officers discharge their weapons? A caller noted hearing five shots to begin with and then another "four or five", according to the newspaper's account of 9-1-1 calls;

- was Stephens armed and do officers report he confronted them with a weapon, or failed to drop his weapon? Was his weapon fired?

Caution to avoid the firestorm of controversy that erupted following the Vinson shooting is understandable but four days after the fact Akron's taxpayers -- and both police critics and supporters -- should have a better idea of what happened than sketchy observations from neighbors and skimpy reports from 9-1-1 calls.

Jeffrey Stephens, from all accounts, was a decent man who only left his home on fears his family was under attack. Neighbors speak of him as respectful and someone who was just interested in protecting his children. His life will be remembered by family, friends, neighbors and greater Akron in a memorial service tomorrow evening; it would be appropriate to learn more than what we know now about how and perhaps why he died.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Post Holiday Monday Musing

Maybe it's just me emerging from the post-holiday haze of gunpowder residue from neighbor Joe's fireworks display Friday night but is there something amiss when most people are talking about Sabathia rather than police shooting a father of 12 to death?

With coverage pushed for the most part to the Monday following the holiday, there are still many questions to be answered in the shooting death Saturday morning of 42-year old Jeffrey Stevens and getting to the bottom of just what happened and what went wrong on Celina Avenue.

The Beacon Journal reports over the weekend paint the picture of a man who was worried about his son, reports of gunfire and a summer night filled with fireworks. APD is holding back on statements, unlike the Vinson case this year when early observations turned out to be either wrong or misguided (depending on your own personal bias) and led to hard criticism of the Department. Chief Matulavich tells reporter Larry States there will be no statements until all the facts are in, something City Council President Marco Sommerville is happy to hear.

Whatever happened it's a tragedy, for the Stevens family and for the officers first responding to the call then feeling cause to use their guns. Most accounts back the first story that Stevens was carrying a weapon and that may have played a role in the shooting but we will have to wait and see; community observers of the APD, however, shouldn't be kept in the dark for much longer in hearing and seeing the timeline that led up to Stevens' death.
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As I write this we're an hour away from C.C. Sabathia moving from Pierogi land to Bratwurst paradise. No real surprise, given the Indians horrible performance leading up to the All-Star Break and losing eight in a row to Central Division teams. We were supposed to be going to the World Series in October 2008, but then that's one reason why fans shouldn't pay attention to what the "experts" say in March. Good luck to Sabathia, who likely wasn't going to get a deal done to keep him in Cleveland -- and thanks to some hard thinking by Mark Shapiro in the front office for remembering when we lost Albert Belle, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez to free agency it didn't net the Tribe even one minor league prospect. At least C.C. has the good sense to help the Indians get something out of his time here other than memories.
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My favorite fun on the web recently is the vanity campaign made possible by an enterprising bunch of webkins who figured out how to personalize your very own write in campaign, complete with TV news report and even a granny with your name tattooed in true "tramp stamp" favor proclaiming she's your biggest fan. My buddy Kevin from Nashville turned me on to this one complete with my name, ready to roll, and you can prank your pals with this. I can't wait to get Jody Miller and Eric Mansfield on the ballot. VERY funny use of "fill-in the blank" technology!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Blowing Our Horn

It's a good day to be working at the Akron Radio Center; back after a two-week hiatus and graced by the news AkronNewsNow.com has won a prestigious national Edward R. Murrow Award for best news website.

You can read more about it here; there's also a link directly to RTNDA, which manages the Murrow Awards. It is quite a coup for a website that started out 20 months ago with a hope and desire to fill a niche in a community that deserves a strong and vibrant media.


That we are recognized with a national Murrow is even more fitting in this year of the "patron saint" of American broadcast journalism; 50 years ago, he challenged us to make radio and TV more than just "wires and lights in a box." This is also the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Akron is in a unique place; less than 40 minutes drive (in most traffic) from Public Square, we tend to fall under the shadow of the bigger Cleveland news market. The "big dog" among newspapers in northeast Ohio pays occasional attention, most of the television and radio outlets based in Cleveland only consider Akron news important when something (or somebody) blows up. That leaves us with the Akron Beacon Journal, struggling in a very turbulent newspaper landscape, broadcast news organizations such as WAKR-WONE-WQMX (the same folks who bring you AkronNewsNow.com) and WKSU-FM, and local talk outlets such as WNIR-FM and WHLO-AM's Matt Patrick Show. In Canton it's just the Repository and WHBC-AM.


We deserve better.


It is a stroke of luck that of the dominant local radio news players in Akron, three (the families of stations WNIR and WAKR, and Kent State's WKSU) have strong local management that not only understands but embraces the greater Akron community. There should be a very real concern that Akron and surrounding communities NOT wind up just another suburb of Cleveland, and a vocal news media covering the stories (or at least trying to...) in our neighborhoods makes a real difference in retaining our identity.

Despite all the talk of regional cooperation, I believe it is also something top of mind at local City Hall offices. Mayor Plusquellic, for example, is using his news conference time tomorrow to help promote a better understanding of Akron's neighborhoods. Big picture for northeast Ohio is one thing; keeping the home fires burning is another.

We are proud of the recognition with a national Edward R. Murrow Award, a testament to the vision and financial support of our ownership led by Thom Mandel and Nick Anthony. They have a long history of putting their spirit and money behind their belief in Akron being a good place to live, work, and build for their families. Without that support our voices painting the picture of home, occasionally challenging the people in power, wouldn't be heard.


Competition for ideas leads to debate, not a bad thing for a community deserving of its own place in the landscape.