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 Ohio.com 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 eesposito@rcrg.net 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 MoveOn.org -- 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.

- - -

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 education...no 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 idea...so 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.