Friday, May 29, 2009

Brunner To BOE: Both Sides Are Idiots

OK, maybe I'm reading a tad too much of my own personal view in this latest ruling as Ohio's Secretary of State is dragged into yet another no-win cat fight between the Democratic and Republican bosses on the Board of Elections. Surprise -- she's managed to vote against BOTH sides this time.

Under the heading "only in Summit County" do we find stories along these lines -- and so many of 'em, too.

The key background in a nutshell: Summit's elections costs are double those of most urban counties, and they are way overstaffed compared to not only counties of similar size but even the big boys such as Franklin, home of Columbus.

The situation: with the economy in the dumper, how does anyone NOT take a hard look at reducing costs, saving taxpayer money, and doing at least just as much with less?

The conflict: Republicans want to slash jobs, including interns; Democrats want to keep those jobs but cut pay and trim here and there.

READ the full .pdf report from SOS Jennifer Brunner HERE

As usual, neither side agrees on the big issues. Because of the structure of the Board -- two D and two R members -- it winds up going to the Secretary of State's office for a tie-breaker. Given the history of how many ties wind up in the lap of the SOS we should consider adding a residential wing to 500 Grant Street so they can just live here.

Brunner's decision today, with my emphasis in bold: get to the heart of the matter, which is Summit's outdated practice of running the Board of Elections under the same model the early Soviet Union used. It's time to eliminate the one-for-one partisan hiring practice below top manager level.

"I further instruct the Summit County Board of Elections to examine its levels of staffing in light of the guidance provided in this tie vote decision, especially to review and adjust staffing levels according to the number of persons needed for the tasks to be performed for particular positions. Even if just one person would be required for the assigned duties of a position, partisan balance in the overall staffing level of the board rather than per position will allow the board to meet economic needs and progress toward greater bipartisan cooperation in the operation and administration of this board."

Summit County, like our friends under Lenin, Stalin and Kruschchev in the old days, insists on not only having a ministerial-level (a.k.a civil servant) employee in each job but also a political officer-level (a.k.a. same job, different party) equivalent. Anyone who's spent time watching Dr. Zhivago or The Hunt for Red October has seen how much this ties up the system, but because we've done it for over 30 years there isn't the political or good government will to change things for the sake of efficiency.

Truth is, neither side wants to give up the patronage power that comes with a policy assuring for every job there is a shadow at the same pay. How many companies have you worked for can say the same thing?

Brunner's decision today gets to the heart of the matter: both sides should stop acting like petulant children fighting over equal halves of the same cookie. Reform the system. Soon.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It's The Economy, Stupid

Consider this an Akron version of the old TV game show "Family Feud," complete with host Richard Dawson's famous "survey says....!"

Most of us in Summit County apparently think having a job is pretty important; in fact, more than 46% of the 1,067 adults surveyed by the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research agreed employment is the top issue when it comes to quality of life here, pacing a big increase in all economic issues over the past three years. Taxes and money issues finished a strong second with crime and safety a distant third; education then government/political issues wrap up the top five.

Even with a national and state economy providing plenty of angst, over three quarters of those surveyed by phone still think Summit County is either an excellent or good to live. Fewer than one in twenty four think life stinks.

But again, the economy looms large with less than 16% holding the opinion the local economy is excellent or good, and half of that number thought Summit County offered a positive outlook for finding a job.

What to make of these numbers?

No big surprise but confirmation folks really do pay attention to the pocketbook issues. While the rest of the nation calls what is happening a recession, it's been life in Ohio for years now and provides what should be the biggest wake-up call to political and business leaders. In 2007, more than 21% of those surveyed had some confidence in their ability to find a job in Summit County; that number dipped to 11.3% in 2008 pre-Wall Street bubble burst and is now 8.1%.

Statistically, fewer people think this is a good place to find a job than the number of people on unemployment benefits. That spells big trouble for politicians who talk a good game about creating an environment of opportunity for young people to stay here on graduation. This spiral goes by many names, including "brain drain" which is the latest catch phrase to describe what parents and grandparents have been talking about for decades in describing a future northeast Ohio -- a place where the kids come back for holidays with tales of opportunity found elsewhere.

We are at a point in time where it is tough to find an oasis of opportunity; that used to be the Carolinas, or Las Vegas, or Florida but now those states are hard-hit by the national economy. But when things swing back, as they inevitably do -- remember, every boom has a bust and vice-versa -- will Ohio be better positioned for the recovery or will we still be trapped in that spiral given lip service by the regardless-of-which party leadership?

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Sweet Tweets

Do you tweet?

This isn't a post-beans during the BBQ question...tweeting is the quick-hit text craze spanning web and mobile using Twitter, the latest hot product in social media. If you are on Twitter chances are you follow or are followed, you might even twitpic and if truly advanced you even know how to retweet (RT) and how to use hashtags (#) to organize your tweets.

The journalism world is conflicted on tweeting; is it primarily promotional or does it have serious news delivery value? The Kent State beer blowout in the past month allowed student media at KSU to effective use Twitter to tweet information students with cell phones could easily use, a great example of the public service in breaking news anyone with a smartphone can use. The University of Akron even uses tweets to tell drivers where parking is most available. Some media organizations, however, quickly fill up their tweets with dozens of stories purely designed to promote a click to the mother website rather than provide useful information-on-the-go.

The social side of Twitter can be as banal as "I'm walking out of the coffee shop now..." but there are plenty of moments where it is absolute glee reading the little things that make up our lives. In this case, I'm showing the tweets from my friend Steve Scott (@SteveScottWCBS on Twitter), the afternoon anchor of WCBS 880 in New York.

His series of tweets from Newark Airport as he prepares for a Memorial Day weekend trip to Chicago are priceless, offering a slice of life's great irony we can all relate to. It isn't breaking news -- but I have to give a tip of the tweet cap to Steve for creativity and using Twitter in a fashion both amusing and soooo New York.

SteveScottWCBSi will say this. My Breakfast Cheese Steak Wrap is really good. from mobile web

SteveScottWCBSThey just got their food. Server: "Here. Eat fast." from mobile web

SteveScottWCBSIt continues. Customer at nearby table: Is our food coming soon? We have to board soon. Server: You shoulda got here earlier! from mobile web

SteveScottWCBSMore fork: Server, as she grabs fork off adjacent dirty table: "They didn't use this one." from mobile web

SteveScottWCBSWow. Ever have a server who should owe YOU a tip at the end of the meal? from mobile web

SteveScottWCBSMe: Can I have a fork, please? Server: You ordered a wrap. Me: Is that a "no?" from mobile web

SteveScottWCBS"Dick Clark's A-B Grill" at #EWR: F-I-L-T-H-Y! And don't even THINK about getting a glass of water! from mobile web

Thursday, May 21, 2009

When Haidet Attacks

He seems like such a mild mannered guy, but there is another side to Ryan; along with reality show afficionado, lover of horror movies and haunted houses who knew he was so talented -- or had so much time on his hands?

Ryan has been busy in the early morning hours. Maybe we should be tracking responses to his work -- which is your favorite, guys or gals? Jib-Jab: the ladies to their thing...(LINK HERE if embed doesn't work)

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today! Jib-Jab #2: the boys strut their stuff...(LINK HERE if embed isn't playing...)

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Who says news can't be fun?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Recall Tactics, Part 1

The recall election is underway -- with absentee voting taking place now at the Summit County Board of Elections, even with the actual deadline to register for the election next Tuesday.

Amazing how quickly government can work sometimes...

So now it's not just about whether voters want to see the issue on the ballot. The campaign now centers on the public and the private strategy of each side with the counting that starts after polls close at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 23, 2009 the only thing that matters. Less than five short weeks, with at least four days between now and then taken up by Memorial Day holiday activities (rotten time to campaign), the end of the school term, vacations and the general malaise surrounding anything political between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

In this case of the compressed campaign, the push to organize get-out-their-vote drives is on a very short leash. With effectively only four weeks to get done what normally takes four months, the strength of the political machinery on both sides will be tested.

So what strategy to adopt for each side?

The ChangeAkronNow folks need to continue their momentum beyond the 3,179 certified signatures it took to get the recall on the ballot. They need to convince those who signed the petitions to take the next step by voting, and try to convince those on the fence to fall their way -- and to vote that way. So far, it's been grass-roots campaigning, with the strong use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, word of mouth, and use of shoe leather. But their task isn't as hard as it is for those arguing on behalf of Mayor Plusquellic. Anger and outrage, deserved or not, is a supreme motivator for people entering a voting booth. In this case, word of mouth works best because it is one-one-one and intimate; it also doesn't have to stand the test of truth-telling or challenge.

In terms of putting on a media show of pro-recall advertising, that takes money. Raising funds to support an effective ad campaign would cost thousands of dollars. It will be tough waging that kind of political war against a two-decades plus incumbent who clearly knows not only how to raise campaign money on his own, but also understands how to freeze out potential support for his opposition. Look for more push for so-called "free media" from the pro-recall effort, although in today's news environment that effectively limits them to the Beacon Journal and West Side Leader on the print side and broadcast news & talk outlets WAKR, WNIR, WKSU, WCPN and WHLO. I hope I'm wrong, but Cleveland television can be expected to treat this as they do most Akron issues -- with a 1:40 package the days before the election, unless something better is happening in Westlake.

The tactics for Citizens For Akron will be much more nuanced; not only do they need to convince voters the recall is unwarranted, they need to motivate voters to care enough to lift themselves off the chair and get in front of a ballot. The biggest problem Plusquellic supporters may have is indicated by a conversation I had recently with a woman at the Starbucks on Sand Run -- not an area of the city known particularly as a hotbed of revolutionary thought.

She doesn't like the idea of the recall, telling me she thinks Plusquellic's done nothing illegal or unethical to warrant being tossed out of office two years before his term ends. She thinks it is a waste of time and money, but here's the problem for the pro-Plusquellic campaign: she also doesn't like the mayor personally.

She tells me she while she believes it is a big mistake to recall Plusquellic, she isn't invested enough in the civic duty part of being an Akron voter to come to his aid. She needs a personal reason to vote no to vote yes for Plusquellic, and that's her tough choice because she doesn't like the way he treats people.

There's the rub of the greatest challenge for the mayor's supporters: the very passion which makes Plusquellic a powerful and, on a great many occasions, an effective advocate on behalf of Akron is his greatest asset. It's also his greatest liability. In the same conversation supporters opine Akron is in far better shape than every other northern Ohio major city, and they credit the Plusquellic Administration with being pro-active rather than reactive. But in the next sentence they'll shake their heads over name-calling, finger-pointing and bring up stories such as arguing with parking lot attendants and saying opponents have special places in hell reserved for them when he loses.

It's not the big picture with all the talk of travel budgets, long-term or short-term debt that seems to spark the greatest reaction. It is the little things that all of us can relate to -- how do the big guys treat the little guys, and should that be the biggest part of the equation when the big guy needs the little guy to vote?

The conventional wisdom politically is to come out with guns blazing, and that's been the history of the mayor's pattern of response...but is it the wise course of action when blazing guns appears to be why people will vote against you, or worse yet decide to not vote for you?

Supporters tell me they intend to wage an intensive feet-on-the-ground education campaign detailing the plus of Plusquellic. WKYC's Eric Mansfield Tuesday night aired portions of a sit-down with Plusquellic that broke little new ground. I think the interesting take-away, however, is the mayor's tone: less combative than we're used to, perhaps an acknowledgment that in this case leadership style may very well play the major role in this election.

WKYC-TV video; if embed doesn't work you can find it here on

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Web Ad Hell

Another funny video...but this one isn't LeBron or even one of those fake Cleveland commercials...not even a guy on a banjo keeping time with a tractor. This is strictly for viewing by folks who follow the media's sometimes very clumsy way to figure out how to make the web pay.

Pretty funny stuff, too -- thanks to the College Humor Guys and Will Sullivan of Poynter for the tip and video. I'm guessing most will find this ironic and typical of many websites but hopefully it'll also drive home the one item often lost in building cool stuff on the web -- who's getting this?

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Recall Timetable

Akron City Council tonight will set a date for the recall election targeting Mayor Plusquellic -- what in effect should serve as a textbook learning opportunity for political wonks. Here's hoping the central issue doesn't get lost in the tactical war.

Updated: Council President Marco Sommerville says Council will be asked to vote tonight to hold the recall election on Tuesday, June 23, 2009.

- - -

Akron's charter provisions on a recall election leave a lot to be desired. While technically specific, even down to the language where a "yes" vote means the office holder is out, a "no" vote means the office holder remains.

Akron City Charter: Each ballot at such election shall have printed thereon the following question: "Shall (name of person) be removed from the office of (name of office) by recall?" Immediately following such question, there shall be printed on the ballot the following two propositions in following order:

"For the recall of (name of person)."

"Against the recall of (name of person)."

Immediately to the left of each of said propositions shall be a space in which the elector may vote for either of such propositions.

It even sets the benchmark dates for action by city council, how long the office holder has to resign if they choose to, and when the election will be held.

But it offers little else of guidance to voters, such as what exactly merits a recall. Expect to see a push, no matter what the outcome of the 2009 recall election, to make the charter language more specific. It would be an overdue improvement and keep the protections of a recall process in place while making the grounds more specific beyond the we-can-do-it-because-we-can school of political theater.

Council will vote tonight on setting a date, between June 20th and July 10th, for Akron voters to put this to rest. Mayor Plusquellic has until 4:30 this afternoon to let City Clerk Bob Keith know if there is a resignation coming -- fat chance, I think, but the mayor's office says there will be a letter to that effect.

Now this issue comes down to tactics; whether holding a vote with dates on either side of what is essentially two weeks of Independence Day holiday. Cruddy time to hold an election unless you hope for a really, really low turnout. On paper that should benefit the pro-recall folks, unless the anti-recall campaign is confident their campaign organization is stronger and better organized. The sooner the better, say the mayor's supporters.

The central question is whether or not you think Don Plusquellic should continue to be mayor for the remainder of his term. Period.

Critics of the mayor, led by longtime opponent Warner Mendenhall, did what the charter required in securing enough signatures to put the issue before the voters. Democracy by the rules, that's all they needed to do. Akron's charter made it easy because the number was based on the turnout of the last general election, which was very low because there was no contested race for the office. Nothing criminal or civil needed to be proven.

No case needed to be made on why Don Plusquellic should get the boot in mid-term, just that they could put the issue before voters. Those are the rules, and in systems of government where the rule of law is supreme these rules held fast. The arguments on whether a recall election should be held provided plenty of fodder for editorials and commentary but the basic truth is: with enough signatures, all recalls are possible.

That's actually a good thing, because the charter controls how democracy works in Akron. It's the document that keeps the people ultimately in charge. That critics of Plusquellic, unable to do in a primary or general election what they now try to do through recall, found an opening in the charter is the kind of political lawyering that makes most of us yawn but drives those involed in the process crazy. But it is the process, and both sides clearly know how to play this game.

Now it's up to voters to sift through the posturing and determine the real issue, which is has Plusquellic done so wrong that he should be removed now? That's the central issue voters should consider when casting their vote this summer -- and what exactly are the charges against Plusquellic to warrant this political death penalty?

Critics say their charges are substantive but Plusquellic's supporters argue they are driven more by personality conflict.

The strategy for the pro-recall will be to keep their campaign supporters invested enough in anti-Plusquellic emotion that they vote. Don't look for this in slick television or radio ads, because this emotion is best stoked under the radar. Keeping someone angry is far easier than appealing to a more noble concept of what's best for the community. This argument is made to the heart, misplaced or not. ChangeAkronNow already has their list of likely voters and a starting point. Strong emotion is a powerful motivator for action as simple as walking into a voting booth.

The strategy for the anti-re-call campaign is to get out their message that the mayor has done nothing to warrant getting the boot after more than two decades of being who he is and voters should turn aside the effort. In a nutshell: "he may be a tough old SOB, but he's our SOB." This will be a tougher campaign because the argument is one made to the brain, seeking to have reason provide enough of an emotional shove for voters to make the effort to get to the polls. Citizens For Akron also has a strong list of supporters but needs to make the case beyond individuals saying they support Plusquellic -- and turning that support into action.

Either way, this political schooling that started soon after Issue 8 at least comes to a close by mid-July...unless the political lawyering is already looking past the election.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

When Comments Attack

There are plenty of headaches for media companies large and small; the economy certainly ranks as number one, with a close number two figuring how to ride out the wave of seismic changes hitting the journalism and communications landscape. But the one that may provide the biggest heartburn strikes directly at the First Amendment.

I like to point out there's a reason why freedom of speech is the First amendment; after all, the freedom to petition for redress of our grievances, assemble with others of like-mind, even the particular (or peculiar) way we choose to worship all stem from what many Americans take for granted.

This right of expressing our opinion runs deep in the American psyche, even if most Americans would be hard-pressed to actually point out what most of our constitutionally-protected rights actually are.

Which brings us to commenting features on the web.

This feature of letting it fly is nothing new to newspapers, but they've kept it in check by having an editorial page editor sift through letters to decide which were worthy of jumping through the journalistic salmon ladder we call publishing. Some might even be good enough to warrant treatment as a column, although that was still under the control of the editor. That's the way Op/Ed pages in newspapers still work, even today.

Talk radio (and our fresh-faced cousins, talk TV) follow in a similar vein. When you listen to Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck or even Howie, your couple minutes of airtime can depend on whether a producer thinks you are worthy or even something arbitrary such as being caller number four when there's only time left for three.

The web is different.

We expect our thoughts to show, immediately, after clicking. Once sent, never recalled. The heat of the moment laid bare, which explains how so many comments are often rude, insensitive, unkind and disrespectful. The send button isn't much of a recall device.

On recent posts to AkronNewsNow stories, especially those dealing with crime and mayoral recalls, we've been treated to occasional glimpses of passionate thought but that also comes with plenty of bile. Some comments, hiding behind the ease of a screen name, call others names they would never use face-to-face.

Calling out someone who has a different opinion as an "idiot" is tame; we've seen some suggest that people suffering from some kind of impairment should be required to wear dog collars and be restrained on leashes. Readers have seen some wish physical harm, even rape, on those targets of their disdain.

We try to remove those posts as quickly as possible because we believe personal attacks, especially those advocating physical harm, have no place on this site. It's no different than considering the discussion you would allow around your dinner table, or in the backyard with a house full of summer barbecue guests: would you express yourself so openly if engaged in a debate with someone just as passionate sitting across from you?

Disagreement over ideas is one thing, but hate disguised as indigestible discourse is another.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Who Need Serious News Today?

OK, it isn't serious, doesn't have a thing to do with mayoral recalls, and isn't really about Akron either. It is just pure fun and shows how rewarding technology can be when properly married to a bunch of fellas who know how to pick and grin...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

OMG - Cleveland Promo Videos

For the record: I'm really not one of those frequent Cleveland bashers. I love northeast Ohio, the people, the parks, the places...but I am realistic about the differences elsewhere and the mother ship.

Example: at most airports, it's a quick trip to shuttles or rental cars or parking garages from the terminal. At Hopkins, one must quickly step through the stench of the smoking zone, leap-frogging over stubbed butts and hundreds of chewing gum circles on the filthy sidewalk to do the same here. After leaving the terminal, one is immediately greeted by the sand casting ashtray across the freeway where the debris left over from the Ford Engine Plant is piled up. If heading east on Brookpark, welcome to the porn zone.

We don't exactly make this easy, do we?

That doesn't mean stuff like this video, below, should go unanswered. It's from YouTube and posted by someone calling themselves bishopvids and all humor to the contrary takes a pretty direct shot at life in Cleveland under the cover story they were paid millions by the Visitors Bureau to come up with this tourist ad:

There are already more than 457,000 views with over 1,100 comments posted. As if that isn't bad enough, version two notes all of the fish in Cleveland have AIDS thanks to the quality of the war and the only bright spot in the economy is LeBron James...there is an upbeat ending to this one, however:

I don't think this is going to sit well with Cleveland Plus.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I Heart Terry Gross

I love radio.

It can be somewhat passive like television, something to be enjoyed while stretched out on the couch. One doesn't need to be in the Met to enjoy an opera, or standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a cow pasture to revisit Woodstock.

It paints wonderful pictures in the mind like a book, but instead of using the highway of the eyes it uses the back roads of the ear to spark the mind into taking up pigments and brush to make me see without even opening an eyelid.

It can push us into action, drawing even the most hard-core wallflower to dance with abandon in private or in the company of family and friends. Books don't make my toes tap; television doesn't let me see my world as I choose to view it. This is a medium where the announcer can be the author, producer and creator with a direct route into my soul. It has always been, at least in my view, the most intimate of media.

Terry Gross of WHYY-FM in Philadelphia takes it to a new level, and tonight's Fresh Air on NPR (3:00 p.m. on 89.7 WKSU, 7:00 p.m. on WCPN) was one of those landmark moments where she literally turned dung into gold.

It isn't often you can't turn away from something profiling the dung beetle but Terry's interview with University of Montana professor of biology Dr. Douglas Emlen is simply one of the most enjoyable, compelling, amusing and fascinating interviews I've heard from Fresh Air, and Terry Gross has done thousands.

His take on the advanced weapons systems nature creates from these waste-eating bugs made them appear smarter than anyone at the Pentagon; Mother Nature as the mother of all military-industrial complexes. Relaying the story of thousands upon thousands of beetles descending upon him as he observed a pile of elephant dung collected just to attract them made my skin crawl, just as the scenes from every Egyptian-locale Mummy monster flick does -- but I couldn't turn it off. The story of how Australia had to work so hard to find just the right species of dung beetles to clean up acres and acres of cow flop covered grazing land put picture and scent right between the eyes.

Even his observations on how sleek and slender suitors try to get past the heavily-armored male guards for the sweet reward of waiting beetle babes in the tunnels below the piles of...OK, you get the idea.

Terry Gross is the textbook example of how a radio interview can sound so simple, so natural, and so wonderful. When checking out the link above, make sure you check out the slide show of beetles -- they look more like sculpture than creatures doing dirty work. See the battle of the beetles caught on video -- Fight Club for real. But by all means don't neglect to listen to 38 minutes of a true interview artist.