Thursday, February 24, 2011

Collective craziness

State Rep. Al Landis of Dover might have thought he'd give something back to his community in his retirement years by serving in the Ohio Legislature. You know, pass some bills, solve the budget crisis -- whatever.

Perhaps he's finding out it isn't that easy. Welcome to hardball, Mr. Landis.

Here's what he told the Times-Reporter when asked about Senate Bill 5, the let's-do-away-with-collective-bargaining legislation:

“I can’t make a whole lot of comments yet because it’s in the Senate. I’ll see what it looks like when it comes to the House. I’ll learn as much about it as I can before I make any decision.”

Huh? Why is he precluded from voicing his opinion on the bill just because it's in the Senate?

The truth is probably that he is precluded from actually rendering an opinion because half of his constituents will hate him for it, no matter what he says.

It's a lot like the abortion issue, or health care. No matter what side of the argument you come down on, it will be the wrong one as far as a lot of people are concerned.

So, Landis is taking the easy way out now, and perhaps he will escape from actually having to tell his constituents what he thinks about Gov. John Kasich's idea of killing collective bargaining for public employees. Maybe Senate Bill 5 will be watered down. Maybe it won't pass.

Do you feel lucky, Mr. Landis?

For some reason, politicians, i.e. Kasich, today want to make the big statement. Let's not focus in on the binding arbitration problem, let's just do away with collective bargaining altogether -- in one fell swoop.

Binding arbitration, where a third party settles a public employee labor disagreement without regard to taxpayer revenue, seems to be the biggest problem. Why don't we focus on that initially and encourage unions to come to grips with reality in the meantime?

OK, public employee benefit packages are much better than what the private sector is currently offering. But I think there's a special place in hell for the private sector publicly traded companies that have cut 401(k) contributions on behalf of their employees while handing corporate bigwigs hefty bonuses. That isn't right either.

And dumb things are being said on both sides.

Republicans would have you believe that doing away with collective bargaining will go a long way in solving the $8 billion budget deficit. Really, how? It might help going forward, but explain to me how it helps the state cover the deficit now. I don't get it.

(Let's put the deficit in perspective: The last estimate of earthquake damage in New Zealand that I heard was $8 billion. The quake leveled the country's second largest city, Christchurch.)

Let's also hope that members of public unions stop saying that collective bargaining is a constitutional right. It's not. It was granted in Ohio by an act of the Legislature and can be taken away -- just like driving privileges.

Kasich believes he has a mandate for change, much like President Barack Obama did after he first won election. I'm not sure any leader today has a mandate for total unadulterated change. I think most voters want clear thinkers, not shoot-from-the-hippers. Voters want public servants to work with the opposition and provide the necessary tweaks to a system that desperately needs attention. Blowhards need not apply.

One thing is for sure. All of us will pay the price of an $8 billion budget deficit.

And laying the blame indirectly on middle class teachers, cops and firefighters seems a bit of a stretch to me. The vitriol aimed at the group from some members of the public says more about the sin of jealousy than concern over how the state went broke.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

How about a twit?

Well, readers seem to love the potpourri posts, so let's just continue with that for the time being. In this era of social media, think of it as a series of tweets, the plural of which is twit. I just made that up. Here goes:

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Gov. John Kasich apparently has apologized to the police officer he called an "idiot." Safety forces throughout the state were appalled that the governor would point to an isolated incident to underscore the need to reform the Ohio collective bargaining law that's been in place 30 years. Can't say that I blame them.

But I'm not going to throw the governor under the bus so soon into his term because I kind of know what he's talking about. But that's bar talk. Not something a governor should be railing about. And he never did say why the cop was an idiot. Was he rude? Was he condescending? What?

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Educators are under the gun right now in Ohio. The governor and Republican-controlled Legislature want to screw with their pension system, collective bargaining privileges, salary schedules and, well, you name it.

Then Buckeye Career Center Superintendent Paul Hickman walks away with an early retirement "settlement" of nearly $130,000.

Although he's an administrator, he's still part of the system and news of Hickman's good fortune doesn't help anyone connected to the public education system.

Hickman said this when asked about his early release from his contract, which was to expire in 2013, and his impending retirement at age 52:

"It was for the benefit of who we serve. It's what I've chosen.”

What the heck does that mean? I'll tell you what it means. It means he didn't retire willingly.

Full disclosure: Never really got to know the man. Early after he arrived in 2005, he and a board member called for a meeting with my publisher in the wake of stories and/or opinion pieces that there might be a drug problem at Buckeye. That was not the way to earn the trust of an editor who supported public education initiatives, i.e. levies (including Buckeye's), over the years.

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Republican Rep. Al Landis of Dover has been in office nearly two months. If he's stated for the record anywhere how he feels about public sector employees and collective bargaining, I haven't seen it. Maybe a reporter should ask him. I'm told this is going to be a big issue in Ohio.

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Is it time to pull the plug on the T-R's "30 Seconds"?

I think "30 Seconds" -- the old wonderful call-in feature that allows readers to rant -- is too labor-intensive in these days of lean newsrooms. Too many "intolerant" messages that speak more to the underbelly of our society than to the state of the common man have gotten through lately. After 20 years, I think the feature has run its course.

In this age of instant messaging, Blackberrys, laptops and electronic tablets, you pick up the phone, dial a number, listen to the message and leave your reply ... Seems so '80s-ish.

A number of people have complained that commenting on my posts is a pain in the butt. Leave a message on my Facebook post or send me an e-mail directly at and I'll post it. In addition, I've changed my Twitter handle to something more professional -- dickfarrel_dover. So, if you want to say something, say it. It's OK that you disagree.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

You try to sing the National Anthem

I know it's been a few days, but nothing has really tripped my trigger lately and I'm getting really weary of winter and blah, blah, blah.

You know what I mean.

OK, some quick-hitters:

-- You'd have thought Christina Aguilera committed an act of treason because she screwed up the National Anthem prior to the Super Bowl. Please give the poor girl a break. She was dressed very conservatively and I'm sure she wanted to interpret the song the best she could and she just messed up. I mean half the country was watching and there were 100,000 people in the stadium. My Facebook friends were all atwitter over Aguilera's performance. Ever make a mistake, people? Geez, give her a break. Yeah, and you're perfect, too. No, I don't know Aguilera. She's not my sister, or anything like that.

-- AOL bought the online Huffington Post for $315 million. Compare that to the purchase in 2006 by Gatehouse Media of seven daily newspapers owned by Copley Press for $380 million, which are worth a fraction of that today. Now the Huffington Post is widely known to NOT PAY its contributors, so someone (Arianna Huffington?) is getting rich while the "content providers" are not. Mama, don't let your children grow up to be journalists.

--  There is something inherently wrong with the system when a mother is thrown into jail for the crime of stealing educational services for her children because she believed they were safer in a suburban neighborhood and school system rather than in west Akron. Yep, I know. She was wrong. Violated the law. This is America, after all. Justice must be served.

-- Let's revisit for a minute the Marsha Mills case, which I examined in one of my last commentaries for The Times-Reporter. ProPublica, the online investigative journalism endeavor, has been examining death investigations in the U.S. Here's an explanation of its initiative: "In detective novels and television crime dramas like 'CSI,' the nation's morgues are staffed by highly trained medical professionals equipped with the most sophisticated tools of 21st-century science. Operating at the nexus of medicine and criminal justice, these death detectives thoroughly investigate each and every suspicious fatality. The reality, though, is far different. In a joint reporting effort, ProPublica, PBS 'Frontline' and NPR spent a year looking at the nation's 2,300 coroner and medical examiner offices and found a deeply dysfunctional system that quite literally buries its mistakes." It's interesting reading and I encourage readers to check it out. 

-- If it's unconstitutional to force people to buy health insurance is it then unconstitutional to force hospitals to provide treatment to people who don't have health insurance?

-- OK, I don't know where this debate is going on the Tuscarawas County Port Authority but I think it's safe to say this entity has a huge public relations problem.

-- Caught "The Social Network" last week and while there are some questions about what is fact and what is fiction in the movie, clearly Facebook's popularity exploded because it allowed young college men and women to garner information on possible mates. Now, just about everyone is on Facebook -- some 600 million worldwide at last count -- and that includes us old people. You know what Facebook does? It exaggerates your personality. Think about that for a minute.

-- Dover Board of Education is dreaming of a new high school and it should. The current facility is old, decrepit and depressing. No doubt, as the community discusses the idea, you likely will hear from someone that the building "was good enough for me" and "we can't afford that right now." Change comes hard for people in the Valley.