Monday, March 28, 2011

Read all about it: Facebook is breaking news

Hope you're paying attention, Traditional Mainstream Media.

Facebook is kicking your butt.

I note that fact because Facebook has become my No. 1 source for local, breaking news. Case in point was last week's fire at the popular Uncle Primo's restaurant in New Philadelphia. My "friends" on Facebook reported details and included photos hours before Traditional Mainstream Media posted anything on their websites. (Actually the weekly Bargain Hunter acknowledged the fire before any other TMM outlets and promised a story on its website.)

It's not the first time Facebook has been first and certainly won't be the last. The social media has given me first word on any number of newsworthy events.

Key to using Facebook as a source of breaking news is fine-tuning the news feed (and, of course, having enough "friends").  I use the "Most Recent" tab and not the "Top News" tab, which is fueled by an algorithm of some kind and does not necessarily provide the most current information.

I also hide posts from "friends" who primarily use Facebook to post Bible quotes, Chinese proverbs or other mundane stuff that just doesn't interest me. I keep the posts from "friends" who upload links to interesting stories, who share photos, and even those who provide too much information on occasion. (Really don't need to know about everything you're doing this morning.)

It's the latter group of folks who are unknowingly serving as unpaid news reporters. And if I was still Traditional Mainstream Media I would use Facebook as a breaking news outlet rather than a static "Here's what on our website" use that most TMMs seem to prefer.

And Facebook apparently is here to stay. A majority of Americans now are engaged in Facebook, which is incredible when one considers it's only been in existence since 2004.

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This is what Commissioner Chris Abbuhl said in reaction to the latest census that showed Tuscarawas County experienced a 1.8 percent 10-year population growth to 92,582 in 2010:

“This shows that Tuscarawas County is proving to be a place where people want to work and raise a family. It’s not a huge increase, but it’s an increase.”

Well, yes, it's an increase, but let's break down that 1.8 percent.

There was 0 percent growth in Tuscarawas County's white population; 6.3 percent black; 30 percent Asian; and a whopping 171.8 percent growth in the Latino population. You can find the breakdown of increases/decreases of other counties here.

I would conclude  that this shows that Tuscarawas County is proving to be a more diverse community than it was before. Beyond that, I'm not sure what other conclusions one can reasonably draw from the numbers.

I'll concede that it's very easy to say that this is a great place to work and raise a family. I mean everyone says it so it must be true.

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I have yet to see any estimates of the cost to repair or replace the Zoar levee so that it protects the historic village well into the future.

Despite that, it appears the government is going to make everyone jump through hoops before it offers any resources to solve the situation. Form citizen committees, attend meetings and write letters, says the government.

Come on.

Whatever the cost, let's fix it. Zoar should be designated officially as a national historic landmark. Founded in 1817 by the Separatists as a communal society, the Zoar experiment ended in 1898 when the property was distributed among the remaining members. Today many of the properties are maintained in restored form and Zoar has become a tourist destination.

Let's put the cost -- assuming it's in the millions -- in perspective. The U.S. F-16 jet that crashed in Libya last week was worth $14 million to $16 million. A Tomahawk cruise missile has a price tag of more than $1 million. We fired a number of them last week without batting an eye.

And we can't afford to save a historic American community? You kidding me?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dover's Port Authority session was a real snoozer

Well, if the strategy was to bore us to death Tuesday night, the city of Dover certainly succeeded.

And I need to apologize for writing earlier in this space that Dover's town hall meeting at Memorial Hall on the worth of the Tuscarawas County Port Authority would be interesting.

It wasn't.

The meeting, attended by some 130 people who probably were questioning why they didn't schedule a root canal instead, turned into a drone-on for bureaucrats with elected officials looking on and staying out of the fray. Wait a minute. There was no fray.

Input from the public wasn't sought until after those first two hours of bureaucrat-speak (which included verbatim reading of long testimonials from Port Authority clients, a history lesson, a lengthy computer-assisted presentation from a state building inspector on how to interact with his agency even though local contractors don't have to because we have the East Central Ohio Building Authority, some more history lessons and on and on and on. Don't want to bore you with the details. The Times-Reporter's story on it is here).

What we did learn from the short give-and-take from the public was that the Port Authority has a public relations problem on a couple of fronts. A Strasburg business owner reported that someone ratted him out to the ECOBA while workers were in the process of installing a new front door. The project ended up costing several hundreds of dollars more and taking two weeks rather than two days.

Also, we learned that the Tuscarawas County Port Authority, which occupies space in the old Reeves mill that it owns, hasn't on occasion sought Dover building permits for work it has undertaken. Dover building inspector Jeff Beitzel reported that the Port Authority is now in compliance with Dover laws.

We did not learn what Dover Law Director Doug O'Meara gleaned from his extensive public record request of the Port Authority, which he mentioned only briefly at the beginning of Tuesday night's meeting.

Let's get back to those public relations issues.

The Port Authority and ECOBA employees have to generate enough revenue to support their jobs and a lot of the revenue comes from the fees they charge. According to the latest audit on file with the state auditor's office, annual salaries for Port Authority employees totaled $462,000 in 2008, up from $364,000 in 2006 (numbers rounded).

Fee revenue over the same period decreased from $426,000 to $333,000 probably as a result of the recession. So, my guess is there's some pressure to increase fee activity, which means ECOBA doesn't want anyone falling through the cracks, i.e. that small business in Strasburg.

When contractors relied on the state for inspections, no one would have caught the small business in Strasburg installing a new door. So, the enforcement of building codes and the imposition of fees is a relatively new experience for small business in Tuscarawas County. And small business doesn't like it one bit.

Back in 2004, fees should have been adjusted to give Mr. Small Businessman a break. But they weren't. They were set to match the state's fee schedule, creating the public relations mess the ECOBA now finds itself in.

Criticism of the Port Authority's development activities is harder to define, although J.P. Morgan Chase did a pretty good job of noting what it thought of the entity's future viability by requiring the commissioners to guarantee a restructured loan. See my previous blog post for my take on that.

Meanwhile, the city of Dover has no intention of ending its relationship with the Tuscarawas County Port Authority or ECOBA. The deafening silence of the city's elected officials Tuesday night made that very clear. And maybe that's a good thing.

It's all about safety in public buildings, you know. Now about the lack of sprinklers in the ceiling of Memorial Hall's dingy basement...

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

'It's like taking a shotgun and blowing a piece of your body out'

Gov. John Kasich seems to be driving a political wedge right into the heart of Ohio.

I caught most of Kasich's state of the state speech the other day and my perception that he is a my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy was further affirmed.

I'm not sure what it is -- he's not a bad speaker. But his delivery seems to lack the warmth and compassion of the greater orators.

Here's an excerpt:

"The state of Texas grew faster in five and a half months than Ohio did in the last 10 years. And as a result, we’ve lost two congressional seats. Two congressional seats. Texas gains four or five. It’s like taking a shotgun and blowing a piece of your body out. You lose those congressional seats, you lose your influence, you lose your experience, you lose your voice in a faraway city where they need to hear the voice of Ohio, the voice of the heartland.

"I’m here to tell you that this trend must be stopped and we’re going to do it. We’re going to stop this trend with Republicans and Democrats if I have to pull the Democrats across the aisle myself personally. We are going to get this done, Jason."

It's like taking a shotgun and blowing a piece of your body out?


Kasich also was singling out State Sen. Jason Wilson, D-St. Clairsville, who, no doubt, would like to discuss Kasich's hard line on Senate Bill 5.

Instead of calling for some tweaks to the collective bargaining law which might appease Democratic legislators (and thousands of public workers), Kasich's Senate Bill 5 basically does away with it.

(It does allow public employees to "collectively bargain" for wages, not benefits, and it affords them no leverage, i.e. strikes. In other words, it does away with collective bargaining. It's semantics.)

In recent years, the two political parties have largely been defined by whether their members lean left or right

In the "old" days, Democrats were the party of the "working man." My father-in-law used to remind me of that fact as often as he could. Republicans, he said, worried only about rich, white guys.

(I argued that Democrats were for more government and Republicans were for less government. But that fell on deaf ears.)

Is Kasich unknowingly pushing us to those old definitions again?

Well, yes, I think he is, although I think there are plenty of private sector workers, who believe the GOP does a better job representing them.

And there's that wedge -- the move to kill public employee collective bargaining -- that has set off a war between the two sets of working Americans. There's not much love on either side given the comments that have been hurled by each side so far.

Look out, pols -- 2012 will be here sooner rather than later.

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It was sad to read that Atwood Golf Course won't open for the season this year, but I am not surprised. Golf is a victim of the recession and the isolated Atwood course's days were numbered especially in the wake of the lodge shuttering.

I have fond memories of the Atwood course. Two of my three holes-in-one occurred there (not bragging, just reminiscing) and the views of the lake the course afforded were spectacular.

In fact, few places on the planet are as beautiful as a well-manicured golf course -- ask any golfer -- and it is disconcerting that now Atwood will be left for nature to do whatever it wants to it. No doubt the weeds will win now. What a shame.

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Dover City Councilman Greg Bair's public meeting on the worth of the Tuscarawas County Port Authority and East Central Ohio Building Authority has been scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Memorial Hall.

I'm not sure who is planning to attend or what kind of arguments or opinions will be offered, but it does promise to be interesting. I think.

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Good luck to Twin City Hospital and its employees. I hope the purchase of the facility by the Franciscan Services Corp. works out in the long term.

The corporation owns five hospitals and seven long-term care facilities. According to the Times-Reporter, FSC plans to continue to operate Twin City as a primary care hospital.

There are tremendous financial pressures on hospitals today and some of those pressures prevented area health care facilities from purchasing Twin City. Obviously FSC has a plan. And maybe some cash stashed somewhere.

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Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel screwed up by sitting on information that implicated a handful of his best players in a memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal.

How's that for summing up a ridiculous situation? It's amazing some of the things we worry about in this country.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

State representative says he'll vote for SB 5

Update (Saturday, March 5, 2011): State Rep. Al Landis says he will vote in favor of Senate Bill 5. Here's a link to a story in the T-R.


Some observations:

-- Facebook, with its 600 million members across the globe, continues to grow as a source of real news. On Facebook I've learned about power outages, storm damage, vehicle accidents and the fact that State Rep. Al Landis, R-Dover, will be spending the weekend reading Senate Bill 5 before he renders an opinion. Fact is, however, he doesn't have to waste time reading the bill in its entirety. The Legislative Service Commission routinely summarizes pending bills so lawmakers don't have to spend their waking hours reading legal mumbo-jumbo.

-- Gov. John Kasich says SB 5 is about creating jobs for Ohioans. I'm not really clear on the job-creation strategy here. How does doing away with collective bargaining for public employees actually create jobs? Someone explain it to me, please.

-- Likewise, SB 5 does nothing to fill the $8 billion budget hole. It does serve as warning to local governments that big cuts are coming in state taxpayer assistance, which means more people will lose their jobs in this state, which means the recession will continue well into the future. Think all this discussion about killing collective bargaining has had a chilling effect on teachers, or cops or firefighters who otherwise might have been thinking about buying a new car or house in the near future?

-- Whose fault is it for lopsided benefit packages for public employees? The unions? Or the public officials in power who made the deals? Or both? It's not collective bargaining that's necessarily the problem. It's the fact that for years governments and unions never believed in full disclosure to the public about what the heck was in those contracts.

-- This is a truism: Voters rant over the deal public employees get in their contracts, but always seem to side with those same employees when those employees are embroiled in labor disputes.

-- The couple of non-scientific polls that I've seen on the issue of SB 5 indicate that the public is coming down on the side of public employees. Is it because nearly every middle class taxpayer is related to or knows someone who is a teacher, cop or firefighter and has some degree of compassion for those people?

-- Some politicians continually harp that Ohio needs to be more business-friendly to attract jobs. If that's the case, why does Honda continue to invest in our state and its work force. This is from a 2004 report from Honda on its impact on Ohio:

Honda Motor Company came to the United States – and Ohio – in 1977 with its announcement of plans to construct a motorcycle assembly plant near Marysville. It began producing motorcycles in 1979 with 64 associates.

As this study details, today Honda’s investment in Ohio approaches $6.1 billion and its operations employ more than 16,000 Ohioans. The scope of its operations includes full-scale motor vehicle and drive train manufacturing and production engineering, a significant R&D center, and hub operations that lead and support such essential functions as North American procurement, logistics and quality.

I asked a friend of mine who is an executive for Honda if the company had any regrets about locating its major manufacturing in Ohio. None, he said.

-- Is one of the reasons for the decline in traditional Ohio job opportunities, i.e. manufacturing, a result of Americans' penchant for cheap foreign goods? Probably, but it doesn't explain all of it. Hoover non-commercial vacuum cleaners used to be made in Canton. Now they're made in China and Mexico. ABC News found a typical American family and looked for USA-made goods in its home. It found few. Even American flags came from China. Check out the report here.

-- Another reason for the lack of Ohio job opportunities is probably the fact that Ohio lags behind other states in the number of students it is graduating from college. A little more than 21 percent of Ohioans hold a bachelor's degree or higher. Compare that to Colorado's number -- almost 33 percent. Last time I checked employers want an intelligent work force because we're not assembling simple Hoover vacuum cleaners anymore. (Apologies to my friend and former Hoover engineer Matt Plotts.) My goodness, there are a host of reasons why business locates where it does. No. 1 reason, of course, is the quality of life an area affords the company's executives.

-- According to the Ohio Department of Taxation, in fiscal year 2009 the Commercial Activity Tax (business no longer pays a corporate income tax in Ohio) generated about $1.2 billion for the general fund while cigarette and tobacco products generated about $950 million. How about that -- smokers pay almost as much as business. Bigger problem than state taxes? Local taxes. Why is American Greetings thinking of relocating?

-- Illinois just raised its personal income tax rate from 3 percent to 5 percent and its corporate income tax from 4.8 percent to 7 percent to deal with its budget hole. Ohio's personal income tax ranges from less than 1 percent (for the lowest wage earners) to almost 6 percent (for the highest wage earners). From former Ohio Tax Commissioner Joanne Limbach: "When you compare Ohio to other states as far as state and local tax burdens by taxes per capita Ohio is 24th with $3,773 and Illinois is 16th with $4,081. Comparison as a percentage of income: Ohio is 18th with 11.8 percent; Illinois is 28th with 11.2 percent."

-- The fact that SB 5 allows public employees to collectively bargain for wages but does not allow them to strike is nothing more than legislative window dressing. Public employees will have no leverage in the debate especially since the "decider" will be the legislative authority, i.e. city councils, school boards, etc. Heads, you lose; tails, you lose. Good one, GOP. No one will figure that out.

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