Friday, October 28, 2011

Nice work if you can get it

Originally published in the Tuscarawas County edition of the Bargain Hunter.

So, you suffer a little from paycheck envy, don’t you, Mr. Private Sector?

You’re envious of that teacher down the street who you think is making too much money. He has a nice benefit package and a terrific pension plan, too.

You? Your company has eliminated its pension plan and is making you pay more money toward the cost of your health insurance. In addition, your company is forcing you to take a pay cut, and there’s always the possibility that you’ll lose your job.

I know what you’re thinking.

Darn teacher.

Redirect your anger, Mr. Private Sector.

Meet Craig A. Dubow, who retired earlier this month after six years as Gannett Corp.’s chief executive officer. Gannett owns WKYC-TV, Channel 3, in Cleveland as well as other media outlets, including USA Today and the Cincinnati Enquirer.

According to the New York Times, Gannett’s stock price declined from $75 to $10 a share during his stint. When he took over the company, Gannett had 52,000 employees. Now it has 32,000.

Many of those discharged employees were reporters and editors – the people who cover hundreds of communities across the country for Gannett newspapers. They’re in towns such as Coshocton, Newark and Zanesville.

Dubow, like so many others who direct media companies today, apparently believed that the way to profitability was to eliminate the guts from the product. Just before he announced his resignation, Gannett said it was cutting another 700 jobs.

The Times reported that Marjorie Magner, a member of Gannett’s board, said in tribute following Dubow’s retirement announcement: “Craig championed our consumers and their ever-changing needs for news and information.”

Magner should have kept to herself.

Maybe she should have said this: “During Craig’s tenure, our company’s finances tanked. People quit reading our papers, and advertisers left in droves. Then the economy blew up in 2008 and things got even worse. We couldn’t sell TV ads. We tried to attract younger readers and viewers, but we didn’t have a clue how to reach them.

“Thank goodness Craig finally saw that it was time for him to leave the company. We gave him a 12-week severance package.”

But Magner didn’t say that, and she and other board members ultimately signed off on a $37.1 million golden parachute for Dubow. And that, the Times said, was on top of $16 million paid to him over the last two years.

Wikipedia’s entry on Dubow noted that the severance package amounts to $50,000 for each of those 700 recently discharged employees.

As the Times’ David Carr points out, Gannett’s Dubow is not the only media chieftain to leave the party with plenty of cash and prizes. There are many other examples of media companies gutting their properties while handing off huge bonuses and golden parachutes to the guys in charge.

That’s the real strategy for a lot of the folks in control. It’s not about making anything, as Carr points out, it’s about lining their own pockets.

Craig Dubow and his ilk deserve your scorn, Mr. Private Sector, not the teacher, or the cop, or the firefighter who live down the street.

***

Last week I reported that a source told me that all members of Dover City Council actually support a ballot initiative that if passed would clear the way for construction of a new high school. Dover City Council, as a governmental body, apparently does not intend to endorse the project.

I was told that during routine canvassing by supporters it was learned that at least one council member is not in favor.

On Facebook, I posted an invitation to all Dover City Council members to go on the record with their views on the proposed project. And as I expected, I received no responses.

***

Most Tasteless Commercial of the Campaign Season Award goes to U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Cleveland, a Democrat, who champions clean air and fights those nasty energy companies. Her commercial features a child in a classroom wearing an oxygen mask and who apparently suffers from asthma. The rest of the class is reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

I don’t know about you, but I have a problem with politicians using afflicted children in political commercials. Talk about air pollution.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Silence from Dover lawmakers not so golden

Originally published in the Tuscarawas County edition of the Bargain Hunter.

One of the more curious aspects of the request of voters by Dover City Schools for a new high school is the deafening silence of Dover City Council and Mayor Richard Homrighausen.

One would think that the town’s leaders would jump on board on a project that, if approved, certainly would speak volumes about the worth of the city well into the future.

Through the grapevine I’m told that City Council members Council President Timothy W. Tarulli, Tony Korns, Don Maurer, Joe Parolini, Greg Bair, Shane Gunnoe, Sandy Moss and Bob Mueller – actually support the Dover bond issue request but have made some sort of secret pact to remain quiet.

If that’s true – and I have no reason to doubt my sources – it underscores the narrow-mindedness rampant in the area that has been fueled by venomous online comments from people who have nothing better to do than make us question the line between free speech and intolerance.

Are Dover City Council members worried about the backlash if they were to actually go on the record supporting the Dover High project? Are they worried about irritating people who otherwise would support their re-election bids? Is this more about adding to their public pension credits than leading the city?

Some history: Representatives of the school district initially went to City Council to discuss the possibility of locating the new high school on land adjacent to Dover Middle School but immediately were rebuffed without a promise of discussion because, well, that land belongs to Dover City Park and apparently is untouchable even for a new school.

There are many advantages to clustering schools, creating a campus-like atmosphere that provides adequate parking and plenty of green space. A good example is the Highland Local School District in Medina County that has located its new high school ($31 million in 2004) on Rt. 94 adjacent to its middle school and one of its elementaries.

I know most of the folks who serve on Dover City Council. They’re good people. But by stepping away from the Dover High initiative, they forfeit the opportunity to be remembered as visionaries. Homrighausen, meanwhile, has voiced support for the project, but that’s about it.

***
I can only imagine that challenger Tony Korns wishes he had a second chance with the questions our local daily newspaper asked him and incumbent Mayor Richard Homrighausen to answer as part of its pre-election coverage.

The paper apparently provided the candidates with questionnaires rather than conduct face-to-face interviews with them. Homrighausen took the opportunity to expound on his accomplishments and initiatives, while 

Korns provided short and sweet answers that didn’t necessarily result in complete sentences.

Here’s an example:

Newspaper: What are the two major issues facing the city in the next four years?
 
Homrighausen: Dealing with all the reductions in income coming back to the city from the State of Ohio that Dover, and all communities across the state, will have to deal with. And the definite possibility that the northern end of the city will grow more rapidly than our projections have planned for.

Korns: Jobs and overall city growth.

OK, the mayor’s grammar might be lacking, but you’d have to give him the nod on that question. It didn’t get much better than that in the follow-up questions. Here’s some free advice to future candidates: To avoid “gotchya” moments like this, hire one of the many former journalists in the area who could help formulate answers that might actually make you look smarter than the incumbent.

To be fair, I think Korns has at least a 2-1 lead over Homrighausen in the yard sign competition.

***
Grand Theft Grandma: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an outright theft of a campaign commercial like the “Vote Yes on Issue 2” people pulled off when they copied and pasted the video image of the “Vote No on Issue 2” great-grandmother into their own commercial.

Certainly the campaign to keep the collective bargaining law could have found its own great-grandmother to use in its commercials. Heck, it found its own former firefighter (Toledo Mayor Mike Bell) and a school teacher (Fairfield County Republican Chairman Kyle Farmer, a wannabe lawmaker).

I actually expected a better advertising campaign from the “Yes on Issue 2” campaign.

OK, here’s a prediction: Issue 2 will be defeated and as a result Senate Bill 5 will be repealed. It’s just plain wrong to go around stealing grandmothers. People don’t like that.

At least that’s what I’m thinking today.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Election coverage should have been yesterday's news


Originally published in the Tuscarawas County edition of the Bargain Hunter.
 
Although the Nov. 8 general election is a little less than a month away, it is now nearly too late for daily newspapers to issue their customary endorsements.

After searching online at several Ohio newspaper sites, I found little evidence of any concerted effort to get the endorsement editorials completed before the start of absentee voting, which now is under way.

Indeed, my wife and I have our ballots in hand and will be casting them this week. We will make our choices devoid of any input from the people who cover the politicos and the issues up front and personal.
It used to be that newspapers would reserve the month of October for their pre-election stories and endorsement editorials. With early voting now in vogue, all of that should be done by Oct. 1. But it appears that the dailies, with their much smaller staffs, are unable or unwilling to change their ways.

One daily, the Tiffin Advertiser-Tribune acknowledged the dilemma in an Oct. 5 editorial.

“The A-T has reported early and often about local candidates and issues on this year's general election ballot,” said the newspaper. “However, our preview articles about library and school levies and some local races for mayor and city council begin in today's edition and will continue through next week.

“Is that soon enough? A referendum on Senate Bill 5 is expected to prompt Ohioans to vote, although there are no races for statewide office this year. We hope voters inspired by state issues to cast ballots this week are not confronted by races and issues with which they are not familiar.”

There’s been a lot of debate over the years about whether newspapers ought to endorse candidates and offer opinions on issues. I’ve always lined up on the side that believes they should because newspapers ought to lead in their communities. Sometimes that means lining up on the losing side. So be it.

I am not so na├»ve to think that newspapers actually swing elections. But like an endorsement from the local union, or Chamber of Commerce, or city council, it provides a viewpoint for voters to consider. 

Unfortunately, it appears newspapers are shying from the process. Perhaps one reason is because they are afraid of alienating the readers who remain loyal subscribers.

And I think that’s an unfortunate development for not only our community, but for our democracy.


***
Given my years in the news business, I am not surprised by the dumb things that come out of people’s mouths. If I had the inclination, I could probably designate a “Dumb Comment of the Week” award every week.

So, last week’s award would have had to go to Hank Williams Jr., who up until he said his dumb thing was just the country singer who starred in the “Monday Night Football” lead-in on ESPN.

“Are you ready for some football?” Williams asked/sang/shouted every week.

Williams, touting a CD featuring songs by his late father, was a guest on the “Fox & Friends” show on the Fox News Network and offered that he was extremely disappointed by this summer’s golf summit that featured President Barrack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

When asked why, Williams responded that it was “one of the biggest political mistakes ever.”
Asked to further explain, he responded, "It would be like Hitler playing golf with (Israeli leader) Benjamin Netanyahu."

He eventually offered that Obama and Biden are the enemy.
ESPN did what it had to do. It fired Williams.

Williams, it was reported on Monday, has responded by adding a verse to “Keep The Change,” a song he wrote after Obama was elected president. Here it is:
So Fox & Friends
Wanna put me down
Ask for my opinion
Then twist it all around
Supposed to be talkin’ about my father’s new CD
Well, two can play that gotcha game, just wait and see
Don’t tread on me!

This country sure as hell been goin’ down the drain
We know what we need
We know who to blame
United Socialist States Of America
Don’t you just love that name?

Perhaps Williams can find a job as a poster child for narrow-mindedness after he accepts the “Dumb Comment” award.

***
One would think that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could answer the question: Is hydraulic fracturing – fracking – safe?

Well, no, it can’t. But Ohioans who are concerned about fracking – there seems to be a growing number of them – will be pleased to know that the EPA should be able to answer that question in a couple of years. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic.)

Fracking is the drilling process that goes vertically down into the deep Marcellus shale and then horizontally. It extracts natural gas and oil by injecting millions of gallons of water under high pressure to the rock surrounding the well bore.

The EPA has a lot of verbiage on its website about hydraulic fracturing, but none of it answers that simple question. It is in the midst of an extensive study on the process and does promise some answers down the road.

So, while we could have a definitive source on the issue, we’ll have instead an intense debate featuring science on both sides and horror stories galore.
Nothing seems to be easy in this country.

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

DHS Plan Years in the Making -- Guest commentary: Jennifer Jones



Editor's note: I defer to Jennifer Jones, who originally wrote this for the Times-Reporter. It's not a conspiracy, folks. Dover needs a new high school. Hopefully, the T-R will see that and ultimately endorse the initiative. -- DF
 
Jennifer Jones's Note:  This is the first in a series of editorials addressing the Dover City Schools’ proposal for a new high school. The purpose is to provide a historical perspective of how the Board of Education has arrived at its decision.  The number one objective is to create an informed, educated citizenry so that this all-important decision is based on factual information and an understanding of this project’s history. Additional information can be found at www.dover-code-red.org.

On Nov. 8, voters in the Dover City School District will make a choice. Before them is a proposal for a new high school, funded through a 33-year bond issue of 6.4 mills and a ½ mill maintenance levy for a combined total of 6.9 mills. 

It is important for the voters to know that the decision to present this choice to the community was not made without close consideration of the conditions at Dover High School; in truth, this process began nearly 12 years ago—not 6 months ago, as many have been led to believe.  The conversation about the future of Dover schools began in 2000 with a group of community members, parents, teachers, and administrators focused on curriculum, instruction, facilities, organization, and school/community relations within the district.

In 2001, upon the recommendation of the community group, the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission (OSFC), along with an unbiased team of architects, engineers, and building designers, was contacted to perform an assessment of Dover’s facilities and to offer input on the buildings’ current state.
In 2002, the OSFC’s proposed plan was vast and unlikely a solution that Dover taxpayers would accept.  This OSFC plan included multiple changes within the district including the demolition of Dover High School.   

Therefore, the Board decided unanimously to present taxpayers a less complex, less costly alternative focusing primarily on the high school.  Thus, in 2002, a 4.8 mill 5-year Permanent Improvement levy that would have generated $5.3 million over 5 years was presented to the taxpayers. 

That levy would have allowed for construction of a 3-story addition as well as a renovation to the 5th Street Wing.  Also included were ongoing improvements that would have been made to boilers at both East and South Elementaries.  This option, which would have cost $147 per year for a homeowner whose home was appraised at $100,000, was defeated by 654 votes.

Knowing the necessity of this levy, the Board in May 2003 again placed the exact same levy before the taxpayers.  It, too, was defeated, this time suffering a loss by 69 votes.  At that time, due to voters’ reluctance to support any renovations to the high school (and coinciding sentiment to “wait for state funding”), the District chose not to pursue the renovation and addition. 

 Instead, an operating levy was placed on the ballot that included the renovation of the boilers at East and South Elementaries—that levy passed in November 2003. 

In the years since 2003, the stability and educational viability of the high school has continued to be debated. Finally, in 2010, the OSFC strongly recommended that the district apply to the Exceptional Needs Program, placing schools with immediate needs to the top of the school funding list.  After five public forum meetings to discuss the building’s condition and with the support of involved community members, the district applied and in May 2011 received notification that Dover High School was ranked #1 in “exceptional needs”; in short, the physical condition of the high school was recognized as one of the worst in Ohio.
 
Because the OSFC Exceptional Needs Program will not fund a project if the projected cost of renovation is at or exceeds 2/3 of the cost of new construction, the district was at a crossroads:  Pay for its own renovation without any state assistance or pursue the construction of a new high school with the state paying $9.5 million. Through a series of public forums and input from staff and the community, the Board of Education determined that accepting the OFSC’s offer of $9.5 million toward the construction of a new high school was the most responsible use of taxpayer money.  When that initiative was approved by the Board, the campaign for a new Dover High School began. 
 
The OSFC constructs new schools based on a formula determined by student enrollment without regard to classroom or extracurricular programming.  In Dover’s situation, enrollment is steadily increasing, and its curriculum exceeds the state minimums. As a result, the OSFC’s minimum requirements were considerably less than what Dover High School currently offers. Thus, the District faced yet another crossroad:  Construct a building that offers less than we have today or build for the needs and expectations of this community?  Once again the District turned to the taxpayers for guidance.  Public meetings continued through Spring 2011 where options were thoroughly discussed.  This group ultimately decided that if the school was going to go forward into the 21st Century, there was no reason to build a school that would fail to meet Dover’s needs in the present or future.

Dover’s taxpayers should recognize that the decision to ask the community to support the construction of a new high school is not spur-of-the-moment.  Rather, it is one that has involved vast input from area citizens, unbiased studies, and economic considerations over a 12-year period.  A decision of this magnitude deserves thorough investigation and study.  The community can be assured that this issue has received due diligence.   

On Nov. 8, we ask voters to vote Yes on Issue 15 and appreciate that it is our school, and it is our choice as to what our educational future holds.

*2000:  Community group begins study of Dover High School
*2001:  Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) conducts assessment
*2002:  OSFC proposes plan for district building renovation
*2002:  Dover Board of Education determines OSFC plan would not be acceptable to taxpayers
*2002:  Levy request for renovation to DHS 5th Street Wing and a 3-story addition is rejected
*2003:  Second levy request for renovation and addition is rejected
*2008    OSFC conducts assessment of Dover High School
*2009:  Community contractors are involved in discussions for high school improvement
*2009:  MKC Associates (area architectural firm) provides a facility improvement review
*2010:  OSFC determines that the high school needs replaced
*2011:  Board of Education conducts six months of communication with staff and community
*2011:  Board of Education is rated by the OSFC “Exceptional Needs Program” as the building most in    
                need of replacement in Ohio
*November 2011:  Voters will make a choice regarding a new Dover High School



Friday, October 7, 2011

TWD - There ought to be a law


This originally appeared in the Tuscarawas County edition of the Bargain Hunter.

It’s probably happened to you.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was southbound on I-77 heading into Tuscarawas County. I was traveling the speed limit – 60 mph -- or maybe a wee bit faster (but not fast enough to warrant the attention of state troopers) when I had to pull into the left lane to pass a slow-moving SUV, which was drifting precariously over the line that defines the lanes.

Being the defensive driver I am, I passed the SUV when it clearly was back into the right lane. Naturally, I gave the driver a look-see.

The driver, a young woman, was looking at her cell phone, a flip model which was opened to expose the keypad.

She was texting.

OK, I’m not one who believes there ought to be a law so every wrong in this world can be fixed. I think Prohibition is the No. 1 example of a law – in this case an amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- that offered numerous unintended consequences (and a nod to Ken Burns for underscoring that fact in his latest history lesson on PBS) before it was finally repealed.

But in the case of texting and driving? Well, there ought to be a law. And soon.
In June, the Ohio House passed a bill that bans texting while driving. A Senate committee is conducting hearings on the issue and I assume we’ll get the law at some point, but what the heck is taking so long?

Only lives on the highway – including the young woman’s in the SUV -- are at stake. Oh, yeah – and the lives of us who have to share the road with Miss Texter.

Funny how the Legislature took on the issue of collective bargaining and had that long-standing law rewritten and a new bill passed within three months of John Kasich taking office as governor.

Meanwhile, 34 states already have banned texting and driving.

Note to Ohio’s Legislature: Find one of those 34 laws on the Internet and then copy and paste it under Ohio’s letterhead. Vote on it. It’s so simple.

***
I hate to keep picking on the Legislature, but it is an easy mark. House Bill 136 would expand the previously urban-centric voucher program to students in all 613 public school districts. The voucher program, which provides money to students to attend private schools in urban areas, subtracts that same amount of money from the district to which the student belongs.

So, under the new proposal, a New Philadelphia kid who attends a private school would penalize New Philadelphia Public Schools in the amount of $5,783. That’s a lot of money to a district that size.
Needless to say, local school superintendents are against the idea.
State Rep. Al Landis, R-Dover, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

I know I’m being redundant, but the problem in public education in this state is not in the districts that are in Tuscarawas or Holmes counties. It’s in the big six urban districts – Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton and Youngstown.

Kasich and Landis need to remember that as they attempt to answer the school funding question. Perhaps that includes breaking them into smaller districts.

In Cleveland’s case, for example, how does one go about effectively managing a district comprised of more than 50,000 students?
***
Facebook can be a humbling experience.

I posted the announcement detailing a candidate debate sponsored by the Dover Exchange Club and scheduled for last Tuesday night. I asked my Facebook friends – I have a few – what questions they would like to ask, figuring I’d get at least a few responses.

I got none.

Meanwhile, the woman who posted, “I got up this morning and ate a doughnut,” gets a dozen “likes” and a half-dozen comments.

I must be doing something wrong. Or voters really are apathetic.

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