Saturday, April 21, 2012

What's behind proposal to eliminate coroners?

There is a movement in Columbus to allow county commissioners to do away with their elected county coroners and instead contract with one or more counties for associated services.

Apparently this is a tip-of-the-iceberg type thing because there is a general feeling down there, we’re told by local media, that it would be more cost-efficient to do away with a host of elected officials and certain levels of government.

Perhaps that feeling grew from what Cuyahoga County voters did a couple of years ago in the wake of widespread corruption in county government caused at least partially by dumbbell voters who weren’t paying attention.

Rather than employ three elected commissioners, Cuyahoga voters now elect a county executive who oversees most aspects of county government. He is more or less the emperor of Cuyahoga County and all employees answer to him.

House Bill 445, introduced in February, would allow the elimination of county coroners.

Dr. James Hubert, who serves in the dual role of Tuscarawas County coroner and health commissioner, thinks it is bad legislation but not because it targets small-county coroners like him.

“This is about home rule and the privilege of local residents to choose their elected personnel,” he told The Times-Reporter. “It will, in time, eliminate local control and provide regionalization from larger communities or the state, which increases big government.”

If passed, the bill would allow the county commissioners to eliminate the coroner’s elected position just by contracting with another county.

Next up? How about the county auditor? Let’s get rid of him. Or the sheriff? Who needs him?
Hubert told me his disdain for the bill comes not from his need for a coroner’s salary, which is $41,000 annually.

“It chips away at our ability to govern ourselves,” he said.

I don’t buy into the saving money argument either. Look no further than Dover’s contract with a consulting engineer to understand that such outside deals can be very costly.

I contend that Ohio’s smaller counties, such as Tuscarawas, Holmes and Carroll, are fairly cost efficient when it comes to providing services to its citizens. I like the fact that we elect our coroner, our sheriff and the host of other officials. If nothing else, they provide a check and balance over each other.

As for our townships, well, you probably know at least one of the trustees because he or she is likely a neighbor. It is grassroots government. And for my money, it works a lot better than corrupt big city/county politics.

So, let your state representative and state senator know that this is a piece of legislation that should be discarded. And while you’re at it, ask them if they’re ever going to ban texting and driving.

A reader disagrees and Dr. Hubert responds.

A couple of weeks ago, we learned of a major retail development on the old Ohio Department of Transportation site on W. High Ave. in New Philadelphia. Kathy Pietro and Bob Martinelli purchased the site for $750,000 and plan on developing a hotel and restaurant complex.

Last week, we learned that Dover also is due for a dab of retail development – a new service station/convenience store on the site of the old Anderson Medical building on Ohio Ave. near the new north Dover-I-77 interchange. The store also will include a Subway fast food outlet and represents the first retail addition since the opening of the interchange in 2010.

I hope Dover regulates signage in the area so that future development doesn’t damage the aesthetics, which right now is clean and unobstructed. ODOT has done a nice job with its courtesy signs on the interstate highways that provide travelers with advance information of what’s available at the next interchange. There is no need for skyscraper signage.

Some time ago, there were rumors that Cracker Barrel wanted to build a restaurant in the Dover area so perhaps now might be the time to think about adding one at the new interchange. Or perhaps one of our own Amish restaurants could take up residence in the area. Call it Dutch Valley East.

The fact that we’re finally talking about retail development in the wake of the Great Recession, which all but killed such thoughts, really is good news.

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Skeptical of current conventional wisdom

Journalists are taught to be skeptical, so maybe that’s where I get it.

I am always skeptical of those Internet stories that Aunt Martha sends right after she watches Fox News for 12 hours.

And when a politician promises change, I am skeptical of that, too.

“If your mother says she loves you, check it out,” every new generation of reporters is told.

So, in the run-up to the Great Oil and Gas Boom in Tuscarawas, Carroll and Harrison counties, here’s what we’ve been told:

–The water’s going to be contaminated.

–The energy companies are only concerned with selling OUR natural resources to China.

–Trucks are going to run roughshod over the roads.

–Landlords are going to make a fortune by charging oil and gas workers exorbitant rents and therefore forcing our poorer renters into the streets.

–The energy boom will result in a home building boom.

–Hotels will be full all the time, leaving no rooms for tourists.

–Bars will be full of drunken oil and gas workers and cause mayhem in the streets late at night.

–Energy companies will be building many huge facilities to accommodate the energy extracted from the ground and will employ thousands.

I’m not sure what exactly the truth is, but I believe we’ll have to be patient, keep our options open and remember that we are in charge of our destiny.

Ultimately, I hope the oil and gas-drilling boom provides more opportunities for our young people. Already, Kent State-Tuscarawas is preparing curriculum tracks that might help graduates enter the field. And that might help keep some of our best and brightest here.

So, while I’m skeptical, I’m also hopeful for a period of prosperity, the likes of which we haven’t seen in awhile.

The Carroll County commissioners have contracted with Radius Hospitality Group of Canton to operate the Atwood Lake Resort and Conference Center, which has been closed for the last year and a half.

Radius operates the Holiday Inn in Canton and a number of other hotels or conference centers.

Radius says it plans to renovate the hotel, add an indoor water park and improve the golf course by relocating some holes.

The news story contained no financing information, but one can assume that we’re talking millions of dollars.

I will withhold offering an opinion until the financing details become available. If they don’t become available, then color me skeptical.

If the developer husband-wife team of Kathy Pietro and Bob Martinelli says it’s going to happen, well, it usually does.

The Pietro-Martinelli team acquired the former Ohio Department of Transportation site on W. High Ave. in New Philadelphia for $750,000 and plans on building restaurants and hotels on its 7.8 acres.

Pietro is the broker/owner of Experts Realty, while Martinelli owns and operates R.E.M. Construction.

The Great Recession has not been kind to people like Pietro and Martinelli, and I’m glad to hear they’ll be involved in redeveloping what has been an awful-looking parcel of land for some time.

Actually, all of W. High is awful looking. Can we fix that? Maybe get rid of all the overhead signs, utilizing environmentally friendly low-profile signs…?

That’s too much to ask, isn’t it?

Hopefully, we’re getting over the lull in retail development, which has been nearly non-existent since the recession hit in 2008. There are still retail properties – some never before occupied – that could use tenants.

And while I’m at it, this area could use a legitimate big city bistro with garage door walls that open into fresh air, with sprawling patios and flat screens overhead and decent food on the menu…

OK, then, how about an (gulp) Olive Garden?

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Media math: Online plus print equals really bad news

Over the last few years, traditional media has been dealt a tough hand because of the Internet and then because of the Great Recession.

Daily newspapers have suffered the most. Advertising is down – scary down – and if you really pay attention to what they’re doing, you can feel the terror in the corporate board room.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reported that the state of daily newspapers in 2012 is bleak. Well, we kind of knew that, but the numbers really underscore just how bad it is.

The current strategy is to move resources to the digital side of things, rather than continue to operate as if the print side will come back. You’ll see that strategy played out on corporate websites where the digital initiatives get all the ink and newspaper holdings get little or none.

“If this transformation (to digital) were going well, one would expect the new revenues to get closer each year to replacing ad revenues lost in print,” said Pew. “In 2011, according to Newspaper Association of America statistics, online advertising was up $207 million industry-wide compared to 2010. Print advertising, though, was down $2.1 billion. So the print losses were greater than the digital gains by 10 to 1.”

A couple of things struck me last weekend.

My daughter and her husband, both under age 40, are subscribers to the Cleveland Plain Dealer and during visits to their home I get a chance to wrap my hands around the paper I’ve been reading since I was a kid. In last Saturday’s PD, there seemed to be plenty of automobile dealer advertising, but little else in the form of true revenue streams.

The real estate tabloid inside it was a dozen or so pages. If it was your only source of real estate information, you couldn’t actually peruse the available properties in your community or look for new housing to buy or rent. It forces you to head to another source, which is more than likely to be Trulia, or, or Zillow on the Internet. Does anyone not go to the Internet to buy a home today?

So, what happens to the PD, I thought, when the loyal automobile dealers flee for the greener pastures of the Internet? I’ll answer that: Less revenue, more layoffs and tighter, smaller papers. Keep an eye on those dealers.

Meanwhile, in Columbus, Dispatch Editor Ben Marrison explained to readers in his column that the size of the newspaper will be trimmed in the fall and that focus groups seemed to like the change.

“Each page is about a third shorter,” he said.

He explained in detail how the Dispatch would be better with its redesign.

“Those who loved the size mentioned how much easier it is to hold, how its pages won’t flop onto their breakfast partner’s cereal bowl and how their arms won’t get as tired holding up the paper,” Marrison wrote.
“Those who were concerned about finding less news and information inside quickly realized that it was all there, because we added pages and new sections to compensate for the smaller page size.”

Marrison neglected to mention that the overriding reason to trim length from newspaper pages is to save money because newsprint is a newspaper’s No. 1 expense after salaries and benefits.

But, no, the Dispatch is changing the size of the newspaper so readers’ arms won’t get tired holding it up. Remember that one the next time you hear someone in the daily newspaper business tell you everything is hunky-dory.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned in my commentary that my favorite Cleveland Indians player has been and always will be Rocky Colavito. A few days later I received in the mail a baseball card from an anonymous source who is more than likely a Bargain Hunter reader.

The card features a photo of Colavito making a one-handed catch in front of an outfield wall. “Colavito’s Great Catch Saves Game,” says the headline on the card.

Research reveals the card was issued by Topps in 1959 (No. 462). Similar cards are going for about $10 on eBay, but it’s worth a million bucks to me. Thanks, dear reader, whoever you are.

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'Obamacare' easy target of scorn in doctors' offices

I think my sister’s doctor is blowing smoke.

My 71-year-old Medicare-covered sister needed a certain medical procedure recently that would reveal whether she was on the mend or not.

Her doctor was ready to order the procedure but came back with something like this: “Under Obamacare, I can’t order that procedure in situations like yours.”

So, following her doctor’s lead my sister then informs me that it’s President Barack Obama’s fault that she was denied this particular procedure and asks me to guess the candidate who’s not getting her vote.


OK, she wasn’t going to vote for Obama anyway, but that’s beside the point, which is that some doctors are doing their part to paint the president as the grim reaper. In the aftermath of my conversation with my sister, I spent considerable time trying to find evidence that the Affordable Care Act of 2010 actually has had an impact on specific Medicare treatment guidelines. I couldn’t find any.

I related my sister’s story to a doctor I know very well and whose practice includes patients covered by Medicare. He said it sounded as though my sister’s doctor didn’t want to jump through the current Medicare hoops to get the procedure done. Those are hoops that have been in place since – I don’t know – Ronald Reagan?

And therein lies the problem with Medicare.

Current Medicare guidelines are overwhelming and doctors aren’t covering their costs when Medicare reimburses. And the fear is that that problem will only get worse. Given the choice, most doctors and hospitals would choose treating someone with traditional, comprehensive medical insurance coverage over someone covered by Medicare and its supplements.

The Affordable Care Act, which is so wide ranging and has so many unknowns attached to it, scares the heck out of physicians (and other health care providers) because it potentially could further reduce their operating margins.

If you want some credible sources – and I won’t promise you’ll be any smarter after immersing yourself in the details – check out (the government’s website dedicated to the Affordable Care Act); (New England Journal of Medicine; search “Affordable Care Act”); and WebMD (search “Affordable Care Act”).

In light of all this, I hope the nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court do become experts on the law and can consider today’s challenge of caring for the health needs of 300 million people with the founding fathers’ intention of how deeply the federal government should touch our lives.

The Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – is now on trial. We’ll see…

For what it’s worth, I declare Republican Josh Mandel to be an arrogant twit. Mandel, Ohio’s treasurer, is running against Sherrod Brown, who’s making a bid for re-election as U.S. senator.

Mandel has maintained that Brown is responsible for Ohio losing jobs to China. PolitiFact Ohio found no evidence to support that claim and gave Mandel a “pants on fire” rating.

When asked for examples by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Mandel couldn’t come up with any.

“If that’s the level of specificity you’re looking for, you’re the reporters – you go do the grunt work,” he said. “Any reporter who doesn’t believe Sherrod Brown is responsible for jobs going to China is simply out of touch.”

Mandel has indicated he will continue to make the claim regardless of, well, the truth. And that forces me to honor him with my “arrogant twit” award.

OK, I just came up with this award, but I think it’s a good one and I plan on giving it periodically during this crazy election year. Careful, Newt.

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