Saturday, January 5, 2013

Our top story picks say something about us (I think)

I see in the newspaper that the top local story in Tuscarawas County in 2012 was the “Great Sinkhole near Dover” (my quotation marks) as voted on by readers of that particular publication.

I think that’s pretty telling of the kind of year it was here in east-central Ohio, or of the mindset of our local citizenry.

I mean, what about the 100-degree summer days that we had? Or the election that wouldn’t end? Or all the oil and gas money pouring into town? Or the reopening of Atwood Lodge and Conference Center? Or, or, or…

Nope. The most important story – Numero Uno -- is the big hole that occurred in a mined sand-and-gravel pit which closed a rather obscure state route, and swallowed nothing other than asphalt. I mean no one got hurt and it’s going to get fixed as soon as the weather turns.

One might think that the sinkhole vote is a sad commentary on the state of our consciousness. But in Grand Forks, North Dakota (one of the coldest places on Earth in January), the top story was a review of a new Olive Garden restaurant opening by longtime Grand Forks Herald columnist Marilyn Hagerty.

According to the Herald, “The story of her review and its unexpected fame is the Herald’s top story of 2012. With nearly 1.3 million views to date, it is the most-read article in’s history.”

Hagerty is 86 and writes a column called Eatbeat. Over the years, Hagerty has reviewed just about every restaurant in town, including fast food outlets. So, it was a natural she would review the upscale Olive Garden. Well, people around the globe thought a review of an Olive Garden was funny, or silly, or something, which drove Internet traffic to the Herald’s website.

Let’s see if we have this straight: The Herald, which did not ask for a vote of its readers, named its story of her review and the fame it brought her (and the newspaper) as the top story of the year. Yes, that’s right. The paper went narcissistic, creating news and then deeming its news to be the most important.

I’m thinking maybe Mainstream Media does have a problem.

And now I don’t feel so badly about our sinkhole or the people who voted it No. 1. 

Perhaps we should turn it into a temporary tourist attraction.

One of unintended consequences of reform of the State Teachers Retirement System is that it will cost school districts some terrific educators.

I know of at least two Dover educators, Mike Gunther and Beth Franz, who are opting for retirement at the end of this school year primarily because of those STRS changes. 

Gunther, a language arts teacher and coach at Dover High, and Franz, a high school guidance counselor, are among the best. Their reputations among fellow educators as well as among students and parents are stellar.

My guess is that others like Gunther and Franz at all of our school districts will choose retirement now rather than face negative financial considerations by continuing to work. I know I would if I were in their positions.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, some of the changes to the state public pension systems include “increased contributions for some employees; increased retirement eligibility ages and new rules for cost-of-living increases. Some of the changes take effect in January, while others are phased in over the next few years.”

The PD reported that cities and villages also are reporting an increase in the number of retirements from veteran administrators.

The situation also puts the onus on those who do the hiring to have some kind of policy in place on what jobs should or should not be filled with retirees, a practice that the public absolutely hates but one that arguably saves school districts and other government entities money because no pension contributions are required for those rehired employees.

Follow Dick Farrell on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).

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