Friday, August 31, 2007

Finley/Plusquellic interviews to air at 8:30 p.m. TONIGHT

My one-on-one interviews with Mayor Plusquellic and Challenger Joe Finley will air at 8:30 p.m. tonight (Friday) on PBS 45/49. The half-hour show was originally set to air at 9 p.m. in lieu of NewsNight Akron. Instead, we will air a fresh NNA at 9 p.m. so the mayoral race preview show will air 30 minutes earlier. (UPDATE: If you missed the broadcast, you can watch it on-demand CLICK HERE after 10 p.m. on Friday)

I can tell you that the interviews with Finley and Plusquellic are straight-forward so that viewers can hear their thoughts on jobs, the economy, and other political topics in their entirety and not as soundbites. The candidates chose the locations but I chose the questions; the interview time goes by pretty fast.

One sidebar to pass along that ended up on the cutting room floor. In the middle of the interview with Finley, the nice, elderly woman whose home we were using for the interview walked right in front of the camera to offer Joe some coffee. He told her we were taping and that he'd take some after the cameras were off. She then turned to offer me a cup of java too. Anyway, if it seems there's a hard edit in the middle of JF's interview, just know that we didn't cut out anything of importance.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

23 NewsDay .. Where are they now?

I'm constantly asked, "whatever happened to such-and-such on the old 23news?" I figured it was time to give folks somewhere to turn to get those answers.

For the record, WAKC-TV (formerly WAKR-TV) was an ABC affiliate in Akron from the early 1950's through 1996. Eventually, a sale of the station lead to owners who dumped the network connection and the news department with it.

To that end .. I've added a separate blog dedicated to Akron TV News with individual page links to some of the "old" 23 news folks. I'll maintain links to the "old timers" here on my blog so you can easily find them (hopefully Google will cooperate too!)

I've contacted as many as I can find to tell them about the project and to let them update their own info on those pages. For example, if you click on "Phil Hoffman", you'll see he's already blogging about how he moved away from TV news and into education.

I'll try to add a few more links each week, so if there's a former 23 alumnus you'd really like to find, let me know and I'll do my best to get some info posted.

Mark Williamson tells me he might upload some old blooper reels, and Jim Kambrich is planning a "hello" tape too. So I hope to have some video links for you soon. This could end up being really, really fun.

Enjoy .. Eric

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Remembering Katrina

I had planned to blog today on my tour of duty with the military in response to Hurricane Katrina two years ago. Instead, asked me to write my thoughts for them and add some of my digital photos. Read here if you like.

Getting to know you .... sing it with me now!

TV3 director Frank Macek was nice enough to interview me for this week's "Get to know Team 3" feature. I didn't realize how long some of my answers were until I saw them in print. If you'd like to read it, click here.

I wrote about Frank last week and have a regular link to his blog on the right. It's a worthwhile stop along your cyber surfing days.

Just so you know, I've never seen that picture of me on Frank's site. I don't usually look that serious except in promotion photos.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Street walking ....

I wandered across the street from our office tonight to watch a few minutes of a local anti-war rally outside the Federal Courthouse. The folks at sponsored the rally, just as they have similar gatherings over the years.

The event was actually winding down as I crossed Main Street. I took a spot on the far side, away from most of the crowd, but still close enough to hear the speakers and follow what was happening. At 6'3" and 220 pounds, I'm hard to miss, and I don't try to hide.

At least a dozen people made eye contact with me, but none approached. Even as I wandered around the gathering and along the lines of people (probably 75 in all) down Market Street reading their signs and seeing who was in the crowd, no one so much as said hello.

Was I there as a reporter? A veteran? Was I upset or did I support what they were doing?

I just don't think they knew what to say because they just didn't know how to take me.

In those 10 minutes I was standing near the rally, I never felt more like a ghost. It's surreal enough to watch a candlelight vigil talking about a war zone where I was deployed, but it was just as odd to see the blank stares people had who made eye contact with me.

Don't take me wrong, I'm not mad, and I don't feel slighted. I wasn't participating in the rally, I was just trying to observe for a little bit. Still, as much as the public usually approaches me daily to comment on TV or to say "welcome home" or "thank you for your service," it was unusual to see the folks at the rally speechless as I smiled and said hello. I'd like to believe that folks were just giving me space to take it all in, and for that I thank them.

I saw older folks with "peace" written across their foreheads, and I saw teens sporting military helmets with signs about bringing the troops home. I saw mass-produced cutouts with "wrong way" road signs aimed at the war in Iraq.

The only person to approach me handed me a copy of a news article titled, "To save America, we need another 9/11." I thanked him and took it to read later.

For what it's worth, I can talk to anyone about the war .. regardless of whether they support or object to our country's involvement. Good dialogue is always positive.

However, what most folks don't realize is that while veterans do care about whether the public is for or against the war, they're more concerned that people actually give a damn. That people actually take the time to be informed and do something versus just saying something.

To that end, I applaud the folks who came out tonight because at least they took a stand. At least they cared enough to get off the couch on a beautiful summer evening and tackle a very emotional topic. At least they were willing to put their words into action.

It's apathy that's really a slap in the face to those who sacrifice and serve. It's apathy that makes many veterans just want to scream and shout. It's caring more about the surge in reality TV than the surge in Iraq that makes me wonder why the heck so many of us spent a year or more in danger.

If nothing else, just give a damn.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Akron Mayoral Debate a feast of fact versus fiction

I can honestly say that the Akron Mayoral debate between Don Plusquellic and Joe Finley won't make anyone forget Kennedy-Nixon, but it did provide some insight into the duo's ideas and some folly.

11:40 a.m. The parking lot at the Martin Center is packed. As I find a spot in an adjacent lot, I realize that seats will be at a premium but that's a good thing too. Nice to see folks are interested in the race. I see several members of Plusquellic's cabinet walking towards the door; I'm wondering how many folks Finley will bring as a cheering section.

11:55 a.m. I find a seat in the back with Jody Miller and Ed Esposito -- my tag-team partners from NewsNight Akron .. and with Jeanne Weiss, a nice lady who raised four sons on North Hill and who came today to see for herself what the candidates have to say.

Noon Joe Finley is eating with his wife and 8 of his 9 kids. Mayor Plusquellic is shaking hands. Abe Zaiden signals both to come forward for the coin toss. I can't hear what's going on, but I'm told that the two actually argued over what the toss would actually dictate. Later, our newsroom videographer Carl Bachtel says that Finley asked him where he was supposed to sit on the stage.

12:14 p.m. I see numerous community leaders looking at their watches wondering if the event will start any time soon. They all have that look of "I need to be out of here by 1 to get to a meeting." Jody Miller points out a young candidate for another local Mayor's post whose standing near the back of the room. I realize that most if not all of the county and city leaders are all in one room. Sure hope nothing bad happens to this place or a dog catcher could end up taking the oath of office.

12:15 p.m. We hear the opening music of the Time Warner Cable broadcast signalling the start of the program. Most of the 200+ in the room are chewing on their ice because their water glasses weren't refilled before the start of the one-hour debate.

12:16 p.m. Plusquellic's opening remarks are all on the high road. Leadership, results, vision, and honesty. He's talking about how national magazines love Akron. This seems very Plusquellic-esque, and while it was probably written by one of two speech writers, he's obviously rehearsed it several times .. even if just to himself.

12:19 p.m. Finley uses his opening remarks to recognize his family, to include four of his children in their military uniforms. He talks about his faith, his service in Vietnam, and his time as a ward 2 candidate. OK, he just said that "people are voting with their feet" and that's why Akron has lost 1,000 residents per year in the census. Is he blaming the mayor for people moving out? He's hitting his talking points in groups of three. For example, he says Akron is deficient in taxes, vacant homes, and crime. His opening remarks don't sound the way Finley speaks. The more he reads and glances down at his papers, the more I think his opening statement was written by someone else. Not a surprise, but not a perceived strength of Finley's either. His speech ends with big applause from the two tables of Finley supporters who are seated closer to Plusquellic than Finley.

First Question: The City's relationship with the University of Akron.

12:22 p.m. Plusquellic says that city hall used to see the U of A as a place that ate up taxable land and brought "beer-guzzling" students to town. (at this moment, I wonder if his close city hall confidants are biting their lips fearing what could come next). Plusquellic says that's still partially right today but that the U of A remains a key player in jobs and job training. Now, the Mayor is playing up the "honesty" theme again, jabbing at whether Finley's campaign statements have been truthful. Plusquellic points out other community leaders in the room and discusses deals brokered with them even during disagreements.

12:27 p.m. I can tell Finley is salivating to bite back on the beer guzzling joke. OK, there he goes. He says he doesn't like our students characterized that way and transitions into how downtown should morph to make Akron a college town. He sees bringing the students to spend their money downtown as a way to get back part of the city's investment in the U of A. He goes on to bring up the budget; he says the city is broke and it's Plusquellic's fault for pushing too much credit. He's quoting JFK and says Plusquellic's 15 cabinet members are nearly twice the eight positions that were there when he started in office and more than the Mayor of New York City. I expect Plusquellic to fight back on this point but he never does.

Second question: Budget and cuts ..

12:35 p.m. Plusquellic fires away on the city budget. He says the city's bond rating is good, and that city hall has been fiscally responsible. He points to having to cut 800 positions from 30 years ago and how tough that's been. Plusquellic says it's "beyond belief" that Finley is FOR keeping Goodyear but AGAINST the need to take the homes of some folks to make room for new Goodyear buildings.

12:42 p.m. Plusquellic references his 80-year-old mother in the audience and says he'd like to be able to tell her that Rubber Companies are coming back to town but he doesn't want to mislead her. It's an obvious jab at Finley, hinting that Finley's telling voters what they want to hear and not the truth.

12:47 p.m. Finley is really on the offensive now. He calls Plusquellic's tenure an "embarrassment" when it comes to protecting homes from foreclosure. He suggests that city hall be a place folks can come to get to get mortgage advice. He says the experts in the law department should be able to provide guidance to folks for free. Wow! Wouldn't that be nice! That sounds like a great idea, but I checked with the city and I'm told that it would be illegal for city lawyers to give private advice on mortgages.

12:49 p.m. I wonder aloud, "how can I guy with nine kids possibly have enough time to be mayor of a major city?" Would he ever have time to even have dinner with these kids of his ever again?

12:50 p.m. OH NO HE DIDN'T! Finley just called Plusquellic on the carpet for calling people "wackos" and "liars". He also called the Mayor out for his parking lot attendant saga and claims he's alienating the neighbors. Ahhhhhhhh .. and just when a few folks were falling asleep.

12:51 p.m. I see Mayor Plusquellic writing a few notes. In fact, he has been taking notes during a vast majority of Finley's speaking moments whereas Finley tends to watch Plusquellic intently and just respond off the cuff.

12:53 p.m. OH NO HE DIDN'T! Plusquellic actually mentioned his relationship with Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Robart in SUPPORT of his role as Mayor of Akron. WOW! Plusquellic and Robart wouldn't follow one another out of a burning building -- that's what they think of one another as leaders. Plusquellic says that the recent water and hydrant deal between Cuyahoga Falls and Akron shows that he can work with people with whom he disagrees.

12:56 p.m. Mayor Plusquellic has now mentioned the Plain Dealer twice but not the ABJ. He's citing several PD articles that show Akron's financial stability as a good place to work and live.

1 p.m. Finley just held up a CD claiming that it contains a conversation in which Plusquellic threatens to fire members of the Akron Building Department. He says copies are available to the media and that it shows Plusquellic if off the reservation when it comes to bullying employees. Is this his smoking gun? hmmmmm. This seems quite staged but we'll have to take a listen and see what's there.

1:04 p.m. Plusquellic says he's not apologizing for handing building inspectors -- or any employee for that matter -- their butts if they're not living up to expectations to serve the community. Not sure if Plusquellic knew Finley was going to play Vanna White with the CD or not, but his answers are aimed right back in Finley's vowels.

1:06 p.m. Joe Finley says he's not against tearing houses down for Goodyear, but he is against doing it for the proposed BassPro Shop. Not sure you can separate the two projects, but Finley is making the distinction. He's also admitting that he misquoted job numbers from a training program he now wants to see come back.

1:12 p.m. The Time Warner Cable photographers are frantically signalling that we have one minute left in the taping. I doubt that either candidate will get to make a closing statement .. and I'm right. Finley quickly predicts a turnout of 12,000 voters for the primary. That's it! Abe Zaiden signed off the show.

OK .. taking it all in .. I'm not sure either candidate made any significant headway here. It felt like a rock-em/sock-em robots fight. Finley swinging big and broad trying to go for a knockout and Plusquellic just plugging away with body blows.

On the way out, I see fellow blogger Pho and wonder how he'll blog this one.

Back at the office, I take a look at the CD Finley handed out. It's a 12-minute conversation and sounds like it came from a recorder in someone's pocket. A Finley handout claims that five other city employees plus "other building inspectors" were there to witness the conversation on March 28, 2007. There's no way I will have time to contact all of those people to verify the validity of this tape before we go on the air. To broadcast it as "genuine" without checking it further is questionable. For that matter, Plusquellic doesn't deny making the statements so it may not be a big point of contention.

Some of you might disagree, but to air a tape without verifying who is there is a tough call. We'll see if those on the tape call me back in the coming days. Then again, it might be a mute point.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Betty Sutton, Dick Goddard, and my fellow veterans

I enjoyed quite the experience yesterday as emcee of the groundbreaking for the Ohio Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park in Clinton. There ceremony went a bit long, but the strong showing of veterans and their families is a strong indication of how overdue this project really is.

I was positioned on the stage between Dick Goddard and Congresswoman Betty Sutton. What a neat place to be -- sitting between two folks whom others look to to make their futures brighter.

Goddard is truly a charismatic gentleman. Clearly the dean of local broadcasters, he's so personable you'd think you were old friends by the time the conversation ends. He looks good in his Air Force uniform from his tour of duty during the Korean conflict. He likes to tell the audience of how the military sent him to Greenland of all places ... "but I must have done a good job," Goddard told the audience, "because not one North Korean made it to Greenland during my tour."

On stage, we shared quiet jokes about how long the service was going and whether the dark clouds would shower us. Goddard told me, "we'll be just fine because it only rains on sinners." I stole his line when I went to the microphone and got a big laugh.

To my left sat freshman Congresswoman Betty Sutton. What strikes me about Sutton is her genuine reverence for the position she now holds. I get the impression that she truly recognizes the responsibility she has to represent the area on the nation's biggest stage while trying to stay "connected" to the people who put her there.

Sutton told me that her niece is a member of the Ohio National Guard and will likely deploy soon. (I can't help but feel that those elected representatives with a personal connection to the war will make better decisions about how to proceed.) Sutton told me that she hadn't been able to visit Iraq yet but hopes to make a trip if it can be arranged. I also appreciated her candor when she told the veterans that while a new health care bill passed by the House does provide additional funds to veterans, it still isn't enough. Honesty goes a long way with military folks.

I also noticed how composed Sutton and fellow Congressman Ralph Regula stayed when a few fireballs got lobbed from the stage. Goddard told the crowd that we should "spay and neuter the current administration that got us into Iraq." Later, a former Marine who leads a veterans group told the crowd that our elected leaders in Washington haven't made good on their promises and that many can't be trusted.

Still, my best experience was getting to share moments with veterans of another era and from different wars but who seem to truly empathize with today's Iraq veterans. To me, I felt like I was meeting men as old as my father and grandfather but who feel more like my brothers.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Political Odds and Ends

I'm looking forward to Monday's mayoral debate. I'm interested to see how Joe Finley tries to push Mayor Plusquellic's buttons to create a firestorm. Certainly, DP can heat up quickly, but he knows that JF's plan is to ignite an inferno. I would expect Finley to direct some of his comments directly at the Mayor instead of the panel. I doubt it will work because the Mayor is keen to Finley's tactics. Still, the feud will be worth the price of admission, especially if Plusquellic hands Finley his head in the first few minutes or if Finley actually cracks Don's armor.

A tip of the hat to both Pho's Akron Pages and Ed Esposito who each pen a good review of the high and low points of the Arshinkoff-Coughlin rising storm. Certainly worth your reading time. For many non-politico experts, it's a tough fight to follow because the players aren't always in front of the cameras. Still, the long-term implications of the coming months will have ripple effects across the area for some time to come.

A few tricks of the Akron News trade ..

Here's a few things that I use everyday that you might enjoy taking a peek at:

The government maintains a website of all railroad crossings that shows a picture from all four directions of every single crossing out there. You can't find this site on google because it doesn't exist. But if you ever wanted to check a RR crossing near you to see if it has crossbucks and/or lights, this will do it. Check it out. I could tell you how I found this government site, but then I'd have to kill you :)

Here's a website that combines the court records of BOTH the municipal and county common please courts in Summit County. It's a nice resource because you can research someone's civil and criminal history all in one place.

While the NE Ohio media certainly include major stories coming out of Columbus, the Statehouse News site is usually a day or two ahead of the rest of us.

Here's a quick reference to every casualty from the Iraq war. Again, it's not one you'll usually find through google, but it's a good way to keep the numbers straight and which service member was from which hometown.

We're often tracking down attorneys who represent some of the folks shown in our stories. This attorney website allows us to get info on the lawyers themselves before we agree to interviews.

The hilarious side of TV news as spoofed by the guys at Newsbreakers.

Happy surfing .. Eric

Thursday, August 23, 2007

'Orange' you gonna invite me in?

OK . .the following story is true .. or at least my executive producer says it's true .. or at least he's basing his true story on the stranger at the door to the newsroom today who at least looked like he was telling a true story .. ok, got it?

So this stranger comes to our newsroom to complain about unfair treatment. He claims that he was told to leave -- make that he was forced out of -- the main library downtown because other patrons weren't happy with his attire.

He was wearing all orange. An orange top and bottoms. Nice, comfy, loose-fitting jammie types. Kind of like hospital scrubs. My producer called them "Dickies."

Can you guess why the other patrons were uncomfortable? They apparently felt he looked too much like an inmate from the county jail.

Mr. Carrot Clothes says that eventually two Akron Police officers approached him and told him he had to leave the library, which he did in protest.

The man says he's going to file a complaint with APD, so we'll have to see where that goes. We'll also have to see if there's more to his story than just "I was sitting there minding my own business when I got tossed out!" Was he causing problems? Were there other 'issues'?

Still, it's an odd picture to paint when someone who isn't doing anything wrong faces discrimination-- again, that's assuming that the guy at our office who talked to the guy on the street who got tossed by the guys at the library is telling the truth ... got it guys?

Maybe the guy just should have said he was going hunting ???

Bobby Cutts ground rules claim lots of trees

Court officers killed a lot of trees today notifying the media of the ground rules for covering Bobby Cutts in court, beginning tomorrow. Cutts was indicted today on murder charges that carry a possible death penalty.

For starters, Cutts will be arraigned Friday morning at 10 a.m. in a special hearing at the County Jail. Usually, inmates are arraigned at the courthouse, but with the media crush, court leaders asked for special permission to use a conference room at the jail for the formalities.

This afternoon, court officials faxed our newsroom an 18 pages of "do's" and "don'ts" for the media to follow when covering Cutts and co-defendant Myesha Ferrell. Considering the prosecutor's cover page contains 55 media contacts (including five each from WAKR and WEWS-TV), that's 55 times 18 for a whopping 990 pages that roared out of fax machines today. Couldn't someone have saved a few trees and some ink and just put all these rules on the web? Maybe just fax out a one-page note with a link?

Among the rules set for the by the court are the obvious ones: stay in the assigned areas, don't bring any weapons with you, place nice with others, etc ...

A few new ones popped us as well. The court prohibits zooming in cameras during sidebars to keep folks at home from reading the lips of the attorneys and the judge. The courts also prohibit the erecting of any media tents, chairs, or tables. I think that's probably in response to how many folks began living outside the Stark Sheriff's Office in June during the time Jessie Davis was missing.

The courts also prohibit all interviews conducted inside the courthouse. This could get sticky for those folks who DO want to be interviewed. There's not a lot of easy assembly space on the square outside the courthouse. Plus, a media throng attracts on-lookers. Still, the rule makes sense in that it will keep the court's hallways moving and clear.

It's obvious the courts have a plan and will demand order during the circus that's about to set up all three rings in downtown Canton. Still, I can just imagine the reception this circus train will receive when-or-if the case is moved to another county.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pot luck Wednesday

Too much today ... I feel like a fire fighter trying to put out six house fires at once .. just not enough extinguishers and hoses to go around. A few items to pass along:

The state's final report on documents with drivers' personal information found in the dumpster at the Fairlawn BMV appears to have been delayed by mother nature. A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety tells me that his bosses have been out in the field managing the response to the severe flooding. While the investigators' written reports and interviews are complete, state leaders won't make any rulings until they come back from the flood zones to review the investigation, which will include the stories we aired on Channel 3 News on August 13th.

Mayor Plusquellic's news conference set for 11 a.m. tomorrow (Thursday) has now been delayed. DP was all set to talk about the biomedical corridor, but that was before Stark County investigators announced a 10 a.m. press conference for Thursday to talk about indictments in the Jessie Marie Davis case. Since the local media can't be two places at once (and obviously it's an election year) the Mayor opted to reschedule his event.

I'm keeping tabs tonight on this new Fox TV show "Anchor Woman" .. about a blond bombshell whose given a shot to anchor the evening news in Tyler, Texas. The show is hilarious as a television program ... but sad and degrading as television news. I really enjoyed when Polly Purebread told the producer that she didn't want more than seven stories in any one news block. That's pure fiction my friends. Coincidentally, one of our Akron news assistants recently left the competing station in Tyler to return to her hometown. She was offered a job at the Fox station being featured tonight, but when she heard that she'd have to work with the Barbie doll, she said goodbye to the yellow rose of Texas.

Here's a phrase I never thought I'd say: "Boy did I have fun at Grace Park!" Honestly, I did on Saturday. My son's theater group was performing at the Arts Festival, and I'll admit I was apprehensive about what to expect considering Grace Park is located so close to a homeless shelter and has a history of arrests and trouble. I was so surprised at how clean and friendly the park looked and felt. There was plenty of shade and room to move around. The artists brought quality work and the bands were great too. It wasn't quite as big as the "Art In The Park" event from Hardesty Park a few weeks ago, but city leaders did a good job with the Grace Park venue.

Leaders at the Knight Center and the Summit County Convention and Visitors Bureau are speaking out about comments made on NewsNight Akron and here in my blog. A few feel the panelists -- and me as host -- have misspoken about the success of the downtown convention center and other activities that have come to town. Honestly, I look forward to reviewing their literature and talking with them further. I'd love for them to prove me wrong and somehow convince folks that our community is somehow missing the big picture. Did someone invite the circus to town and not tell me???

I've been trying to help some folks who have real gripes, but I haven't had much time to address their problems. For starters, I have a passionate local mother whose daughter just found out that she wasn't renewed for open enrollment at a district she's been attending for the last five years. This even though she'd already received a welcome letter in June telling her when to show up for orientation. Now, there's no time to search for a new school and she can't get a straight answer out of the district's school board.

Additionally, I've been corresponding with a couple in Ashland County who are due to leave for their honeymoon in Mexico. The bride's passport arrived on time, but the groom's is MIA -- Missing in Ashland. Unfortunately, we've been so "flooded" with flooding stories that there's been no way to do much with their plight. One of my colleagues called them back and tried to help but to no avail. Later, my fellow reporter suggested to me, "tell them Mexico got nailed by Hurricane Dean so they don't want to go there .. tell them to try Toledo instead and go to the Hot Dog Festival!" Now that's a romantic getaway, eh?

I had a conversation this week with a retired Akron Police officer who told me his monthly health care premiums have gone up from two-digits to four. He's now back working for a county agency in order to pay his bills. Not sure how many other retirees this hike has affected, but this warrants more investigation for sure. I remember a wise man who once said, "there's a special place in hell for those who mess with the benefits of retirees." I'll letcha know what I find. Eric

Bobby Cutts indicted

Prosecutors have finished presenting their case against Bobby Cutts, and a local grand jury has indicted him in the deaths of Jessie Marie Davis and her unborn child, Chloe. Prosecutors will not release anything about the charges until a press conference tomorrow morning.

Right now, no one is saying anything about what's contained in the indictment. I did speak to one of Jessie's relatives who says the family has been informed about updates in the case but has been instructed not to say anything. Other sources are being tight-lipped right now as well.

Obviously, the charges themselves will tell us a lot about the case. For example, if Cutts is indicted on death penalty specifications, that would say a ton about the evidence. Likewise, if Cutts were indicted on something less than murder that would signify a big change in the evidence as well. Plus, we need to know what charges Myesha Ferrell will face.

Regardless, expect a streaming press conference from the Stark Sheriff's Office on a computer near you come tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Spencer for hire

For those of you who got attached to Jackson Township's Ashley Spencer as she finished as the runner-up in NBC's "Grease You're the One That I want!" a few months back, here's an update:

A recent article shows that Ashley has been cast in Hairspray on Broadway so she's living her dream. The news reports say she's accepted the role as "Amber."

I had a chance to interview her after the final NBC show, and while Ashley was disappointed that she wasn't cast as "Sandy", she was quite determined to make it big on the big stage. I can't wait to touch base with her again when she returns to town.
Ashley's fan site from the NBC days is still active and has a great deal more info about her role on Broadway.

Spitting incident still fresh in local man's mind

I met a real nice guy last night while I was out and about. An African-American gentleman in his late 50's who was a bit fragile and missing quite a few teeth. He was quite gentle and had no idea I was a reporter as I was in blue jeans and a t-shirt.

He saw my "Army Veteran" hat and sprung to attention giving me a salute. Not sure how he guessed I was an officer but I smiled, returned his salute, and shook his hand to give the greeting of the day. Our conversation lasted less than two minutes.

I asked him if he'd served in the military, and he told me that he'd been Special Forces in Vietnam .. and at one time he had been the youngest Staff Sergeant in the entire Army.

He asked me about Iraq, and I asked him about his experience in the jungle. We shared a story about teaching young officers. I'd worked as a TAC officer in the Officer Candidate School .. likewise, he'd been a TAC Sergeant with candidates at the Federal OCS program at Fort Benning.

What sticks with me though is his story of returning home to Akron 30+ years ago. His eyes still burning from a lack of appreciation from those who didn't serve. He was genuinely still hurt and upset about being spat upon by Akron residents when he returned from service. That enrages me. Who would spit on a veteran??? He was spitting bullets just telling me about it. I wished that I could ease his wounds.

I could tell that he was in awe of the celebrations that today's veterans (me included) have received when we return from war.

While I didn't ask him, I made the assumption that he'd be drafted.

After our brief conversation ended and we said "have a good one", his pain made me hurt inside. How could someone who did so much for his country be treated so poorly? How could local folks who lived under the protection of our men and women in uniform be so inconsiderate and mean?
This weekend, the area is taking a big step to heal the wounds of our Vietnam Vets. State leaders will be on hand for the groundbreaking of Ohio's new Vietnam Memorial in Clinton in Southern Summit County. When complete, this site will be amazing. You can see more at the memorial's website. A great bunch of dedicated people will make this possible. I'll be there to emcee to the ceremony Saturday afternoon. Please stop by if you can.

I wished that I'd gotten the man's name last night, but I was with a group of people and I couldn't stay to talk any longer. Still, I'll remember his face. While I can't change what's happened to him, I hope I can see him again to just say thanks for being my Army brother of another generation .. and to let him know his sacrifice is appreciated.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Bored on a rainy day? Try vintage Channel 3

I'm the news guy .. or at least, that's what they pay me for .. but something tells me I'd be able to pinch-hit on weather tonight if I had to.

"Good evening everyone .. it's going to rain .. and not stop for a longggggggggggg while .. back to you News guy .. "

If you've lived in the area for a while and remember the "old" days of TV3, drift over to Frank Macek's blog for a trip down memory lane. Frank has uploaded some vintage Channel 3 news clips and promos. My favorites are the "turn to 3" promos with Judd Hambrick and Jim Mueller .. a couple guys I watched growing up. Frank is pictured standing to the left of former news director Dick Moore, another great TV mind in my book.

Fortunately, none of the videos (so far) include me .. so I don't have to think of myself as "vintage" just yet as I look for a few grey hairs. I'm actually in my 14th year with WKYC and worked with some of the folks you'll see in the Frank's videos .. and it's such a rush to look back at the stories, the graphics and the outfits.

Frank is one of several talented directors at TV3, and his blog gives great insight into what goes on behind the scenes of a major network affiliate TV station. He often directs the Akron-Canton News, so I hear Frank's direction in my ear as I deliver the news on Time Warner Cable.

Frank also has a great sense of humor. One time on a chilly evening, meteorologist Betsy Kling told viewers "time to shut those windows tonight" ... Frank, being a smarty-pants, got in my ear and said "I dare you to say, 'Hey Betsy! What if I don't want to close my windows?' " He had me laughing so hard I couldn't really pull it off ..but his personality and professionalism help me try and stay on my game when I'm at the anchor desk.

Anyway .. check out the videos and let me know which ones you like .. or if there's something you'd like to see uploaded. I'll pass along your requests to Frank.

If I get enough guts, I'll upload my audition tape from the early 90's that landed me this job ... now THAT'S comedy!

Friday, August 17, 2007

I killed a man today

I shot a man today. Shot him three times. Bang, Bang, Bang! Right in the chest. He died a few seconds later.

Fortunately, I was using a gun with pellets, and the guy I was blasting was wearing protective equipment.

I was putting together a story on Akron's new police cadets as they prepare to graduate next week. A whopping 33 of them. And the department can't wait to get the added help.

Today's training involved mock shootouts in low-light (can anyone say "midnight shift"?) for the soon-to-be men in blue. (There is one female cadet by the way) Additionally, the cadets also went through "box" training.

Modeled after high-intensity military training, "box" exercises force the cadets into multiple rapid-fire scenarios where they may have to open fire or take some other physical form of control. Conducted inside a nearly-dark room, the cadet is lead in with a pillow case over their head and spun around to disorient them. Then a training officer whispers a scenario to them, usually something like "you've received a call of a suspicious person walking the streets with a gun" and then the pillow case is yanked off. Immediately, the officer is attacked by a suspect who tries to wrestle him for his gun.

When that scenario ends, the cadet is again forced to wear a pillowcase on his head and given another set of circumstances. At times, he opens his eyes to find danger right on top of him. Each time, the challenge is only a few feet away and unpredictable.

Did I mention that rock music is blaring the entire time to add to the confusion?

So after we shot video of an entire exercise for our story, the training officers invited me to give it a try. Unlike the cadets, I was wearing a tie and dress shoes. So I took those off and tucked a pistol into my belt and picked up a flashlight. What the heck, right?

As the training officer put the pillow case over my head to start the exercise, I told him, "this isn't fair because I've already seen all the scenarios." He told me, "oh no you haven't. We have another one just for you." Oh, greattttttttttttt! I'll end up with a broken arm for sure.

The training officer led me toward the rock music, spun me around three times and I began to get tense in my disorientation. I was convinced that a large man in a padded suit was just a foot or so away and ready to pummel me. I was ready for a fight.

The training officer then whispered, "you've received a call of a man holding a hostage. GO!"

As the pillow case was ripped off my head, I heard someone yell "help!" to my right. I turned to see a man on his knees while another man held a gun to his head. While I've since seen the videotape, I can hardly remember the next few seconds. I pulled my gun, told the man to drop his, and a second later shot him three times in the chest until he fell. Continuing to scream at him, I then jumped on the man's back to pin him to the matt and pushed the hostage to the ground, not knowing what his real deal was. I then began scanning the room for additional bad guys and the training officer yelled "stop."

Police Lieutenant Jerry Hughes said I did better than many of the cadets because I didn't hesitate once I made a decision to open fire and because I recognized that the perceived "hostage" might also be a threat. The bad guy had a gun to another's head so I was justified in taking him out. The more I think about it, the more I'm just glad that I hit the target with each shot. It's dangerous to think about where stray bullets can end up and also I'm glad I didn't shoot the hostage, which easily could have happened.

I'll chalk my success up to military training, but to be honest, the story I left with today was one of respect for how quickly an officer's heartbeat can double its rate and how fast these young cops have to make life-and-death decisions.

Without the videotape, I wouldn't even know how many shots I fired. That's how quickly instinct took over. I'll remember that the next time we have an officer-involved shooting.

It never fails to amaze me that local officers involved in shootouts on the streets are almost always doing nothing but mundane nonsense in the minutes leading up to the shootings. Then, in a split second, they go through a training flashback and make a life-or-death decision. I was joking in a hallways with young cops and moments later was shooting a man in the chest from five feet away.

The story will air next week, so you can judge my reaction for yourself .. but the bigger story is how talented and brave these cadets really are.

Beacon's David deserved Goliath consideration

Congratulations to Patrick McManamon as the ABJ's new sports columnist, replacing Terry Pluto, who announced a few days ago that he's leaving to assume a similar position with the Plain Dealer.

While McManamon is a solid, veteran sports reporter who provides good, in-depth coverage of the Browns, I'm just wondering what consideration -- if any -- that David Lee Morgan Jr. was given?

When I think about the role of sports columnist at the paper, I think of a "voice" that will offer insight and behind-the-scenes stories that make me want to chat with my co-workers and friends. Pluto was great at that, and not just because he watched as a fan. It was because Terry really knew how to talk to people and because he'd spend Friday nights at a Garfield-Buchtel game and Saturday's at Mount Union.

David has proven to be that kind of writer as well. He has a long history of covering local high school sports, the U of A and Ohio State (he has a new book coming out on Tressel), and wrote the first book on LeBron. He's well-respected among area coaches and players alike.

David screams local and would also provide both diversity and youth to the position that would make him a writer the ABJ could invest in for many years to come. Like Terry, David wouldn't have been satisfied just to write from the press box at the big venues. His articles on players who've left the game and gotten into trouble or those who've turned their lives around show you the depth of the writing David would bring as a sports columnist.

Again, I look forward to McManamon's first column because he knows sports. But I can't help but wonder if the paper rushed to find a replacement giant and in doing so missed out on a great young talent holding a slingshot.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Agents move quickly to investigate Fairlawn BMV

I made follow-up phone calls tonight to several of the folks whose documents containing personal information were found in the trash last week at the Fairlawn BMV. Our stories about the discovery aired Monday on Channel 3 News. Part 1 Part 2

Several of them tell me that they were asked to come to the Fairlawn Police Department last Friday to answer questions from state agents investigating the dumpster discovery. That's literally just hours after we turned over all of the original documents we found to those state investigators.

Each said they were asked a series of questions including what they did with their documents on the day they were at the BMV and which clerk provided them service. Fairlawn Police Officers did not take part in the questioning, but the agency was certainly supporting the state agents' work.

One of the people interviewed in our story said she had not yet been contacted but would share the same story with them that she did with us .. namely that she left her documents with the clerks, didn't trash them herself, and is upset that her personal information was left out in the open.

Another said that he returned to the BMV to ask the Deputy Registrar why his documents were trashed and that a woman behind the counter screamed at him until he left. He reported to the state agents how he was treated.

Originally, state investigators hoped to have the investigation complete by tomorrow (Friday) but we have yet to hear anything definitive.

Bobby Cutts 10 days .. and mailbag

So much going on today in the newsroom ... a hodge podge of stuff to mention.

Prosecutors say the case against Bobby Cutts should be going forward in the next 10 days. Prosecutors expect to have a press conference following the grand jury's decision, but at least the case is finally getting to the next step.

My email and phone messages have gone crazy in the last 48 hours. After our two-part investigation into the Fairlawn BMV that aired Monday, viewers are contacting me with tips on scams and alleged wrongdoings. I've had one call about a tow truck company that snatches people's cars with no warnings and another call about city workers goofing off. I've had emails about people stealing child support $$ and about an area cult that's kidnapping local college girls. Needless to say I can't get to all of them, but I'm trying.

I also had an email from a nice lady at the U of A telling me about a leaky hydrant that's been leaking water for three weeks. She fears the street will give way to a cave-in. She's tried repeated calls to the city with no resolution. It's not enough water to warrant a news story, but I did pass on the info to Mark Williamson at city hall who passed it on to the water gurus. They say it's on the list to get fixed before classes resume. Funny how so many stories in this town come back to water.

Jeff Begue wrote to show me the youtube video of his 4-year-old son lifting weight at the gym. Not sure if I can get the producers to see it as a story for the evening news, but it was nice to get an email from someone who doesn't want me to investigate their landlord, boss, or former lover.

We've been hard charging after some breaking news this afternoon of an abduction at Belden Village mall. After giving up other news to run two news crews to the area, we've since learned that it was a domestic situation and everyone is accounted for. So it's good news that no one is missing, but it'll make tonight's newscasts a bit thinner for the news we gave up chasing that story.

I got email from a Canton Police officer whose been called up for active duty with the Army Reserve. His unit is preparing to deploy to Iraq and heard about the "Mitts for Military" program I led last year to supply sports equipment to the troops (trust me folks, you have no idea how much it means to just play catch when you're off duty in the big sandbox over there). I still have a giant set of equipment for his company so we'll hook up in a week or so when he's on leave from his training post. If you donated to the program, please know that your donations provide equipment to more than 2,000 troops from all branches of the military, and we still have a few more sets that need homes with deploying companies.

I also received this email from out west: "Your Blog has enabled me to stay up on Local news and sports Thank You!"

It's from Kelly Albertoni in Hollywood, CA. I mentioned Kelly a few weeks back ere in the blog. She's an actress from Uniontown whose made regular appearances on "ER" and many other network shows. You'll recognize her by her red hair. She also hopes to possibly make the switch into broadcasting, and I'm sure she'd be great. Just remember the name folks.

More later .. Eric

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Racism claims against Fire Fighters could polarize department

Akron' new fire chief, Larry Bunner, has quite the fire to put out .. and he can't fight this one with a hose or an extinguisher.

My sources tell me that a minority fire fighter at a South Akron station house walked in on a group of 5-6 white fire fighters who were engaged in conversations using the "N" word. A discussion and/or disagreement followed. The incident happened last week, and now every fire fighter who was there that day is being interviewed to see what they saw, heard, or said.

I called Bunner this afternoon to ask about the rumors I heard. Bunner confirmed the investigation and told me flat out that racism "will not be tolerated in this department." He said that if the allegations are found to have happened, discipline will follow. If it's unfounded, it'll be dismissed. Bunner couldn't comment further until more of the investigation is complete .. and said that should happen by the end of next week.

The tone in Bunner's voice tells me this at the top of his radar right now. While it hasn't made the news until now (we're mentioning it tonight on the AkronCanton News), I'm finding that every fire fighter in town is aware of "the incident." Over the years, several minority fire fighters have shared with me about their frustration with perceived racism in the department.

How Bunner handles this situation will go a long way towards the entire department's perception of him as a chief. I'd expect reporters to ask Mayor Plusquellic about it at tomorrow's press conference.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Joe Finley's math is edge-of-your-seat

I spent a little over 30 minutes at Mayoral Candidate Joe Finley's downtown press conference today, and I can honestly say that it will take me quite a few hours to validate everything he proposes and alleges. It was definitely both interesting and colorful.

There weren't many folks there (see photo). Just reporters John Higgins (ABJ), Kymberli Hagelberg (NPR) and me. A half dozen campaign supporters rounded out the press conference, which Finley held at the parking lot next to the downtown Federal building.

While Finley continued his base themes attacking Mayor Plusquellic on campaign contributions and sweetheart development deals, a few of Finley's other ideas certainly bear discussion.

For example, Finley proposes keeping the Innerbelt because it helps people get to the hospital whereas Mayor Plusquellic would consider tearing it down because of a lack of use and the chance to redevelop the property. JF says people tell him how much they love the Innerbelt, but I've not met any of those folks so I guess I'll take his word for it.

JF also proposes spacing out the Akron Police Department instead of one downtown station. That's a new idea to me. He mentioned opportunities to open satellite police stations in Chapel Hill and/or Rolling Acres Mall. While APD is certainly bursting at the seams of the Stubbs Justice Center, I'm not sure splitting up the force would be popular.

At times, JF's "creative math" had my mental calculator smoking .. and my head shaking back and forth.

For example, Finley says that city debt has surpassed $1.1 billion dollars and that city leaders are "tapped out" as to what they can borrow for future projects. I checked with Finance Director Dianne Miller-Dawson this afternoon; she said that as of Dec. 31, 2006, city debt was at $760 million .. with more than $200 million of that set aside for the Akron schools, so that part of the debt is being paid off with the income tax increase passed in 2003. That means actual city taxpayer debt is really more like $550 million or about half of what Finley said.

Still, Finley's statements about money owed on Canal Park had merit. He claims that the City of Akron owes more NOW ($35 million he claims) on the stadium than we did when we built it. At first, I found that hard to believe, but Miller-Dawson tells me that as of Dec. 31st, we owed $29,570,000 for the stadium .. or roughly about the same as the initial project in the mid-90's. It's less than what JF said today, but still alarming that we haven't made much progress on paying off the stadium yet.. other than refinancing it to a lower interest rate, which will save big $$ in the long haul.

Here's some more fun-with-numbers: Finley says that if he wins the election, he'll cut the number of cabinet members from 15 to eight. He wouldn't elaborate on which staff members or deputy mayors would head out the door, but Finley claims he can run a smoother city hall with fewer people.

JF knocked Inventure Place as a bad investment, but believes the Civic Theater was money well spent even as it struggles to find acts. He'd place a cap on how much Akron should be willing to pay to keep Goodyear and doesn't believe the BassPro Shop project at the expense of the Poet Streets homes is the right thing to do.

Finley also said that Akron should be able to attract businesses to move to town without tax incentives .. basically, they should move here just because we're a nice city with nice people. As much as some criticize DP's deals to lure businesses to town, I'm not sure Finley's handshakes alone will be a strategy voters will support.

JF's folks gave reporters a 30-page packet of data, ideas, and accusations. It'll take me some time to go through it, but I'd like to "Check the Math" on more of what JF says to see what adds up.

Pluto leaving ABJ takes passion out of paper

Kudos to Ed Esposito and the gang at AkronNewsNows for breaking the story of Terry Pluto leaving the ABJ for the Plain Dealer. I haven't spoken to Terry yet, and he might not be ready to talk publicly about it, so I don't know what his reasons are .. but I do know that it's a big blow to the paper and beyond. (2:45 p.m. UPDATE: I just spoke briefly to Terry and while he's not really allowed to talk publicly about this move, he did tell me that it's a good opportunity for him and not any kind of reflection on the ABJ as being in trouble. He's sounds very happy with the move. I'm sure he'll share more when he can down the road.)

My first thought is to wish Terry well. He's one of the most genuine men you'll ever meet, and that has nothing to do with his writing. He truly cares about helping people as evidence by his volunteer work at the county jail. His honesty about fighting the demons in his life helped others, and his friendship with the late Casey Coleman, among others, highlights his true heart.

My second thought is that the move won't affect the readers as much as it will the paper and Readers will still have easy access to Pluto's work via the PD and the web. He'll still be covering the same teams and areas that he's done so well at the ABJ. If you want to find him, he'll be there.

As for the paper, wow! There are some holes you can fill and others you have to just rope off so no one falls in and gets hurt. This is one of them. Terry's writings are the most read articles of both the paper and Far and away the most. His free weekly e-newsletter has nearly 2,000 subscribers alone. Readers like Terry and make an appointment to read his thoughts.

Professionally, Terry's work stands out because of his passion. He pulls his hair out (work with me here folks) just as the rest of us do when our teams fall apart. He cheers when our athletes reach beyond their years. He's honest about what works and doesn't .. and even when he's wrong (he's mentioned several times how he blew it supporting the Ferry-Harper trade), he writes about it with passion.

Passion is big when it comes to connecting readers with a paper. Don't believe me? Remember back to earlier this summer when the country stopped for eight days in the search for Jessie Marie Davis. The beacon had team coverage and nailed the high points, but didn't you feel something missing? Know what it was? David Giffels.

Giffels' absence (he's writing a book and will be back in 08) isn't noticeable by content as much as it's noticeable by how it feels. The paper misses his passion.

Now, multiply that feeling of loss as Pluto heads north. Just as a marriage without passion is just going through the motions, readers who don't feel passion in their hometown paper won't connect to it the same way either -- even if they keep picking it up each day.

It's too soon to know whether the PD is simply smelling blood and trying to bury its competition while the time is right or whether this was simply a good move for Terry as he considers his future options.

Still, if you thought Akron seemed smaller in 1996 when it lost it's only local TV station (WAKC), you'll feel this town shrinking exponentially with the ABJ's continued contraction.

Monday, August 13, 2007

BMV documents highlight holes in the system

My biggest fear about the personal information we found in the dumpster of the BMV parking lot in Farlawn (see story: BMV Investigation Part 1 and BMV Investigation Part 2 isn't that the items were tossed out ... but that the best BMV explanation is that they knew it was happening .. and did nothing but blame the customers.

For starters, this is one of those topics that hits all of us because we all get license plates and drivers licenses.

The story actually fell into my lap from another local business owner who found some of the documents blowing around in the parking lot. The owner called the state and then called me in the newsroom; I just happened to beat the state folks to the scene. When I saw the info on the documents, my jaw hit the floor. When the business owner pointed to the dumpster from which the documents had originally blown away, I had to look inside .. and there were more of them. Lots more. Moments after I collected the documents, a state BMV supervisor showed up and was surprised to say the least to see me standing by the dumpster.

Later the local BMV sent over a spokesperson, the deputy registrar's son. I guess I expected the spokesperson to say that this was a big mistake and the documents shouldn't have ended up in the dumpster. Instead, he admitted that those types of documents are tossed in the trash every day. He blamed the customers themselves claiming they leave the documents in the BMV lobby trash can and therefore disposing of the personal documents is "not our responsibility." It was almost as if he was saying, "they get what they deserve if they don't pay attention." What kind of customer service is that?

Even if you buy that explanation, wouldn't you expect clerks to at least make an effort to better dispose of those documents? Wouldn't you expect them to at least mention to customers not to toss them in the public trash?

The state investigators who are looking at our documents don't seem to buy that explanation. For starters, there were shredded documents mixed in with the un-shredded documents that we found so that would suggest that the trash came from behind the counter and not a public trash container in the lobby. Second, the investigators tell me that some of the documents we found aren't available to the public so they wouldn't be in a public trash can anyway.

The agents from the Dept. of Public Safety who I've met over the last few days have been top-notch. Very thorough and professional. They have been quick to respond (arriving at our office in less than two hours after we called them) and proactive in stopping the bleeding by sending an email to all 200+ registrars in Ohio letting them know what's happened in Fairlawn and reminding them to safeguard the public's information. They've also begun calling the 30 folks whose information we found in the dumpster five days ago.

Again, I keep coming back to the idea that BMV clerks knew that the documents were out there in the trash (for how long this has been happening we don't know) and felt like, "oh well. Tough." Makes you wonder what other information is floating around out there, eh?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bobby Cutts, et al ..

Good Morning .. my head is still spinning from a trip to Charleston, WV and back with my son Jacob for a soap box derby race .. but a few things are worth sharing this morning ..

I finally have a source whose willing to say definitively that Bobby Cutts took police to the area at Top-of-the-world where Jessie Marie Davis' body was recovered. There has been much speculation about whether Cutts confessed to her murder or just to finding her body and disposing of it. There's been equal speculation about whether he told them where to find the body or took them there. My source tells me that three vehicles went to the scene on that Saturday afternoon and that Cutts, already in cuffs, gestured to the specific area from the backseat of a deputy's car. Once men in the other vehicles found Davis' remains, Cutts was immediately driven back to the jail as investigators began processing the scene.

I really like Larry States' (WAKR) idea of modifying the Knight Center for University of Akron basketball. While the idea of a new arena -- probably across the street from Canal Park -- would stimulate the area financially, the millions that could be saved by renovating the Knight Center could be big. There's two major parking decks already within just a block and students living in the new Quaker Square dorms would be able to mosey across the street to games. In fact, the rooms that will remain available as a hotel would be good for the guest teams. With the Knight Center struggling for business as it is, a remodeled Knight Center arena could be a good way to better use that facility and meet the demands for a new downtown arena at the same time.

I heard a great untold story from the All-American Soap Box Derby a few weeks back. Apparently a champ from Japan arrived but his car got lost in the flight somewhere. With the days ticking away, a number of volunteers and AASBD employees broke out a new kit and put it together so the boy would at least have something to drive in the big race. His car did finally arrive the night before the race, although he had no time to practice with it on the big hill or do any work on it. Still, it's great to know that everyone was willing to pitch in and help with a young man in need.

If you haven't had a chance to sample Ed Esposito's blog (it's linked to the right) you're missing out. Actually, you should have been a fly on the wall after we taped NewsNight Akron this past Friday. Ed, Jody Miller, Larry States, and I stayed in the studio and debated the state of media organization in Akron versus the expectations of the public for its media. It was heated and colorful to say the least. Maybe we'll move that debate in front of the camera when we have a slow news week.

I'm hoping that my investigation into document handling at the Fairlawn Bureau of Motor Vehicles creates some change in the system. The Department of Public Safety is now reviewing the volume of papers discovered floating around the parking lot and discarded in the dumpster at the BMV. Dozens of papers showed local customers' license and Social Security Numbers and appear to be documents that most thought were shredded. While some documents in the dumpster were indeed shredded to bits, there's something wrong how easy I was able to build a database of 30 Akron residents' complete personal profiles in just minutes using papers tossed out by a local franchise of state government. Here's my shameless plug: The two-part investigation airing tomorrow (Monday) on TV3 and 6/11 and Akron-Canton news at 6:30/10. Tell me what you think.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Army's bonus money is backwards

I like to tell people that there's three ways to do things:

The right way.

The wrong way.

The Army way.

If you've been in the military, then you know what I'm talking about. The solution is neither right nor wrong but it's not necessarily the best way to accomplish the task.

For example, if you were moving to China, you might debate on whether to fly or take a boat to get there. Now, if the Army were deploying to China, the military would at least consider a third alternative of digging a hole straight through the planet to get there. You can't say it's wrong, because in theory, it could work, right? That's the Army way!!

All humor aside, the Army way when it comes to today's recruiting stories is again neither right nor wrong, but we're losing good soldiers because of it.

Here's why:

If the Army is willing to offer a 17-year-old high school senior whose never spent a day in boots a $20K bonus, college benefits, business loans, home loans, etc ... what should it offer to keep its young veterans?

Shouldn't the military be offering equal incentives to keep a 35-year-old Sergeant with 15 years of service experience, including multiple combat tours? Shouldn't the Army be offering incentives to a 39-year-old officer in whom the government has invested nearly a million dollars to train?

In reality, the two examples above are offered nothing -- nada, zippo -- in incentives to re-enlist or stick around. Does that make sense to anyone? What kind of business would blow its bank account on new employees and offer nothing to its experienced middle and senior managers to stay around?

The answer: The Army.

I recently retired from the Army National Guard as a Major with 20 years of experience, including a combat tour of Iraq and multiple stateside deployments, including Hurricane Katrina. Taxpayers have sent me to more high-priced schools than I can count, and I'm one of the few officers in the state who has been certified in Equal Employment Opportunity from the Department of Defense. I'm qualified as an officer in both transportation and military police -- two of the most in-demand jobs in Iraq and elsewhere.

Know what I was offered as an incentive to stick around? Nothing.

With more overseas deployments looming, I had already made the decision to leave the military behind and concentrate on being a father of three sons. Still, after I filed my retirement papers, I got a call from the Army asking if there was anything they could offer me to stick around. I asked, "how about some of those big bonus dollars you're handing out?" I was told that I didn't qualify.

They system is simply backward. I'm just one of thousands of experienced leaders who are walking away from the military right now for a vast array of reasons while the Army -- which certainly wants to retain us -- has nothing to offer.

Would you run a business this way? I'm mean, seriously?

A close friend of mine who is also a Major and who has 25 years experienced will retire in November. He told the Ohio National Guard leaders that he would like to stay in the system if he didn't have to endure another deployment to Iraq right away. A Colonel told him that the state would rather he retire than still be around on the weekends to help train and lead other troops. Like me, he was also told that the incentives being offered to kids not even out of high school aren't available to him.

I don't deny the new recruits all the benefits they can get. After all, most are headed overseas and into harm's way very quickly. Still, shouldn't there at least be a gift certificate or a nice t-shirt for the ones still serving as an incentive to keep them around?

I love the National Guard and wouldn't trade my experience for anything. I'd recommend it to any young man or woman in the area.

Yet, I see a future Army made up of Generals and Privates. The folks in between aren't being offered good enough deals to stay.

It's the Army way.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

It's not the CSB Chief's salary that's interesting

John Saros will make $137K to lead the county's most embattled organization -- CSB. If the organization doesn't turn around quickly, Saros will be using most of that cash for Tylenol.

While some folks will chat in circles today about "how can that guy make that much money?!?!?" I'm less inclined to care about Saros' salary or any of the top money earners.

When it comes to the big dogs of county employees, the leaders' salaries are only poodles in the county kennel.

I'm more interested in what Saros' CSB case workers are making (or not making) than what the new guy's paycheck will look like.

I'm more interested in what deputies in bullet-proof vests who wrestle bad guys and get shot at are making than the Sheriff who manages them.

I'm more interested in what the prosecutors who work late hours off the clock to make sure they put away rapists and killers are earning than what the elected prosecutor pockets.

People and families in the Akron-Canton area are struggling to make a good dollar these days and that includes those who work on the government dime.

Nothing frustrates me more than a sign in a window that says, "it's the perfect second job!" Second??? Why isn't one job enough these days? Why can't a man support his family on 40 hours alone? Why can't a single mom pay the bills working 8-5 and be off to care for kids the rest of the time?

While the public does need to know who is making what with our tax dollars, I would rather see stories on how little some of the working-class folks are making than read about the nation-wide searches and elections that landed their bosses in those high-paying jobs.

It's just more interesting.

The gap between the "Haves" and the "Have Nots" is the wage a great many are paying for .. and paying dearly.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Hotel tax?? For what??

Somebody explain this to me. I don't understand the logic behind increasing our hotel tax to pay some of the bills at the John S. Knight Center. I just don't.

Will upping the bed tax somehow help bring more conventions to town? Does marketing the idea as, "well, it's still less than folks pay at hotels in Cleveland and Columbus" convince folks that it's the right thing to do? Shouldn't the Knight Center be able to pay its own bills by now?

Maybe the three bears can do the campaign spots. "Somebody's sleeping in MY bed." "Well, somebody's been sleeping in MY bed too!" and the baby bear says, "And somebody's been sleeping in MY bed .. and she owes us 14 percent!"

I guess I'd feel better if there were more events at the convention center that seemed worthy of the additional $$ support. Take away the annual tree festival and First Night activities .. now name three conventions held at the JSKC in the last 52 weeks. Can you do that?

Some argue the chicken-or-the-egg debate on this one. That we can't get enough good conventions because we don't have enough hotel rooms, and we can't get enough hotel rooms because we don't have enough good conventions. Is there a solution here?

I guess I'm just not sold on the plan, even though it wouldn't cost me money, just those who come to visit me. Wouldn't upping the bed tax be adding money to a project that's struggling of its own accord? Is it a bailout for bailout sake? How does it fix the problem of the building's underusage?

All I can say is that I hope those in the hotel suites like porridge because this is one fairy tale that needs a realistic ending -- not just a happy one.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Bobby Cutts case not grand jury bound

Heavy rumors have been circulating all day that an indictment against Bobby Cutts could come down as soon as today or tomorrow. As near as I can tell, those rumors appear to be false.

Sources tell me that the case has not even gone to the grand jury yet, and that these rumors have been fueled by speculation following last week's autopsy findings. Still, other reporters have heard the same thing and are making the same calls to check it out.

Whenever the indictment comes down, the charges themselves will certainly tell the public more about the evidence against the Canton Police officer in the death of Jessie Marie Davis. For example, if the grand jury charges Cutts with a death penalty specification then that's a signal that the evidence points to pre-planning the murder with a real motive to kill Jessie and her unborn child, Chloe.

For now though, there is no indictment coming today ... but the case is being prepared for the grand jury.

Numbers Game

It starts out as an 8-32 ... then to a 10 with 15's .. which leads to a 33 .. then a 5 .. followed by a 21 .. and on a bad day, eventually a 100.

Do you follow? Do I sound like Charlie Frye calling a play?

That trail of numbers is Akron Police radio speak. An accident (8) has occurred with injuries (32) but now the drivers have escalated their accident into a fight (10) between the juveniles (15) who were behind the wheel. That leads to one of them shooting the other (33) ... and then the officers arrive and signal that they have emergency traffic (5) which leads to an officer who needs immediate assistance (21) and on a bad day, the Swat team being called (100).

Got it now?

I spoke to a few of APD's recruits yesterday and realized that they're now learning the scanner traffic protocol that local reporters (at least the sharp ones) have learned through intense listening. It might sound complicated at first, but in a short amount of time, most folks pick it up quickly.

Better than 99 percent of the time, the officers and dispatchers follow the less-is-more philosophy of cutting right to the chase of what needs to be broadcast .. we do the same thing in the military.

Sometimes the officers and dispatchers will share a little humor, like the time a dispatcher was putting out a call of a man with no pants on running around in just a white tank top near the downtown bus stop. She was giving the man's description and finally just stopped and said, "I'm sure you'll know him when you see him."

Years ago, you could hear the overnight officers playing flashlight tag on the scanner. They were driving their cruisers around trying to flank one another and hit the other cruisers with a flashlight beam before they could return the "light" shot. It's how the officers dealt with boredom at 3:30 a.m. Now they have computers in their cars that at times allow them to personally interact.

Local residents used to be able to follow the APD radio traffic with a personal scanner, but the city went to an encrypted system about 10 years ago and the only way to hear it now is through an actual police radio. Eventually, the city sold police radios that were set to "listen-only" to valid media organizations. The radios were quite expensive, but those radios are the only way for the reporters to hear what's going on and keeps us from calling dispatch every five minutes asking, "is anything happening?" I actually left TV3's police radio at a restaurant one time. Thank goodness the nice waitress took it up to the counter or I would have been coughing up $1,000+.

Some residents tell me they definitely miss being able to follow the police traffic from their homes. There are those who would listen to the scanner as they fell asleep at night or just like to turn it on when they were bored or heard sirens in the distance.

Still, the encrypted system definitely allows the officers more protection from bad guys listening in to APD's operations. For example, it's no good tipping off a drug house that the officers are on their way because the bad guys heard their own address go out over the scanner.

I do find it humorous though that when the scanner gurus were assigning the numbers they chose "personal" (1) "meet a party" (2) and "lunch" (3) as the first three items on the list.

Monday, August 6, 2007

New Akron Police officers shape up

I'm told that Akron's new class of police recruits has passed on major obstacle -- physical fitness.

A police captain tells me that all 36 members (34 are police recruits while the other two are fire fighters training to be arson investigators) passed the PT test on their first attempt. This makes them the only current class in the area with all of its students already deemed "physically fit."

In years past, the academy would accept some students who passed the entrance test or were at least close to passing with the idea that they would pass the official requirements before graduation. In the end, a few recruits have been lost over the years (I'm not talking about just Akron PD here) when they're accepted into the academy but can't pass the mandatory PT test before graduation. We've seen the same problem in the military where soldiers selected for prime schools fly across the country only to be sent back when they can't do enough push-ups.

As I recall, APD used the official standards for the entrance exam. 40 push-ups in one minute. 40 sit-ups in one minute. Finally, a 1.5-mile run in 12:00. I think those are the standards, at least for the males.

Anyway, APD's 34 new officers (which includes one female) don't need to take another PT test because they've all passed their tests. They'll graduate in a few weeks and be on the streets before labor day. With the number of Akron's finest who've retired, taken other jobs, or left for "other" reasons this calendar year, these new men and women in blue will definitely fill a void.

"Mean Joe" just mean

A few random thoughts and observations from the Hall of Fame pre-game party and game last night in Canton.

The GOOD: The fans were really in good spirits. To be in my Browns jersey while surrounded by Steelers fans would usually draw a lot of foul language and stupid behavior. Other Browns jersey wearers (we were definitely in the minority) seemed to also acknowledge the good sports in black and gold. Nice to see Pittsburgh and Cleveland fans behave -- at least until opening day.

The GlenOak band was solid at halftime as always, and the pre-game ceremony flag was really sharp. The lead singer from the group "Train" did a great job with the Star Spangled Banner and helped add one more layer of distance to Macy Gray's awful performance of a few years ago.

Inductee Bruce Mathews spent nearly an hour at the Tailgate party signing autographs and posing for pictures. He really seemed to enjoy meeting with fans and having a good time. Many of the other inductees and past enshrinees also interacted with the crowd. I got to meet Raymond Berry. Very cool.

I love that folks in the area never, ever throw away football shirts. I saw one lady in the group with a Jack Lambert Steelers shirt from the 70's. It had a few holes and a lot of tackles, but it was worn with real pride.

The BAD: The military honor guard was the worst I've ever seen at a sporting event. Made up of members of each of the service branches, the group simply walked across the field without even trying to stay in step. Not only was each walking at the beat of his own drummer, but a few were making high steps while others were gliding along. Considering the large applause they were receiving, they could have at least tried to say "left, right, left" and stay in step. Just awful.

The New Orleans cheerleaders were really nice ladies but their actions were out of place. I got to meet at least six of the "Saintsations" as they were working the entrance and VIP tent before the event selling calendars for $15. I found it a bit odd that a multi-$$ event like the HOF game needed the cheerleaders hocking calendars like tag day for a high school band. The girls/ladies/performers had great southern accents and were a big hit. Helen approached my brother-in-law and me about buying a calendar, which we declined. Had the calendar $$ been going to a cause or charity or something, I'm sure we might have considered a donation. Still, it just seemed odd that the cheerleaders (I think "Saint Misbehaven" is a better group name) were handling cash from strange men like they were working a strip club instead of simply taking part in a meet-and-greet. Still, the ladies were quite nice and at least dressed better than last year's string-bikini-type show by the Philadelphia Eagle cheerleaders.

The MEAN: While security was keeping autograph seekers away from the enshrinees, many still came over and signed a few items. Mean Joe Greene was also in that section, but kept to himself and never visited the crowd for even one second. He did seem like he was having a good time chatting with Thurman Thomas, but never even acknowledged all of the Steeler fans just feet away.

As the VIP event was ending and all of the fans were emptying out into the rain to walk to the stadium, Greene was one of the last to leave. The only autograph seeker still holding out hope of penning Joe's signature was a 10-year-old boy from Florida. He'd been waiting so long that a security guard -- whose job it was to keep fans away from the athletes -- actually took the boy's pen and paper and walked it over to Joe. I heard him ask Joe, "this boy has been waiting here all night for you, could you just sign this for him?" Joe could have signed the paper and no one in the crowd would have ever known that he'd given away the one autograph. Instead, Joe shut the security guy up quickly with a firm, "No." The security guard walked back to the lad and gave him his paper back with an apology.

Moments later, HOFamer Mike Haynes saw the boy looking dejected and stopped to sign his paper. The boy, dressed in a Steelers #39 Parker jersey, mustered a smile and said he was ready to be a Raiders fan now. Haynes, who played in Oakland, said "Good boy."

I didn't expect Greene to reenact his famous Coke commercial, but it wouldn't have killed him to sign that one boy's paper.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Average Joe makes splashes, not waves

To cast Joe Finley as "David" to Don Plusquellic's "Goliath" might be too kind in this one-act play that opens in next month's election. When you think about it, a majority in the crowd were rooting for David that day; I can't say that I feel the masses are embracing Finley in that same way.

Finley's making headlines that's for sure, but I'm wondering if his methods will actually lead to any votes coming his way on September 11th? He's tossed out an audacious press release that he actually had a challenger when the Don filed his petitions to seek re-election. He's challenged the Mayor to a whopping 10 debates -- one for each ward. Most recently, Finley accused the Mayor of violating the city charter in receiving campaign contributions and asks that Plusquellic pay a $45,000 fine. In the words of my 10-year-old, "Good luck with that!"

Each of these attacks get headlines but do any of them make Finley more attractive as a candidate? Do they tell the community anything about what JF might do differently if he were Akron's King for a day?

The only fresh idea to which I heard Finley's named attached was a plan to consider Rolling Acres Mall as a home for the proposed Bass Pro Shop instead of building the mega-product-provider a new home on the East side. I'm not even sure it's JF's idea, but I at least heard his name supporting it.

Average Joe's own campaign website lists the name "Plusquellic" 11 times on the front page alone, which is only two fewer than the frequency that Finley's own name appears. How's that for distancing yourself from your opponent?

At a time when Akron is fighting to maintain jobs while losing 1,000+ residents yearly from its population, ankle biting isn't going to cut it when you want to be the king. Few are giving JF a slingshot-of-a-chance against a political giant deemed "Mayor for Life" by some pundits because his numbers seem unbeatable.

I don't pretend to believe that I'd have a good strategy for Finley or any candidate who would take on an incumbent with the resources and tenure as DP. Still, I'd hope the person taking out petitions would spend more time telling me how he'd represent 200,000+ people instead of just picking a fight with one.

Friday, August 3, 2007

747's path had Ohioans fearing terrorism

Hi everyone. I'm back from vacation and never realized how much I rely on a computer until I went a week without one. Thanks to those of you who've been checking this blog over the last few days even though I had nothing new to report.

I did come across one story that I just have to share:

I heard quite a tale from some folks on the Kelley's Island ferry. They had no idea I was a reporter and were just passing this story along to me in conversation.

A ferry worker says that about three weeks ago, a 747 swooped down from the northwest at a high rate of speed. He told me that it was losing altitude so fast that some on the ferry thought it was going to crash into Lake Erie. The pilot wiggled right, banked left, pulled up and zoomed only 200 feet over the ferry headed due east.

If you know the area, then you can guess what the folks on board were thinking. Cedar Point. The attraction is within sight to the east of the Island, and the 747 was headed right for it. The ferry worker told me that everyone on board was silent as the plane continued on a collision course with the amusement park.

After a few tense seconds that dragged on and on, the pilot banked left and gained altitude into the clouds much to the prayers of those on the ferry who were thanking God. Within a minute, the plane was out of sight, and those on board were looking at one another wondering if they were in an episode of "Lost."

Turns out, he says, the plane was from NASA and had been flying all over Lake Erie and Lake Michigan doing tests that day. I'm not sure how he confirmed that, but it makes sense to me. About ten years ago, I was invited to ride NASA's "vomit comet" for a story. That's the plane NASA uses to train astronauts in zero gravity. The pilot climbs and drops over and over again to create weightlessness. It's the same technique used to film parts of Apollo 13. I still have a picture of me floating around and all of the raw tape too!

I'm not sure if the plane over Kelley's Island that day was the same training plane, but if the story is true, I'd like to find out why NASA is flying so low near populated areas instead of conducting those tests farther out over open water.