Thursday, February 26, 2009

First Energy layoffs coming next week ..

I'm hearing from First Energy employees in Akron that an internal "employee update" memo was distributed today telling staffers that pink slips are coming Tuesday.

I'm told the memo indicates that affected staffers will be told in person and will then be taken to HR for out processing and severance discussions.

Rumors of FE layoffs have been swirling for some time, but no one knows how many will be let go or from which departments.

Ironically, FE's most recent assessment indicates a 24% rise in fourth quarter net income. Read it here.

I talked with a company spokesman at home. He tells me that the company is going through a reorganization and that any changes will be shared with employees first. He also said that the hope is that job reductions can be made through attrition, but he couldn't discuss the memo or any of the job cuts.

I've run out of ways to spin the economy cutbacks these days. So many families are struggling that it's tough just to hear that more layoffs are coming, but they are.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mayor Plusquellic's State of the City speech low on bombshells, big on accomplishments

11:45 a.m. The room is packed like an Acme grocery bag. I can't believe the Fire Marshall would approve of this. The Mayor is working the front of the room and seems geared up for this, as he always is.
11:50 a.m. The media is lining the back row of seats in the giant ballroom. There is no room for anyone. Jody Miller just came up to join us and I offered her a chance to share part of my seat. Maybe we could do a ventriloquist routine. Next year they should put the media in a room off the hallway so there's room to write, blog, and cover this event. As it is, with no WI-FI, nothing will reach the net until well after the event.
11:53 a.m.Deputy Mayor Dave Leiberth just handed out copies of the speech. I kidded Beacon Journal reporter Stephanie Warsmith that I hear the Mayor plans to take over the paper this year. Although, after last year's sewer idea, nothing is off the table as to surprises anyway.
12:00 High noon and it still feels more like a Final Four kick-off party than a big political speech. Steve Hoffman just found out that his own name is in the speech. He's getting a good chuckle. I still haven't read that far to see it yet. Pastor Knute Larson from the Chapel is nearby. He and Jody Miller are chatting about an interview for NewsNight Akron before Larson retires in the spring. Jody's probably going to put it together to run on Good Friday.
12:04 p.m.OK .. we're getting started now. Rick Farkas of the Akron Rotary Club is introducing the Mayor.
12:08 pm.Plusquellic has now taken the podium. His speech is 13 pages in length. He just opened with a nice joke that half of the folks who came to hear him "talk about a crazy idea" would be disappointed. He referenced folks watching in the cabaret,which might be a good place for the media to be next year instead of this back row with few places to sit and no place to work.
12:10 p.m.I see on page four that Plusquellic will talk about the city getting $14 million for transportation projects, and $40 million total for local projects. He just talked about how thousands of Akron residents are struggling with the tough economy.
12;11 p.m.His biggest opening theme centers on Akron's "All-America City" Award and the pieces/parts that went into it.
12:12 p.m.At some point, he'll get to $10 million coming to Akron to help secure foreclosed and beat up homes. This will support his announcement late last year of an initiative where the city takes extra steps to help families in crisis.
12:13 p.m.A freebie! DP pointed out a white envelope on each table with special COA pins for everyone to wear. He's wearing one already.
12:15 p.m. As the Mayor recognizes council members in attendance, I see that he'll be taking a direct aim at his critics in a few minutes. He says that downtown employment has doubled to 31,000 over the last 13 years. I've heard that number before and it's an eye opener. I don't think most folks realize that there are that many downtown employees. That growth has led to a 251% increase in income tax downtown, which pays for 137 police officers. Always good to quantify dollars in how they're really spent.
12:18 p.m. Don just mentioned Mellissa Barnhart. Called her "an important person in my life." I didn't expect that. While she is well known as Don's close friend, he mentioned her along with recognizing his family. Now, the family recognition is written into the speech, but Melissa's mention was not. I'm sure talk radio will say that it's a hint that Don and Melissa must be planning a future together. Guess I'll leave it at that.
12:20 p.m. Back on to the written speech now .. and DP just mentioned that "nothing focuses your attention like your 60th birthday" .. which will come later this year. He's using it to springboard to his energy to deal with bigger problems for cities like Akron .. and is discussing his many Washington projects and assignments.
12:22 p.m. While railing on the Homeland Security issues, I see on page five that the Mayor will soon talk about a recent decision to halt overtime unless in emergency situations. He's also canceling the annual City Picnic because of the tough economy. That's probably an excellent idea with the community watching every dime the city spends right now.
12:24 p.m. DP is now on to neighborhood stabilization, community block programs, and transportation dollars .. all good stuff. I see that on page 6 he'll take aim at many in the area who he sees as not wanting to change. He also plans to quote Loretta Lynn saying "everyone wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to die." Good quote, but I find it hard to see DP listening to country music, let alone LL. Then again, I don't doubt it either.
12;26 p.m. He's talking about running for public service now and how he never thought he'd be Mayor. That's a thought that he typically weaves into his bigger speeches (as memory serves) and how it took a long time for him to give in to take part in some of these bigger national committees. (Nice applause)
12:27 p.m. That's three swipes as local talk radio so far... but who's counting?
12:29 p.m. Ahhh h.. page 7. He's going to take aim at the folks who shot down Issue 8, Sewers for Scholarships, last fall .. and play off his election night quote by saying there's a "special place in HEAVEN" for those who worked hard on the project. Steve Hoffman's name is in there. Nice to see DP say that a journalist did a good job. You won't hear that very often. He's still quite agitated at the folks whom he believes misled voters to say "no" to the idea, and from what I saw at the polls, he has a valid point. Certainly there were issues with the plan, but voters shouldn't have been given bogus info before casting a ballot.
12:30 p.m. OK .. he's now on the overtime issues that I referenced above. So I guess I'm about three pages ahead of him.
12:32 p.m. DP is talking about community learning centers and ensuring kids have enough college for that. A bit later he'll recognize Craig Gilbride for accepting the opportunity to be interim Police Chief. The Mayor's relationship with APD is always up for discussion around town. Some think it's strained while others say it's a very open, supportive role. It's no secret that DP had issues with the previous police chief and the union leadership, but I've never once heard him bad mouth or criticize an APD officer, even when the issue up for discussion isn't positive. In 17 years of covering his speeches and events ..and hearing him speak candidly when the cameras are off, and he just doesn't rip the community organizations like some might think. He's certainly challenge the leaders and those leaders will challenge him, but just as an aside, those who say DP is anti-cop or anti-this or that .. are misled.
12:34 p.m. DP just did a good rendition on change .. and did some hand gestures of driving a "smart car." That may be the best soundbite for tonight's TV broadcast. Animated and concise. I'll make a mental note to find that one. He said it just before referencing Loretta Lynn.
12:39 p.m. The "Special place in heaven" comment just got a nice laugh.
12:40 p.m. He's in a long stretch of touting positive organizations. Peacemakers and other community groups. I see that on page 10 he'll be talking about his strong relationship with County Executive Russ Pry and getting city and county organizations to work together, something that probably gets criticized more than it should, especially in this economy.
12:42 p.m. On Page 11 .. he'll talk about the junk cars program that he pitched a year ago .. and share numbers when it comes to how many properties have been cleaned up. He'll also be talking about Bridgestone-Firestone's decision to stay in Akron and keep 1,000 jobs in town.
12:43 p.m. DP is now honoring two Akron Police Officers who disarmed a gunman who planned to rob some drug dealers.He's asking for a nice round of applause for them as an example of the strength of the department.
12:44 p.m. Don's now talking about how folks have a misconception of his relationship with APD. He must have read my blog post above .. lol.
12:46 p.m. He just showed a picture of the first motorized police wagon in the country, which was unveiled here in Akron.Nice joke there.
12:47 p.m. Later, DP will talk about the new BioInnovation Institute and the Knight Center for Digital Excellence, which is set to provide wi-fi to most of the city. Wish it were done right now so I could post this blog in real time. lol
12:49 p.m. I just joked with Jody Miller that the last paragraph of the entire speech promises a grocery store for Highland Square in 2009. Although, that promise is followed by "I can't guarantee that." Stay tuned for how that goes over.He mentions that the city is actively seeking the right developer to make the project work.
12:51 p.m. He's now discussing a plan to transfer Akron's drug officers to the operational command of the Summit County Drug Task Force. This would seem to be a good plan as the two organizations already work together on drug operations. DP prefaced this by talking about Sheriff Drew Alexander, whom DP called a "good friend."
12:53 p.m. He's in the middle of page 10 .. and looks like he might actually finish by 1 p.m . I didn't think it was possible, but he's coming in "on time."
12:54 p.m. He's talking now about plans to work with the county and others to help with health care for the poor, at least until some type of "national health care" plan becomes a reality.
12:56 p.m. Oh .. so I don't forget to say it later .. there was a one-man protest out on Market Street. A single person standing in the cold with two signs. Gotta give him credit for his dedication if nothing else on such a cold day. One sign criticized the mayor for the current lawsuit from the EPA that critics (Warner Mendenhall) say puts the COA on the hook for more than $100 million in fines for problems with the sewer system. City hall says the EPA is off base and that the courts will agree down the road.
12:58 p.m. I see the folks running the prompter for today's speech. They're doing well to make sure they stop when he gets off topic .. but without moving too slow for his speaking pace. DP has often kidded me about how easy of a job I must have because all I have to do is read a prompter. Ha. I'd love to see him give it a whirl while a director or producer whispers in his ear .. and while the clock is ticking on each story to finish on-time .. not early or late. Maybe he'd agree to swap jobs with me for a day. Now THAT could be fun. I'm sure he would turn our newsroom upside down .. and I'm sure the vastness of city hall responsibilities would wow me too. Still it would be an entertaining challenge.
1 p.m. DP's still talking .. but almost done. He's running over just a tad for folks who need to get back to work .. but for the most part, he's much closer to finishing "on time" than I anticipated.
1:02 p.m. He's hoping that since the Stimulus Package includes $7 billion for broadband, Akron can be first in line for grants expand the Knight Foundation's city wi-fi plans .. and ad-libbing that "folks in Goodyear Heights and Ellet" won't feel left out.
1:03 p.m. OK .. he's reached the last page of the speech .. and his showing a state map of where patents come from. He says that Akron leads the state in new patents.
1:05 p.m. He's praising the Obama administration now as understanding that "American cities are the engines of growth and commerce for the whole country."
1:06 p.m. OK .. he just rephrased the grocery store comment from the script. Just a bit. Now he's ad libbing that maybe we could build a store with an entrance on Market Street and parking on the roof.
1:07 p.m. Now he's taking aim at Warner Mendenhall and the recall effort. Now .. this isn't in the written script given to the press. But I can see that it IS in the prompter. He's telling the audience a recall election could cost the city up to$175,000 dollars. He says folks consider the recall a joke, but that the city can't accept it as a joke. )I see a handful of folks leaving because it's after 1 p.m.) Now he's going after Mendenhall and referencing the ABJ calling him a man of "puny accomplishments." Now he's saying the he may be in the "fight of his life." He's showing more passion here than in any other part of the speech. He's trying to fire up the crowd with his passion for the city and accomplishments.

1:10 p.m. Standing ovation and thanks .. on to Q&A.

1:15 p.m. I just realized that the speech was being beamed into the Tangier cabaret .. so I could have watched the speech in there and had a lot more room to sit and write. Ugh .. my bad .. guess I should have looked first.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Summit Deputies taser inmate with mental health issues; suspect in ICU

The broadcast expression "it's happened again" is probably too harsh for this case, but it's probably the best fit that comes to mind.

Summit Deputies tasered an inmate Saturday night less than an hour before the man would have been sent to a mental health facility for more treatment. When the inmate's heart stopped, the deputies resuscitated him using an AED; he's now in ICU at Akron General.

The suspect, 21-year-old Gregory Dillard, had been locked up since Feb. 16 when Akron Police busted him on a drug charge. Dillard has a long rap sheet with 11 previous visits to the jail.

A spokeswoman tells me that Dillard "was naked and jumping on his bed" and that deputies opened his cell door to give him new clothes. That's when Dillard attacked and was tazed, she said. Earlier in this most recent jail stay, Dillard was out of control and had to be placed in a four-point restraints until he agreed to take his medication.

While the incident is under investigation, the whole ordeal brings up a new call for help when it comes to dealing with those with mental health issues. All of the facts still need to come out, but on the surface I think it's fair to ask .. Where are the programs for the folks? What are deputies supposed to do in these cases?

Many will immediately recall the case of Mark McCullough, another man with mental health issues who died in the jail after being beaten and restrained by deputies. The officers were later found not guilty or had their charged dropped in court.

The entire incident screamed for an assessment of how we as a community are taking care of mental health cases and whether the jail is the best place for these folks to continue to be held.

I don't have the answer, but it does seem that something needs to change here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What News Anchor do during commercials

I just got this in a forwarded email .. unreal.

I doubt Carole and I could top this .. probably because we spend more time writing and researching than preparing our dance routines .. but you gotta admit, this is pretty darn entertaining.

As for what really happens during our commercial breaks at WKYC, it differs from day to day. Some days, we tell jokes .. and other days we discuss the stories that we just read or are coming up next. Often, in the commercial break between weather and sports, we have some good laughs with Betsy and Jim. Sometimes, I'm laughing so hard that I'm fearful I'll be in tears when we come back live.

Odds and ends as I play catch up

Going "around the horn" as they say in baseball ..

Looks like a well-known name in college football is coming to the Zips. Walt Harris --former Head Coach at Pitt and Stanford -- is expected to join J.D. Brookhart's staff. and others reported it last night. What's frustrating is that I found out about it on Monday, but the U of A wouldn't confirm it to our sports staff. Maybe it wasn't a done deal yet, but it's still frustrating. Brookhart would have worked with Harris during his stint with the Panthers.

Connie Schultz has a great column in today's paper. It's an area where the journalist and soldier sides of me have clashed, and I think she hits the idea squarely. Our journalists should be able to see the caskets of our fallen troops returning from war zones. I don't think it's an invasion of privacy, and I believe that our media can do cover it tastefully. I've lost soldiers that I knew in the war, and I know this is a touchy subject, but it's time that any ban for our journalists is lifted.

A friend tells me there's been a rash of cars stolen from gas stations and pizza joints because drivers have been leaving their cars idling trying to keep their interiors warm. So be warned.

Today's news that Goodyear is laying off 5,000 more jobs this is hard to even stomach. Wingfoot already let 4,000 go last year. We need more details -- specifically how many jobs will be local ones -- but this is tough to take.

More later ..

Friday, February 13, 2009

Who makes what at Akron City Hall ..

It's Friday .. and everyone in the newsroom is quite busy as we localize the Buffalo plane crash and prepare other stories as well for tonight's broadcast.

So .. as something completely new on this Friday afternoon ... I offer to you a look at where your money goes at Akron City Hall.

I'm offering no initial insight .. just data. Would love your comments as to whether these salaries are in line for what you thought our civic leaders earned and how you would modify them.


Mayor's Office
$ 146,432.00

Deputy Mayor/Economic Development
$ 121,056.00

Deputy Mayor for Administration
$ 121,056.00

Deputy Mayor for Public Safety
$ 110,676.80

Deputy Mayor/Labor Relations
$ 100,796.80

Deputy Mayor/Intergovernmental Relations
$ 91,291.20

Assistants to the Mayor
$ 121,056.00

Equal Employment Opportunity Officer
$ 75,358.40

Secretaries to the Mayor
$ 41,849.60

Director of Law
$ 121,056.00

Deputy Director of Law
$ 110,676.80

Assistant Directors of Law
$ 106,350.40

Director of Public Service
$ 121,056.00

Deputy Directors of Public Service
$ 100,796.80

Director of Finance
$ 121,056.00

Deputy Director of Finance
$ 110,676.80

Director of Planning & Urban Development
$ 121,056.00

Deputy Director of Planning & Urban Development
$ 110,676.80

$ 41,017.60

Council Members
$ 31,886.40

Civil Service Commissioners
$ 4,395.60

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Akron Police shooting callers should be ashamed

If you've been following the developments into Tuesday's shooting on Madison Avenue, then you know that an altercation occurred between an Akron Police Officer and a man suspected of tampering with vehicles. In the end, the officer fired a single shot and hit the 25-year-old suspect, who went to surgery and survived.

Those are the basic facts.

So why .. why .. why did people call our newsroom telling us that we "had to hurry because Akron Police just shot and killed a 14-year-old boy" and "there's a body still out there in the street"?

Those calls certainly made us drive faster to the scene as it sounded like the case was much more severe than we first heard.

When I arrived on scene, some of the first people who approached me recited the same story about the dead teen. Others told me that the boy had been the victim of a second shooting .. that something had happened during the canvass after the initial shooting and that police had shot a second person, in this case a teen, and killed him.


After about 30 minutes on scene, a woman came up to a Channel 3 videographer and me .. and began telling us that we needed to shift our camera to get video of the dead teen's body around the corner. When we told her that it wasn't true, that the man who was shot was in his 20's and that he was alive at the hospital, she looked at us like we were withholding information.

I know that rumors can float around a crime scene, and sometimes those folks like to push that info to the reporters on scene.

But in this case, I'm convinced that most of the folks who said these things were hoping that I would run them on the air as breaking news and make a bad situation worse. Some clearly have agendas when it comes to their view of police.

Akron's Police Auditor, Phil Young, was on scene. I didn't get a chance to chat with him, but he was out there doing his job. Plenty of APD supervisors were there too. So why don't we let the investigation tell us what happened without trying to stir up more tension with a bogus story?

Again .. rumors are natural and mistakes with rumors can happen. But for those who knowingly spread false information about something that's this serious, you should be ashamed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Akron's Superintendent says a high school may close

Akron Superintendent David James taped an interview with Carole Sullivan and me a short time ago .. and in the end of the interview, I asked him if more buildings could be closed and if a high school could be part of the cuts. He said that yes more building closures and/or consolidations are on the way ... and as for a high school closing, he said it's a "possibility."

See the entire interiew tonight at 7 ..

More later .. Eric

Monday, February 9, 2009

Akron Schools to close five buildings in major shakeup

I wasn't there, but I'm told there was a very serious tone at Monday night's Akron School Board meeting. When you vote to close five schools, serious is appropriate to say the least.

The casualties:

  • Goodrich Middle School
  • Reidinger Middle School
  • Lincoln Elementary School
  • Erie Island Elementary School
  • Stewart Elementary School

While students in the first four schools will be displaced to other buildings, students at Stewart Elementary will move as a unit to the new Crouse Elementary School and share the building. In short, two elementary school communities operating under one roof.

We knew this day was coming as David James said last week at his State-of-the-Schools speech that the district needed to "downsize" as there are only 23,800 students currently enrolled.

I heard rumors late last week that a high school might get the axe, but in the end it was the five schools above.

Clearly the staffs at these schools and the students too will have a lot to say in the next few days. I still need some time to analyze the impact, but on the surface, the middle school cuts make sense as both of those buildings fed some students to Central-Hower, which is now closed.

I sense that the board members themselves have to have taken this very personally as they've had to make a steady stream of cuts for the last few years.

More to come, but what are you initial thoughts?

ANOTHER local teacher caught up having sex with students?

At some point folks, this has to stop.

This time it's an English teacher in the Rittman Schools. Erin Speicher, 34, resigned Friday after the allegations surfaced involving alleged sexual relationships with Rittman students in Orrville, where she lives.

I spoke to Rittman's Superintendent, Jon Ritchie, about the allegations, and he was obviously just disappointed that it came to this.

While he couldn't talk about the details of the allegations, he told me Rittman High's enrollment is 425, so it's a school that's small enough that everyone knows this teacher. So everyone is talking about it. And every parent has concerns now.

Speicher's not only taught Freshman English, she also served as the Junior Class Advisor. In other words, she was in a position of real influence over so many young minds.

Who doesn't remember your 9th grade English teacher?

Right now, Speicher is facing a single felony count of Sexual Battery .. but more charges could follow as the Orrville Police Press release indicates there were "multiple alleged incidents" and that more than one high school student was involved. She was arraigned today and pleaded not guilty.
Here's a woman who spent 12 years in this school district, and according to the Superintendent, had no blemishes in her past. Now this?

Are we really to believe that no one else had any idea that she might have been engaging in relationships that crossed the line? No students suspected anything? No parents? No fellow teachers? I would hope that if anyone suspected something that they reported it.
Maybe the only thing that went right in this mess is that the school district immediately called police and let them handle the investigation. You don't have to look back very far to see other local districts who tried to handle these types of allegations "in-house" only to have it backfire.

I hate these cases .. not just for the students (the real victims here) but because it gives a black eye to every other teacher out there busting their butts to educate our kids. Teachers who now face additional scrutiny from curious parents who wonder, "I wonder if she/he is behaving correctly around my son/daughter?"


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Beacon Journal taking an early vacation

Everyone -- reporters included -- looks forward to vacation time, but how would you feel if you were encouraged to take your vacation right away.

That's what's happening at the ABJ where staffers tell me that a mass push is underway to get every employee to take one week's vacation in the next month or so.

The paper's bottom line can apparently benefit from being able to show that vacation time is being paid and not accrued. Represented employees can say "no" but one writer told me that he's planning to go ahead and do it to "be a good sport" and help the company.

Still, for an organization that isn't quite staffed by even 50 percent of what it once was, how can it afford to have larger quantities of folks out on vacation at the same time?

And by the way ... Bob Dyer's comments about the NewsNight Akron set were right on the money. Some viewers hate it that I stand (or used to stand) while others aren't bothered; some folks hate the moving traffic in the background while others seem to like it. I'm just pleased that the show has a large enough audience (#1 on Western Reserve Public Media) that complaints warrant discussion.

By the way .. Friday's show includes both Ed Esposito and Jody Miller on the panel. David Giffels and I might just play cards again .. so we can watch the fight up close.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Odds and Ends on a Monday

Chris Tye has a solid piece coming up tonight at 7 about "Faith and Finance." A great many local churches are finding a calling to educate their leaders on financial counseling. So many families are struggling that the church can make a big impact by helping them meet their needs. I know that at The Chapel and other Akron-area churches, a great many folks are ready to help with financial counseling and resource referrals.

Did anyone else see a Barberton connection in the end zone during the third quarter of the Super Bowl? I haven't had a chance to fight back through the DVR, but I'm told it was pretty clear.

I'm seeing several on-line articles taking President Obama to task for not attending the Heroes Ball, which included more than 40 Medal of Honor winners. Presidents have attended it every four years for a half a century. Some found it very upsetting that Obama did not attend, but others note that Vice President Biden did attend the Heroes Ball and that Obama addressed veterans at several other venues, including dancing with a female service member at one of the ten balls he did attend. A statement from the American Legion says that the group did not feel slighted that Obama didn't make a stop for the heroes. As a veteran, I don't feel slighted either, but for the special MOH winners, it's too bad Obama wasn't able to make the schedule work.

Carole Sullivan is out of town this week so I'll be teaming up with Monica Robins. It's always great to work with Monica, who is so knowledgeable on a great many local issues. The only down side is that she's a Steelers fan (lol) but I'm excited to work with her on Friday, because that's the day that's "Go Red for Women" day and Monica has been leading the newsroom effort to make sure we're all in red that day.