Friday, May 29, 2009

Pair of Akron teachers show the worst of the worst

There's irony. There's coincidence. And there's the day I had today.

Two Akron teachers whose sins became lead stories for me are both back in the news.

First, William Bennett -- the Firestone High School counselor who molested teen boys -- launched a Facebook profile and ironically one of the first friends he acquired recommended him as a friend for me. I mean, what are the odds?

I immediately recognized his name and face from 10 years ago, and after checking that he was still a registered sex offender (tier 3, the worst) I contacted Sheriff Drew Alexander who sent a deputy out to talk to Bennett.

Meanwhile, Facebook, which has a strict "no sex offender" policy, yanked Bennett's new cyber page within minutes of my notification to them.

Coincidentally, on the same day I'm updated that Akron teacher's story, I get word that another former educator, Benjam Terril, has been released early from jail; he served less than three months of an 18-month sentence.

Terril was the Buchtel Science teacher who pointed a loaded gun at another man's head on Labor Day and then told Akron Police that he had "military experience" and that's why he needed an arsenal of guns and knives in his house. I checked his resume with the Akron Schools and determined through public records that his entire military career -- including claims of combat service in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne -- was bogus. Terril never served a single day in uniform.

The Akron School Board fired Terril based on the bogus resume alone.

So today .. I'm writing stories on both of these former educators .. and I'm lamenting that the hard-working teachers my sons currently have in the Akron Schools get a bad rap because two of their colleagues became the worst of the worst when it comes to our schools.

I spoke to a teacher today who told me that she routinely is up past midnight grading papers and trying to keep up with the amount of work her students turn in. Those are long days, and they're not for mega wages either. She does it because she loves kids -- period.

Most teachers go into education for all of the right reasons ... and it's really upsetting when teachers like Bennett and Terril cross the line.

For what it's worth, both have now served their prison time and are abiding by the rules of their release. Let's hope both have peaceful futures and do not re-offend.

Yet, oddly enough, both are back in the news in the same day.

Like I said .. There's irony. There's coincidence. And then there's the day I had today.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Monica Robins' Blog

My co-anchor, Monica Robins, has joined the blogging ranks by launching her new prose at Monica's Daily Dose.

As Senior Medical Correspondent, Monica has insight into the medical world like no one else. She's one of the hardest-working journalists I've ever met, so she's already typing a lot as it is .. but I think she's going to enjoy blogging as an outlet to her daily news assignments.

Stop by and check out Monica's blog .. and give her some feedback .. I know she'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Seriously? This is an ad .. for what???

Logged on to lately? Go visit and you'll see an animated ad that leads to this picture.

Think a short skirt and legs surrounded by colorful shoes grabs your attention? You bet it does.

Now .. want to guess what the product is?

Believe it or not, it's for a natural gas supplier.

Not that showing a gas meter or a well would grab my attention, but umm .. just how dumb are we?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Ohio Vietnam Memorial in Clinton - my second documentary

I know most of us were glued to the Cavs Friday night, but over on 45/49, my second documentary on the Ohio Vietnam Memorial in Clinton, south of Akron, took shape. You can watch it here.

Executive Producers Barb and Duilio Mariola put a lot of hours into shooting and editing this piece, which follows the path to making Ohio's first memorial for Vietnam a reality. I learned a lot about the war through this experience.

Take a look . and I'd love some feedback.

Veterans Day speech in Copley

I had a great experience today delivering the Memorial Day address in Copley. We had a great turnout, great weather, and veterans and families who really understand the meaning of sacrifice. Hopefully, my words fit the occasion.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Odds and Ends on a Friday

I've got so many responsibilities in the newsroom these days, that I never get to write for the blog these days .. so I'll try to catch up before the Cavs tip off.

Had a nice sit-down this week with Frank LaRose Jr., who has declared his candidacy for the 27th Senate Seat being vacated by Kevin Coughlin (term limits). LaRose is a Green Beret with Iraq and Kosovo experience, so we had lots to chat about when the camera was off. Dick Russ will be airing a story on LaRose soon, but here's some more about him. First impressions are that LaRose is pretty sharp .. and he's polished on the talking points of making our economy and education better .. and he's got time to research and learn how to make those ideas a reality. He's declared a bit early since the election is in the fall of 2010, but then again, what do I know???

I got a call from an older couple in Coventry that received their Social Security stimulus money this week via direct deposit. A whopping $2. Two bucks. "What am I supposed to stimulate with that?" the man told me. I reminded him to make sure his wife got her dollar too before he spent all of it. He didn't sound amused.

I'm looking forward to Monday when I'll be honored as the Grand Marshall of Copley's Memorial Day parade. The parade steps off at 10 a.m. at the Middle School. Come out and say hello if you can.

I broke new ground at work on Tuesday by reporting, shooting, and editing my story for the evening news. Our business is quickly shifting from two-man teams (1 reporter, 1 videographer) to a single MMJ (Multi-Media Journalist) who does it all. I was a guinea pig of sorts to try this for WKYC. My assignment -- the latest on Akron's Mayoral Recall. The good news was that I tracked down both Mayor Plusquellic and Warner Mendenhall for interviews.

Both were pretty surprised that I showed up in my own car with a tripod and camera instead of a Channel 3 car with a photographer. The bad news was that I wasn't nearly as focused on my questions because I was so worried about the focus and audio of the camera and making sure that it was recording properly. Later, I had a mega-problems with editing as my laptop editor didn't cooperate with the additional videotapes that I needed for the story. So in the final moments, I re-wrote my story to match the few video shots (city hall, two web sites) that I had and the story got on the air.

Not my best work by a long shot, but it made air. After my editing nightmare in the Akron office, I drove north to Cleveland and arrived about 20 minutes before the 7 p.m. broadcast. I was frazzled on the anchor desk to say the least.

After talking it over with the computer folks .. and my managers .. the decision's been made that future MMJ shoots that are for that same night's broadcast will be edited on "newscutter" computers in the newsroom rather than laptops. The Newscutters are connected to the entire video system and will allow faster editing that can be uploaded into the actual broadcast.

Personally .. I just can't have another day like that and expect to relaxed on the air. Everyone in TV News is doing more these days than they used to do, but we've got to find ways to work smarter to make it all work.

OK .. Cavs just tipped off in Game 2 .. more later!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Knute Larson's passion, heart will be tough to replace

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Pastor Knute Larson of The Chapel to talk about his final week with the church. He's retiring after more than a quarter century to spend more time with his family and help develop younger pastors. His final sermon will be this Sunday.

Knute is one of those few leaders who clearly puts his organization above himself. I know that a lot of corporate CEOs and politicians will tell you they do .. and point to accomplishments to show how much they value their supporters .. but few will miss a beat to talk about themselves.

Not Knute. Getting him to talk about himself in great detail is like slaying a giant with a slingshot. It doesn't happen often, and when it does, it's worth remembering.

Ask him why he thinks he was chosen to be a leader, and he'll quickly push the answer to "God is Good." Ask him if he thinks he's made a difference, and he'll usually end the sentence with a message about God's grace.

There's staying "on topic" and then there's Knute.

His heart is genuine and his intentions are always aimed at reaching the unreachable. During our interview, I had the opportunity to walk up to the podium at the Worship Center. The podium is sacred ground for pastors. Knute told me he enjoys having it there as a symbol of the way preachers have spread the Good News for centuries.

Still, to stand there next to someone whose words are aimed at reaching into the souls of thousands and guiding them to a journey of Salvation, well .. that's a lot of weight to carry on your shoulders. Knute likened it to my job of delivering the news, but I was quick to point out that if I make a mistake, people can move on with their day and be ok .. but if HE makes a mistake on Sunday, it could drive someone away from the church or confuse them forever. BIG difference.

Knute told me that this final sermon will come from Acts as Paul tells the disciples that he is leaving them because he loves them. Great parallel.

I could go on and on .. and I know that I don't know Knute nearly as well as so many others in the community .. but I do know that he's been a great leader, a good friend, and a solid example for us all.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Council debates, researches recall election date

The answer to the trivia question is 3,774.

That's how many signatures were validated in order for the recall of Mayor Don Plusquellic to reach the ballot.

The group hoping to recall DP has been pounding its chests with numbers closer to 7,000, as though that many people wanted to see an immediate change in leadership, but it's the valid number that officially counts. 3,774 is about 600 more than was required.

City Council will certify the petitions tonight and will officially start the clock for a special election to be held sometime between June 20th and July 4th.

Some of the comments I'm already receiving:

" get out and vote on JUST that issue. All this is going to do is burrow DP deeper in his bunker and make it that much more difficult to effect change. DP and I have been friends for over 30 years. BUT ... if it's time for a change, then present lOGICAL, CAPABLE, SUITABLE challenges to his office.The late great John S. Knight once said ... 'I don't care who runs Akron - but someone had better. It's too important to be left without leadership.'"

Others have weighed in that they believe the recall will be successful and that they firmly believe it's time for a change while many believe it's a waste of time and money and are upset that it's gotten this far.

I still haven't seen one point that validates the need for a recall; saying that you don't like DP or didn't agree with some of his decisions seem to fly in the face of the need for a recall. Shouldn't recalls be saved for elected officials who commit crimes (Blagojevich) or get caught in major ethical jackpots (Marc Dann)?

Council's task now is to determine what kind of election it hopes to have. Do you schedule it on a traditional Tuesday when there might be a traditional turnout (whatever that is for a late June election)? Or do you schedule it on an odd day of the week .. say Sunday or Monday .. in hopes of having a smaller turnout? Don't roll your eyes .. more than one insider at city hall tells me that's possible.

And if it's scheduled closer to the fourth of July, what burden does that place on the Board of Elections to have volunteers for the polls as well as staff members at the BOE who might have vacations scheduled for that week? Will there be early voting like we saw in the fall?

Will the ballot read "Should Mayor Don Plusquellic be recalled?" in which case a "yes" vote would remove him from city hall?

Or will the ballot read "Should Mayor Don Plusquellic stay in office?" in which case a "yes" vote would defeat the recall?

A lot still be to be decided ..

Friday, May 8, 2009

Movie about LeBron, St. V Team enticing

I had a great chat with a good friend, David Lee Morgan, yesterday. He's a great writer and an even better man.

He joined Monica and me for a live segment talking about LeBron's growth and success. As author of LeBron James, the first book on The Chosen One, David gets a lot of calls for interviews about what LBJ was really like in high school.

I'll write more when I get time ... but David sent me this link to the preview trailer for "More Than A Game", the documentary movie that's set for a fall release. Check it out .. looks great.

Here also is David's interview from last night .. good insight in our FOCUS segment.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Recall petitions to be filed at 1 p.m.

A post from Warner Mendenhall says that he plans to deliver additional petitions fo the city clerk at 1 p.m. He claims to have about 2,000 additional names. The recall group needs about 500 more valid signatures to get the recall on the ballot over the next 60 days.

We're still a few days away from seeing if the list of names will hold up; that's where the Board of Elections will have final say.

But we could know for sure by Monday ...

More later .. Eric

Monday, May 4, 2009

He's no Don Plusquellic ..

I just came to the end of my first press conference at Cleveland City Hall with Mayor Frank Jackson. I say that "I just came to the end" because the press conference wasn't finished. It just ended.

Jackson and County Commissioner Tim Hagan announced the signing of a letter of intent for the county to pay the city $20 million for the Convention Center site to build the Medical Mart.

$20 million. That's a bunch.

The media was handed a two-page list of the details of the agreement, and it was a lot to digest.

I'm accustomed to being at press conferences where the media has a chance to really iron out the details and make sure that we understand what's being presented. After all, if we get it right in our stories, everyone benefits. There's nothing worse than making a mistake in fact, especially when it involves a major development deal.

So you can imagine my surprise when I got to ask one -- 1 -- uno -- a single -- question about the deal. A few other reporters each got a single question in as well .. and then it was over. A press secretary said "thank you" and that was it.

Done. Over. Thanks for coming. Don't let the FREE statue hit you in the butt as you walk back towards E. 9th Street.

My first thought was " .. well, he's no Don Plusquellic."

Akron's Mayor has been known to hold marathon press conferences; many of them easily busting the one-hour mark and that includes issues with only a fraction of the impact of a $20 million sale. Plusquellic would go out of his way to ensure the media understood the details he was announcing ..

I can't for the life of me understand why Jackson and Hagan would gloss over the bullet points of this issue without wanting to make sure the media's questions were answered to the smallest detail.

For example, the release included bullet points about:
  • Bed tax dollars the city will continue to collect for the convention center even though it will no longer own it. So where will those dollars go now?

  • $2.5 million of the price tag encouraged to go for Perk Park but Jackson won't guarantee how/how much of those dollars will be spent there. So what's the plan for it then?

  • Clauses in the contract that provide for a training program for kids in the Cleveland schools to learn skills for employment with the Medical Mart. Really? What skills would those be? Does that mean these kids will get jobs when they graduate?

  • The city will support the county's push for tax abatement on the nearly $500 million project. So how much will local schools and other community projects miss out?

  • The city would covey title to the Public Auditorium, but the city can re-take possession in 2067. Why then? What's up with a 48-year agreement on that property?

  • The county agrees to hire at least 10 of the Convention Center employees to work in the new Medical Mart. How many are there now? Which jobs will transfer over? And why only 10?
Those are just the basic questions that came to mind based on the handout given to the media.

I also wondered what Mayor Jackson meant by calling the Commissioners "courageous" for having the foresight to approve a tax for the project without going before the voters.

Say what???? Isn't that the single biggest complaint by the public over the project?

This has nothing to do with whether or not the media agrees with a project like this, or whether I agree or disagree with anything Plusquellic or Jackson present to the public.

But I stand firm that when a public leader has the opportunity to make sure the facts are presented correctly and all pertinent questions are answered, they have a responsibility to do so.

Jackson should carve out some time and take a few notes at a Plusquellic Presser. The public could benefit a lot.

I know I still have a lot to learn about Cleveland, but likewise, what I saw today tells me the leaders have a lot to learn too.