Friday, August 28, 2009

Odds and Ends on a Friday ..

Scribbles in my notebook .. and stuff on my brain on this wet Friday afternoon.

I'm looking forward to seeing tonight's NewsNight Akron since I wasn't on the show today. Ed Esposito was nice enough to host in my place so that I wouldn't be in a conflict of interest in the discussion about candidates for Akron School Board. (My wife, Lisa, is one of nine who will be on the ballot for four seats). I'll probably step aside at least once more before the November election for the same reason.

I saw Bruce Kilby a few weeks back at the Board of Elections. He was dressed in a camouflage pants, boots, and a black-and-gold shirt as I recall. He looked like was ready for war going door-to-door to campaign. It illustrates to me of how much is at stake in the Sept. 8 council races. I'm also hearing that Anthony Dilauro might be a real surprise in Ward 5. He's spent a lot of money on signs in a race of four for the Democratic nod with the winner facing Republican write-in candidate Dwight Pulos in November.

$195,604.18 for the Recall that ended with a status quo? Wow! As a taxpayer I'm speechless.

I'd expect more layoffs from City Hall to be announced sooner than later. The 120+ employees taking the buyout incentives will help but are still pretty short of the mandated goal of a balanced budget.

Sandra Kurt's bold move in Ward 8 to secure the Summit County Democratic Party's nomination will limit her competitors use of any DP tools. Apparently the rules state that if enough of the Precinct Captains support one candidate -- in this case Kurt -- the others are prohibited from even using the party's fax machine. A written rule or not, some are crying foul .. that so much is at stake with these council elections that voters need to get the most they can from each candidate. Thoughts?

An Akron Police officer told me that he met a man and his sons from Ashtabula who were downtown looking for the Aeros game. He said he had good seats and wanted directions to Jerry Uht stadium. The officer told him that he had never heard of that stadium, and that the Aeros play at Canal Park. Long story short, the tickets were indeed to see the Aeros play .. but the game was in Erie.

And finally .. a U of A professor recently rode the "Roo Express" along with the students during a jaunt across campus. She tells me that the song playing on the speaker system was Adina Howard's "T-shirt and panties" which is one of the filthiest sets of lyrics you'll ever hear. She said some of the students seemed to be singing along, but thought the U of A should show better judgement in what's appropriate to play on campus transportation.

Friday, August 14, 2009

UPDATE: City of Akron says 106 take buyout saving $6 million

New info released from the COA around 4:30 p.m. today says that 106 employees have taken the buyout and that it will save the city around $6 million, which is about half of what's needed.

We still don't know how the cuts spread out across the departments (police, fire, water, etc..) but I'd say that's an amazing start for financial savings, but the adjustment to city services is just beginning. Eric

Akron extends buyout incentives, says 75 have taken separation deal

Akron is extending its deadline for employees to take the buyout. 4 p.m. today (Friday) had been "Zero Hour" but now it's been extended until Aug. 24th at 4:30 p.m.

Mayor Plusquellic's letter to city employees indicates that 75 employees have accepted the incentive to step down, and I can only assume that Law Director Max Rothal is one of them. (His retirement was announced earlier today with Cheri Cunningham now taking over.)

The number is higher than I expected. Most city employees with whom I've spoken in the last few weeks have told me that they doubted many of their co-workers could afford to take the risk.

The Mayor's release indicates that some employees thought they aren't eligible when in fact they are. Still, even with 75 folks stepping forward, Plusquellic warned of tough days ahead:

"Make no mistake - as agonizing as it is for me to consider - there will be layoffs in September of permanent, full-time city workers on multiple levels in order to fill a projected budget deficit of approximately $12 million before year’s end. I would hate to see someone miss this opportunity for a one-time cash payout, and then suffer the loss of their job when this alternative is being made available to all."

Plusquellic said last month that approximately 260+ employees would need to take the buyout in order for the city to meet budget. Hopefully the voluntary furloughs that at least three of the unions have agreed to take will also make a difference.

Still .. I can't help but wonder how our city will operate later this year with what could be a 10 percent drop in overall employees. For example, whether 30 police officers take the buyout or 30 are let go, the net result is still 30 fewer officers.

What are your concerns?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

No myth about viewer's reaction to Health Care Interview

I've received quite a few emails today .. from folks who took issue with last night's FOCUS issue with Dr. Jason Johnson, a political science professor from Hiram College.

Monica and I invited Johnson to come on and analyze some of the key complaints about the health care proposal, specifically whether they are myths. I always find it interesting that viewers seem to think that we should beat up people whom we've invited to come as guests. Does that make any sense? Again, we asked him to come on the air with us .. so should we beat him up? Especially a guy who is not in the health care field and doesn't have a stake in the plan?

Some viewers felt that Johnson was too open about being in favor of the program or is flat out Pro-Obama on this topic. I invite most to watch the interview again .. and to understand its intent.

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the topic .. but just because someone calls one of the charges -- the "death panels" for instance -- to be a myth, is not the same as saying that you endorse the health plan.

I'll agree the Johnson editorialized a bit on the final points, but he also took aim at President Obama at the end of the interview for failing to follow through on his part of developing the plan.

We plan a great many more segments on this topic, including an upcoming town hall meeting here at TV3.

Again, few people email to tell you when they like a segment .. so I don't read too much into the idea that criticism filled my in-box.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Catching up ...

Scribbles in my busy notebook:

More layoffs and changes are all but certain at Akron City Hall .. and don't be surprised if they go as high as cabinet members or department managers. Lifeguards and law clerks will only save so much. As for how many police officers may go -- either via layoffs or from the buyout incentives -- that's anyone's guess. I did speak to a 30-year veteran who was taking the buyout because "I'm tired of the younger officers who don't want to work for what they have and want everything handed to them." His words, not mine.

Lately I've seen some local parents who have set me off. First, a woman walking her young child to school (good so far) while wearing a jacket with Scarface on the back holding up a few handguns. I mean, what heck kind of message is that to show your child? Second, I saw a woman with her three children on Exchange Street and she was wearing a shirt that said "Do I look like a F*(*)()*g People Person?". Again, here's a mom who has her young children walking beside her, and that's the message she shows the world? Note to parents -- your kids see what you do and how you act! So wake up!

I keep getting emails about an unreleased 911 call from the Lux fight. To date, everyone tells me that it doesn't exist, so I'm starting to believe it was urban legend that got away from people who were looking for a smoking gun. For the record, the initial tips that I received about the incident alleged that Mayor Plusquellic used much, MUCH stronger language in his 911 calls. As we've since heard, that wasn't the case. If another call of substance truly exists, it's bound to come out. If not, let's move on.

The Ernie Tarle-Dave Reymann debacle is just that. Regardless of who was right or wrong, it makes our city look bad .. and it makes a great many voters ask "just who the heck is running for council these days?"

I had a chance to take in the Hall of Fame Game Sunday night. Hot and humid, but a lot of fun. Before the game, I had a chance to shake hands outside the stadium with an interesting combination: Fred Biletnikoff and Eric Metcalf. One is a Hall of Famer and the other is a Browns player who just couldn't find the right niche to be effective but who did provide some electric touchdowns. Both men were very nice and shook hands with a lot of fans.

My days have been busier with no end in sight. The ever-changing business requires me to shoot video and even edit sometimes (four out of five days last week for example), which reduces the amount of time to blog, twitter, and write on Facebook too. It's a busy world for journalists trying to feed so many platforms. Want to see my shooting skills in action? Click here and take a look at this photo from the Plain Dealer. You can't see my face, but it's me in a shirt and tie and sporting a camera. That story ended up as our lead story at 7. Guess that makes me a "full service" journalist.

More later ..

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

911 calls released from city hall

Call #2 .. Mayor speaking with Radio Room Sergeant

Call #1 .. Mayor calling in initial incident

Call #3 .. Mayor receives call back from Dispatch

Mayor's response to downtown fight .

I'll have the 911 calls up in a minute, but for starters, here's the mayor's statement released at 9:25 a.m.

Mayor Don Plusquellic
August 4, 2009

On Saturday evening, August 1, at approximately 10:50pm, I met friends at the Bricco Restaurant on South Main Street. Earlier that evening, I welcomed audiences at our Ballet Summer Festival at Glendale Cemetery, and at the 9:00pm concert at Lock 3.
I exited the restaurant shortly after 2:00am, and walked north on Main toward the place where I had parked my car.
A friend who had been in Bricco came outside to continue our discussions for several minutes. Suddenly, I heard a commotion going on around the corner at Main and Exchange. Someone was yelling “fight.” I immediately walked in that direction to see if I could help. A large crowd of people came rushing past me, and continued around the corner where they proceeded to carry on a fight that apparently broke-out on Exchange Street.
I attempted twice to call 9-1-1 when the fight first started, but was placed on hold. Given all the people running around, and not being able to determine how to physically help, and believing I could have been hit while holding the phone, I hung up.
While I was blocked from seeing the faces of the combatants, I became aware that someone had been punched and was lying in the street. I witnessed a person kick the victim lying on the ground but was unable to see his face.
As people (combatants and witnesses alike) scattered, and police started to arrive on the scene, I called 9-1-1 at 2:38am for the third time, to get EMS to the scene. I was advised that they had already been called, and I informed the 9-1-1 center that I was concerned about having been put on hold earlier.
At 2:41am, I received a call from the 9-1-1 center asking if I had called in. I told them that I had called-in, and had received a recorded message, and was placed on hold. I asked to speak to the police sergeant on duty. As Safety Director of the City of Akron, I directed him to document the number of calls received in the 9-1-1 center about this incident, and to document what circumstances required calls to be placed on hold. I indicated to him that I would take-up the matter with Chief Craig Gilbride the following day.
This action - stated in tough terms in a stressful situation - was partially in reaction to the incident that had occurred June 27 in Firestone Park -the botched response to the several calls that went unreported for over three weeks following a terrible assault. Even our hard-working detectives couldn’t get accurate and timely information from the 9-1-1 center, which caused a very bad perception of the Akron Police Department.
The Firestone Park incident on June 27 had raised these concerns anew because detectives investigating the assault case after the fireworks, were first advised that there were no other calls, and later learned that there were multiple calls to the 9-1-1 center, some of whom had been placed on hold.
It was essential that this problem be documented so that solutions to this problem can be applied.
During the time that I was on Main Street early Sunday, I spoke to witnesses regarding what they had seen, and I continuously relayed to police officers what others had said to me about the start of the fight. I directed individuals who had seen the fight take place to make their statements to police officers. I did everything I could to help police get the information they needed, so that an arrest could be made.
The police officer who completed the written incident report listed me as an ancillary person to the investigation. The report form provides a box labeled speech, in which the officer wrote the word “slurred.” Recordings of my calls to the 9-1-1 center do not support this conclusion. The recordings are posted on the city’s website.
I have witnessed a number of fights before - as a coach present on basketball courts and baseball playing fields. I have been involved in breaking-up fights, including one on Main Street several years ago. The incident Sunday was much more horrific because of the injury to the victim. People at the scene who spoke to me believed that this was more than a few rowdy guys throwing punches. This is why we were motivated to help police as much as we could.
The truth however, was that from the arrival of the first officer on the scene - who displayed an attitude that drove most of the witnesses away - had I not remained at the scene and encouraged other witnesses to cooperate, the officers who later took the statements that are now being used by detectives, would not have been able to gather the information that led to the arrest of a responsible person, which occurred because of my insistence that they interview certain witnesses to the event.
The president of the FOP has chosen to attack me for getting involved. Anyone listening to the 9-1-1 tape recordings will agree that the story concocted by the FOP president is flatly wrong - for whatever political or personal reason he may have. We simply cannot afford to not have people involved to help police. Without my remaining on the scene, and insistence that witnesses also remain to be interviewed, we could have had yet another unsolved case.
I am never just an ordinary bystander when I am present at the scene of a safety emergency. The Charter of the City of Akron designates me as the Safety Director, and I am in charge of all police and fire matters. Because I was a practicing lawyer and former criminal prosecutor, I also know the importance of gathering information immediately. This was my only purpose Sunday morning - to direct the people who had approached me with valuable information because they knew who I was - to officers who could take down the details to secure an arrest, and hopefully a conviction of whoever was responsible for this horrible beating.
It is always my responsibility to ensure that the police department in all its facets - patrol officers, detectives, 9-1-1 call takers and dispatchers - do their jobs properly, so that we never again have an unfortunate situation like the one that occurred in June in Firestone Park.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Things you shouldn't say when there's a recording device

If you think you've heard it all in Akron Politics .. just wait .. it's about to rain hard .. really hard ... stay tuned .. Eric