Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Cleveland Plain Dealer. April 16, 2021.

Editorial: Despite Census delays, Ohio can take steps now to ensure public input in redistricting process

That Ohioans want fairly drawn General Assembly and U.S. House seats is incontestable. In November 2015, 71% of those voting ratified a state constitutional amendment (H.J.R. 12) to reform how Ohio draws (“reapportions”) its General Assembly districts. And in May 2018, an even greater proportion of those Ohioans voting – 75% – ratified a state constitutional amendment (S.J.R. 5) to reform how Ohio draws its congressional districts, a task known as “redistricting.”

Voters were motivated not just by Ohio’s crazy quilt of gerrymandered districts but also by a perception that political insiders, aided by new computer programs that allowed block-by-block map redrawing, had hijacked what should be a fair, transparent and honest public process.

The first test for these reforms is coming, using 2020 Census data to redraw Ohio’s legislative and General Assembly maps.

Trouble is, the 2020 Census results will arrive late, significantly late -- possibly not until September 30. That will challenge Ohio to revise its redistricting deadlines and to take other measures to adjust. (Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s attempt to force the U.S. Census Bureau to give Ohio bad data now was laughed out of federal court, but Yost has appealed.)

What Ohio should not do is to use these delays to thwart the voters’ clear intent, as expressed in the 2015 and 2018 referendums, to ensure transparency, fairness and full public input in the redistricting process.

Further, there is much that Ohio lawmakers can do now to advance the public interest and forestall backsliding -- as highlighted in recent recommendations from Fair Districts Ohio, a good-government coalition that includes the League of Women Voters of Ohio, Common Cause Ohio and others.

These include:

(asterisk) Naming legislative members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission now.

(asterisk) Exploring whether to push back the 2022 primary in Ohio to June to ensure sufficient time for redistricting.

(asterisk) Releasing money already budgeted for the redistricting process, without waiting until the last minute when the process might be rushed and nontransparent.

(asterisk) Setting a new map-drawing timeline that includes full public input, and getting testimony now from the public and experts on how best to achieve these and other safeguards.

What Ohio cannot do is go back to the old, narrowly partisan mode of redistricting. Both political parties have exploited redistricting in the past, but as the process has gotten ever easier to manipulate, the stakes have risen.

A decade ago, Ohio’s current 16 congressional districts were ordered from the General Assembly like takeout by then U.S. House Speaker John A. Boehner of suburban Cincinnati. And the map they drew in a Columbus hotel “bunker” virtually guaranteed that Ohio’s 16 districts would elect 12 Republicans and four Democrats to the U.S. House.

Likewise, Ohio’s 33 state Senate and 99 Ohio House districts, drawn by a GOP-run Apportionment Board, have helped keep the GOP in control of the state Senate for 36 consecutive years.

But partisan taunts about who started what in Ohio and when are fundamentally irrelevant: Ohio’s voters have said, as clearly and loudly as they’ve said anything, that enough is enough.

To redraw Ohio House and Senate districts, voters in 2015 replaced the Apportionment Board with a seven-member Ohio Redistricting Commission. The 2015 reform sets fairness and geographic standards for districts. And the measure requires the approval of new General Assembly districts by at least four panel members, with at least two from each party. If the panel deadlocks along party lines, it can still approve new districts, but for four years, not ten.

To redraw congressional districts, voters in 2018 decided that the General Assembly itself, as now, could create them by passing a bill -- but with a significant new requirement: That congressional remap must be approved by at least three-fifths of the members of each house, “including the affirmative vote of at least one-third of the members of each of the two largest political parties represented in that house.” Failing that, the Redistricting Commission would redraw congressional districts.

The reforms also impose additional requirements to add fairness and equity and to try to prevent partisan slicing and dicing of communities and constituencies.

As welcome as these changes are, there remains a danger they could prove two-dimensional – political insiders taking care of each other. There’s one strong remedy: full, active attention and (to borrow a Great Society phrase) maximum feasible participation in district-drawing by Ohio voters of both parties, and of no party.

That’s where the battery of current actions that the nonpartisan, interracial Fair Districts Ohio coalition is pushing comes in -- to safeguard and advance the twin goals of maximal public input and transparency despite Census delays.

These recommendations will help ensure that the people’s business – fair legislative and congressional districts — doesn’t again devolve to become the private business of certain state officeholders. And that what Ohioans wanted and expected when they cast their votes in 2015 and 2018 is honored, and complied with.

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Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. April 16, 2021.

Editorial: GOP commissioners play the victims

Poor Michelle Hung and Dave Moore.

The two Republican Lorain County commissioners have been in office a little over three months and, to hear them tell it, they are being treated very unfairly.

It’s a page straight out of former President Donald Trump’s playbook. He spent four years claiming victimhood despite being the most powerful man in the world.

Likewise, Hung and Moore together hold all the power on the three-member Board of Commissioners, but people keep disagreeing with them.

Forget persuasion. Hung and Moore prefer punishment.

Take their fight with the Lorain County Veterans Service Commission, which had the temerity to object to their decision to rescind more than $300,000 set aside for a Veterans Service Fund created in December, something county Administrator Tom Williams called a slush fund.

When the veterans commission president and executive director complained in a letter last week, Hung called it “a political hit job.” On Wednesday, Hung and Moore voted to cut the pay of commission members, who had received a raise in December.

Hung and Moore defended the pay cut on the grounds that no other board the county commissioners oversee was paid. Moore called the raise “self-serving” and argued it had nothing to do with veterans.

Naturally, the lone Democratic commissioner, Matt Lundy, protested, calling it “revenge” and a “political hit job on our veterans.” As usual, his objections were ignored.

It wasn’t the first time Hung and Moore have gone after their perceived enemies.

Moore railed against the appointment of Sharon Sweda, the Democratic former commissioner he defeated in November, to the county Board of Elections in part because she sent a few campaign emails from her county account last year. Hung’s administrative assistant, John E. Gall, complained to Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office about Sweda as well.

Those efforts helped sink Sweda’s appointment, but it’s not clear why Moore and Gall got involved. Did they fear Sweda might run again in four years? Or did they just want to further her humiliation?

The feud with the veterans commission is part of Hung and Moore’s ongoing effort to undo anything the board did when Democrats controlled it.

They dissolved the Lorain County Race and Equity Alliance. They removed people from various boards because the former commissioners appointed them after the election.

They were especially incensed that the former commissioners rolled back a 0.25 percent sales tax increase imposed in 2016 after voters rejected a similar increase. The Democrats had said the increase was no longer necessary and the county was in good shape, with a carryover into 2021 north of $20 million.

Hung and Moore had campaigned against the tax, but not, they insisted, in favor of doing away with it. Yet without that tax revenue, they argued, the county was on the brink of financial ruin.

Moore, though, undermined his own argument when he suggested the county could afford to cut the sales tax, now one of the lowest in the state, even further.

Then there was the mean-spirited decision to revoke more than $4.6 million in grants Hung and Moore’s predecessors had authorized for various nonprofit organizations. The money was intended to help those groups get through the pandemic. Moore, however, didn’t see it that way, claiming instead, “The public and these agencies have been used as political pawns to embarrass this board.”

With their votes, Hung and Moore did that all by themselves.

Helpless, Lundy even begged his fellow commissioners to “take it out on me,” rather than the nonprofits.

He need not have worried. Hung and Moore have targeted him as well.

Hung, who serves as board president, has gaveled Lundy into silence during meetings. She also took great umbrage when he complained that an email he wrote last year was slipped under his office door.

In the email Lundy warned a county employee to make sure Hung wore a mask during an upcoming meeting. He wrote that she was “not a mask advocate.” Although Hung maintained she supported masks, Lundy said she hadn’t worn one during a meeting he had with her and Moore not long before they took office, so his concerns weren’t without merit.

Yet Hung’s advice to Lundy, whom she insisted she wasn’t trying to intimidate, was aimed at directing attention away from her own machinations.

Hurling accusations in an email or during the commissioners’ meeting “has reached the point of being disturbing,” she said. “I would suggest that Commissioner Lundy work with the board and stop political posturing.”

It would be even better if Hung and Moore stopped playing the victims and began governing in the best interest of their constituents.

It’s what they were elected to do.

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Willoughby News-Herald. April, 17, 2021.

Editorial: Sheriff Dan McClelland has earned place as notable figure in Geauga County history

If anyone ever writes a book on prominent Geauga County residents of the 21st century, the author needs to devote ample space to Sheriff Dan McClelland.

Our thoughts focused on McClelland, who retired as Geauga County sheriff in 2016, after learning that he died April 14 at age 67.

The Geauga County Sheriff’s Office announced McClelland’s passing in a Facebook post.

McClelland worked at the county Sheriff’s Office for 40 years, and served as sheriff during the final 13 years of his career, the post stated.

After joining the Sheriff’s Office in 1976, McClelland was promoted to sergeant in 1983, lieutenant in 1992, and chief deputy in 2000.

He was appointed as sheriff in 2003 when then-Sheriff George R. “Red” Simmons died. McClelland proceeded to win elections to three consecutive four-year terms in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

McClelland retired at the end of 2016 after announcing two years earlier that he wouldn’t seek re-election. In an interview with The News-Herald in 2014, McClelland expressed his steadfast devotion to Geauga County and gratitude for the opportunity to protect its residents.

“I was born and raised here and raised my family here,” said McClelland, who graduated from Chardon High School. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to have served and I’ve been blessed with a good career and a safe career.”

After the Geauga County Sheriff’s Office posted its April 14 Facebook announcement on McClelland’s death, hundreds of residents left comments sharing fond memories of the department’s former leader. Here’s a sample of the tributes:

• “His kindness, dedication and servant-heart made him the incredible leader that he was, and someone who I have admired and respected since I was a kid.” — Candace Remington.

• “We mourn the loss of a true public servant and a wonderful, compassionate and caring human being.” — Randy Sharpe.

• “What an amazing person, he was an absolutely professional and genuinely nice person. His support of our county was much appreciated. He will be missed!” — Todd Donnelly.

• “He was an awesome sheriff and an even better person.” — Ken Justus.

Clearly, McClelland gained the respect and admiration of many people whom he served as Geauga County sheriff.

Looking back on McClelland’s leadership of the Sheriff’s Office, one of his major accomplishments was the construction and opening of the county’s new public safety center that was paid for without asking taxpayers for additional money.

McClelland also became well-known beyond the borders of Geauga County for being the owner, constant companion and partner of K-9 Midge. A miniature Chihuahua and rat terrier mix, Midge joined the Sheriff’s Office in early 2006 as a pup, from a litter owned by a department employee.

After Midge gained her K-9 drug-sniffing certification, she also became a celebrity. Midge was declared the Guinness World Record holder as the smallest certified police dog in the world. She and McClelland then secured guest appearances on TV programs with Geraldo Rivera and Ellen DeGeneres, and “The CBS Morning Show.”

Midge retired from the Sheriff’s Office along with McClelland. When McClelland died on April 14 at UH Medical Center in Cleveland, his family came home from the hospital and Midge died shortly thereafter, said Geauga County Sheriff Scott Hildenbrand, who succeeded McClelland in 2017.

It was discovered last year that McClelland had a brain tumor, the sheriff said.

“I truly think that Midge knew,” he said. “She was sick also, and it was just time.”

Midge was 16.

“They plan to bury her with Dan,” Hildenbrand said.

For many people, the greatest memory of McClelland will be that of the sheriff’s inseparable bond with the adorable K-9 Midge. Perhaps others will primarily remember McClelland as a personable and popular sheriff who loved the region where he lived and worked.

Either way, we believe McClelland deserves to be featured in any future history books on distinguished Geauga County residents.

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Youngstown Vindicator. April 15, 2021.

Editorial: EMT plan for YFD requires caution, study

Fire departments operated and financed by local governments increasingly have become misnomers. Today’s firefighters no longer fit neatly into the traditional pigeonhole of men and women donning bulky protective gear to valiantly extinguish residential and commercial blazes.

The proof is in the numbers. According to the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, in 1980, a full 37 percent of emergency service calls reported blazes threatening property and lives. Flash forward nearly 40 years to 2018, and the proportion of fire calls had dropped to a mere 5 percent of total call volume.

Most attribute the gargantuan decline in structural fires to much more stringent fire codes and greater public awareness of fire-prevention strategies. As a result, the role of the 21st-century firefighter has morphed more into that of a first responder to medical emergencies. In 2018, medical-aid calls in the U.S. totaled 23.5 million compared with 1.3 million calls for fire control, the NFPA reports.

Not surprisingly, the city of Youngstown mirrors those trends.

According to city fire Chief Barry Finley, during the first three months of 2021, the YFD handled 762 calls. Of that total, however, only 24 were for house fires and six for vehicle blazes. The vast majority sought emergency medical aid or other services.

Therein lies the premise of a proposal Finley recently presented to city council members. Finley is calling on council and the firefighters union to warm up to a plan to offer more comprehensive emergency medical services. On the surface, Finley’s logic appears sound, but as with many contentious issues, the devil is in the details.

Specifically, the chief seeks additional funding to hire five firefighters, one more assistant fire chief, one additional fire inspector, one more shop mechanic and additional emergency medical equipment for his crew. The chief did not yet provide dollar figures to accurately gauge the increased cost to the city budget — and city taxpayers — at a time when Youngstown’s coffers continue to dwindle dramatically.

From our vantage point, we have long advocated that local governments’ primary responsibility is to provide essential services. We’ve also long held that implementing services that duplicate those provided by the private sector can create counterproductive competition and saddle taxpayers with new sacrifices.

But this case requires additional thought and study. Finley argues that American Medical Response, the city’s ambulance company, is short-staffed, thereby causing some delays in response times. “Nothing against AMR because they are doing the best they can, but we want to be able to supplement what AMR is out there doing for us,” Finley said.

The chief also emphasized he is not calling — at least not yet — for the fire department to take over AMR’s transport services to hospitals, but said several years from now he would like to consider a YFD-operated ambulance service.

Clearly, Finley’s proposal offers long-term benefits. With more fully trained emergency medical technicians or paramedics (the department of 122 currently has 53 of them) available, trained assistance could be provided more quickly, and in some medical emergencies, every second counts. In addition, it would supplement — not supplant — the EMT and ambulance services of AMR.

But Finley’s plan also is wrought with myriad uncertainties and potential roadblocks. First and foremost would be its cost. In a city reeling from an increasingly smaller base of income-tax revenue, one must ask whether Youngstown’s taxpayers can afford such blue-chip service. That can’t be known until a more detailed projection of the additional costs versus benefits is determined and made public.

Second, do city residents actually want a massive upgrade and would they be willing to foot the bill for an added layer of protection? Public or virtual forums to gauge overall resident sentiments would be in order.

Third, relations between the union and management of the YFD have been sour for some time now. Most recently, a county judge in February upheld a ruling by the State Employee Relations Board that Youngstown leaders committed an unfair labor practice when they abolished three battalion-chief positions. What’s more, according to initial reports, firefighters are cool to Chief Finley’s proposal.

Clearly then, these and other hurdles must be cleared before city leaders can make a realistic and informed decision. Clearly, too, more time must be taken to factor in cost-benefit analyses, residents’ views and firefighters’ feelings. Any rush to judgment now could prove dangerous indeed.

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