Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

Rootstown’s school leaders failed to stand up to racism

Akron Beacon Journal

Sept. 20

America’s summer of cultural awakening about persistent racism in our country clearly didn’t resonate in Rootstown’s school board office.

We’re at a loss to understand why Rootstown Superintendent Andrew Hawkins would overturn a coach’s decision to kick a player off the football team for credible accusations of using a racial slur against a fellow player despite previous admonishments.

Hawkins’ decision that a one-game punishment “fit the statement that was made” led to new coach Troy Spiker’s resignation after just two games. We commend Spiker for standing his ground and setting a strong example for his former players.

Not surprisingly, upset residents packed Monday’s school board meeting to grill the school board about the embarrassing saga.

Those residents certainly understood what Hawkins did not. The use of racial slurs in any way at any time can’t be tolerated, especially when the offender has been warned before. There’s simply no place for hatred anywhere in our schools, playing fields or communities.

Imagine how you would feel if you were a Black student-athlete at a predominantly white school and became the target of a slur, let alone saw the offender return to your locker room. Would you feel comfortable or even welcome in the classroom or on the practice field?

If coaches everywhere have not made it clear before now, it’s time to announce and enforce a zero-tolerance policy with no second chances. It’s critical to educating our teens and building a solid team with any chance of winning.

The Rootstown school board — and likely others — also need a wake-up call. Members must take concrete steps to ensure they promote and support equality, not just respond to incidents.

Again, many in Monday’s crowd seemed to understand this reality, although the next school board election is a year away.

One likely voter target would surely be board member Steven Vasbinder, who acknowledged he called for Spiker’s resignation due to the player’s punishment. To us, Vasbinder is the one who should be resigning for his insensitivity to the needs of all students he was elected to represent. Unfortunately, he’s not up for reelection until 2023.

If there’s a silver lining to this fiasco, it’s the board’s decision to seek an independent, third-party investigation with middle school Principal Rob Campbell serving as district liaison to that investigation. That’s necessary due to uncomfortable nepotism issues in the district.

The investigation was proposed by Board President Amanda Waesch, who is the wife of the athletic director, and was not satisfied with what she heard from district leaders.

“I want the facts leading to it, what occurred, how many times, who was involved from student-athletes to employees of the district, coaches and staff, and how we got to this point,” she said.

“We have to learn something from this. We can’t let this happen again.”

We heartily agree and expect Rootstown to ensure the report is written in a way that it can be shared with the public without compromising student privacy.

Progress can only be made by honestly assessing what went wrong and committing to do better.

Online: https://bit.ly/3hT6IUo

___

Trump EPA deals environment another blow

The Columbus Dispatch

Sept. 22

To help some of the country’s dirtiest electric-power plants save a little money, the Environmental Protection Agency is willing to imperil the lives and health of Americans who live downstream from them.

A new rule that relaxes restrictions on ash pollution is the latest effort by President Donald Trump’s administration to sustain coal power in the face of crushing competition from renewables. And like the others, it’s sure to prove ineffective, wasteful and hugely damaging to the environment.

The new action relaxes an Obama-administration effort to protect the water supply from mercury, arsenic, lead and other toxic components of coal ash. That rule had required plants to remove heavy metals from wastewater containing pollutants scrubbed from smokestacks and to use dry disposal methods to deal with the “bottom ash” from boilers rather than wash it away.

The revision — enacted under the EPA leadership of Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist — weakens the wastewater cleaning requirements and allows plants to continue to flush some bottom ash.

It also extends compliance deadlines until the last day of 2025, or the end of 2028 for plants that voluntarily adopt improved pollution-control technologies or promise to close or switch to natural gas by then.

For the next eight years, in other words, coal ash will continue to be discharged into enormous, notoriously leaky holding pits and reservoirs, from which it will inevitably spill into rivers, streams and lakes, where the toxic metals will accumulate in fish and the ecosystem at large.

Although it’s hard to predict exactly how much damage this toxic pollution will cause, it is known to cause cancer, respiratory illnesses, neurological disorders and other diseases.

https://bit.ly/3mTCBjA

___

Let convicted workers pay back salaries

The Vindicator

Sept. 20

There is so much wrong about the case in which a former Youngstown police officer who also worked as a high school assistant track coach used his position to gain trust and then sexually assault three young women.

The crimes committed by Arthur Carter are horrific, to say the least. They almost certainly will leave his victims with lifelong emotional scars.

Then, there is the matter of his ongoing financial compensation from the city, even though he hasn’t worked since the allegations first came to light. He came under indictment for the crimes in 2018, yet that whole time, city taxpayers paid his $27.07 per hour job until July 16, after he pleaded guilty.

The lengthy paid-leave status cost Youngstown upwards of $100,000.

Then last week, the city wrote him another check, this time for $15,667 for accrued sick and vacation time. To further the outrage, some of that — about $1,900 — was for unused vacation time accrued while he was on paid leave.

Mahoning County Assistant Prosecutor Natasha Frenchko said Carter admitted to assaulting three girls he coached at Ursuline High School during different times, and over a period of years, he sexually abused each multiple times.

Mahoning Common Pleas Judge Anthony D’Apolito was correct to increase Carter’s prison sentence to four years — one year more than the recommendation from prosecution and defense in exchange for his guilty plea to three counts of felonious assault. We are bothered, however, that more than a dozen original charges were dismissed as part of that deal. Carter, 47, originally was indicted on 23 sex charges involving the three women. As we have previously stated in this space, people in public positions who violate the public trust should face penalties twice as harsh as private citizens who commit similar crimes. They should not get off easier with dismissed charges and plea deals.

Sadly, these young women lost their innocence at the hands of this man whom they believed they could trust. They have learned a harsh lesson that undoubtedly will affect their ability to trust for the remainder of their lives. In her victim’s impact statement, the 2009 victim, who was just 15 when the assault occurred, told the judge Carter “used his power to prey on kids for his own sexual pleasure.”

“Every chance he would get, he would use my vulnerability to slowly manipulate me into thinking he was trying to help,” she said. “Now I know the compliments were only because he wanted something in return. … For the last 11 years, I have struggled to believe that any compliment was genuine. To this day, I still have deep trust issues.”

She said she “lost faith in married men, police, coaches, all authority figures.”

Studies show abuse victims often deal with pain and emotional issues the rest of their lives.

Now it has come to light that Carter will collect $15,667 for time he accrued in sick and vacation time during his years with the Youngstown Police Department. Albeit infuriating, the time was earned while he was working for the department, and the city had no choice but to pay it.

What should change, however, is the fact that no provision exists in Ohio law for “restitution” of public pay and benefits collected while a public employee is on leave during a criminal investigation.

Carter was first placed on paid administrative leave when the investigation began. Indeed, at that time, Carter was presumed innocent. However, the paid leave lasted far too long, especially after he was formally charged.

Paid leave is often the case when public employees come under investigation. We hear often the consideration that goes into this decision. If an employee is fired and then cleared of the charges, he most certainly will sue to return to work — and for probably much more.

In the private sector, however, when it’s believed an employee has acted illegally or unethically, most employers immediately terminate the worker. Very few would send the worker home with pay.

Ohio lawmakers should realize the financial impact cases like this have on taxpayers and should consider new legislation allowing judges to call for payback of salary and benefits doled out over paid leave during a criminal investigation such as this.

While there really is no bright side to this horrible story, we do recognize and praise the courage and strength Carter’s victims displayed. By coming forward, they ended any future opportunities Carter might have had to prey on more young victims.

Online: https://bit.ly/3cmNJQT

___

Help inmates, help addicts

Sandusky Register

Sept. 20

Public service agencies are often faulted for wild, irresponsible spending. Governments, departments and resource management employees sometimes are overrun with the bureaucracy of existing and common sense goes out the window. Years ago it was U.S. Sen. William Proxmire who would fete the worst violators with his “Golden Fleece Award,” that lit the spotlight on waste and abuse of taxpayer money.

We were observers and reporters whenever we saw it happening in our community, which was the right thing to do.

So it’s a twist of the turnstile when we hear from the board for the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Erie and Ottawa Counties, whose sole purpose is to help families impacted by alcohol and drug addiction. The recovery board has two main jobs: spend taxpayer money and make sure to spend it wisely. Unfortunately, we’re not sure it’s doing either as well as the public should expect.

We’ve faulted the board in the past when it overpaid for a building and then spent more money renovating it as a new home for agency staff. The thing of it is, the board staff needs an office and office furniture — and not a whole lot more — to operate. The mental health and recovery board does not provide recovery services at its office, it evaluates the programs other service agencies provide and determines if funding those services is a wise investment in helping fight addiction in our community.

But spending money irresponsibility is not out of control at the board, not spending it is the problem. Remember, one of the two primary job functions of the board is to spend money. We were glad the final board vote after a lengthy debate was in favor of funding a night nurse at the two county jails, but concerned there’s a huge disconnect between the board and what its function should be.

It should be clear to every member of the board that alcoholics and people addicted to drugs often wind up in jail. The overwhelming majority of inmates — sometimes 90% or higher — at both county jails at any moment in time are suffering the impacts of addiction in some way. Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth and Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Levorchick, and their jail staffs, in many ways, are the frontline in the recovery movement. They know this problem and show compassion.

The mental health and recovery board is a pass-through agency. Its budget — made up of a revenue from a countywide property tax and state and federal grants — hovers around $7 million annually. The sheriffs were asking for less than $100,000. One board member against the funding suggested the night nurse’s workweek — addressing mental health issues with inmates — would wind up as fewer than 40 hours per pay period.

That’s an enormous chasm between need and understanding. Jail inmates are likely to be alcoholics or addicts, or have family members suffering from those illnesses. And, many, when they are in jail, have hit the lowest points in life. The time to reach out, the time to serve is right now, right there, in jail. The final vote was 10-6, with board member Caleb Stidham leading the charge favoring funding.

The fact that six members of the board failed to understand the connection between jail services and the Mental Health and Recovery Board’s mission is disappointing, and troubling.

Online: https://bit.ly/3kFv1ah

___

Ginsburg made mark, left model

The Marietta Times

Sept. 22

The Notorious RBG, as some admirers referred to her, is gone. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday, at 87, of cancer.

She was an icon to some Americans — a scourge to others. Already, the battle over a successor has become heated, with ideology at the heart of the controversy.

It says something about Ginsburg, however, that during the hours after her death, leaders from throughout the political spectrum poured forth praise freely and with no reservations.

Her written opinions as a justice “have inspired all Americans and generations of great legal minds,” said President Donald Trump.

Ginsburg “never failed in the fierce and unflinching defense of liberty and freedom,” said Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Former President George W. Bush put his finger on an important aspect of her legacy. Ginsburg “inspired more than one generation of women and girls,” he wrote.

Indeed she did. At a time when glass ceilings remain a concern for women and girls, Ginsburg used the blunt force of her intellect, dedication, skill and hard work to ascend to the very pinnacle of political power in our nation. We often think of presidents in that role, but in some of her votes and opinions as a justice, Ginsburg wielded more real power than any president.

Her courage and dedication to what she believed was right stood out. At an age when most people feel they have contributed enough and are entitled to the joys of retirement, Ginsburg fought on. She feared if she retired, her successor would not hold similar ideals, so she refused to retire, even as she battled cancer.

Whether we agree or disagree with her positions, Ginsburg was a role model for standing up for what one believes to be right.

And, it has been pointed out, she disagreed without rancor. Among her closest friends while on the court was the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

That, too, is a model to which many Americans ought to look.

Her decisions as a justice will be missed by a significant number of people. Her way of pursuing what she saw as right and of serving as a role model — for men as well as women — will be missed sorely by all.

Online: https://bit.ly/2ZZouzm

___