Thursday, March 5, 2009

Coming home to roost

I'm watching with great interest as the District XI Agency on Aging and its Executive Director Don Medd threaten to move out of downtown Youngstown ( , It's especially interesting to see that the rumored new home of the Agency will be the Eastwood Mall owned by the Cafaro company.
I have seen the Agency on Aging and Mr. Medd up close. I worked there for seven and a half years investigating complaints regarding nursing homes and long term care providers in a four county area. I also tried, over a decade ago, to alert people to financial conflicts of interest between Mr. Medd and some of his Board members. Specifically, Medd was renting a house owned by the then President of the Board of Trustees. Also, at that time he hired another then current Board member who was an attorney to represent him in his divorce.
This incestuous relationship between Board of Trustee members and the Executive Director they were supposed to supervise led to chaos at the Agency on Aging. Medd was often out of the office for entire days. In his absence, I saw Agency on Aging employees sitting crosslegged on the floor "shooting the breeze" for entire afternoons.
So the conflicts of interest led to a lack of supervison of the Executive Director which led to the Executive Director not perfoming his required oversight of employees which led to employees being paid with tax money to sit around and do nothing.
Now, in the words of last year's famous phrase from Jeremiah Wright, "the chickens are coming home to roost". Medd has upset Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams with his threat to yank 70 employees (and their tax revenue) out of downtown and out of the county. I don't think it's dawned on Mr. Medd yet, but he may have just "gone off the reservation" (one of his favorite former phrases).
As long as Medd sat silently in his office and let the Agency on Aging remain virtually unknown in the community (despite handling tens of millions of taxpayer dollars), he could drift toward retirement and collect his annual $80,000+ per year in salary. Unfortunately, he has become a public figure now. It's about time.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Federal stimulus questions

We're having another meeting of Mahoning Valley for Change tonight - We're continuing to concentrate on the local angle of the Obama economic stimulus package since yesterday's unemployment figures only confirmed what everyone around here already knew, Youngstown and Warren have the highest rates of unemployment in the state (14.4% and 15.5% respectively -
What we're shooting for is a large public forum on the stimulus package and job creation. We're trying to get elected officials from the local, state, and the federal level to attend and discuss how they're (hopefully) cooperating in a regional approach to fight for as much stimulus money as possible.
Based on the lack of response to my emails to various community leaders, I'm worried that each local entity just threw together a wishlist without any cooperation with other towns or imput from the public.
So here are some of the questions a public forum could answer:
1) Have local governments and agencies cooperated in submitting funding proposals? If not, why not?
2) Do we have 1 unified plan for the Mahoning Valley area or dozens of smaller stand-alone proposals?
3) Who's in charge of advocating at the highest levels (ie. White House/Obama administration) for maximum federal funding for our area based on our extreme need?
4) How are citizens included in the process of
a) determining funding priorities, and
b) lobbying Washington and Columbus for maximum funds?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Know your history

The reason I finally started blogging was the push I got from established bloggers Anthony Fossaceca (, Nick Decenzo and David Potts ( at last month's RootsCamp Ohio. Their hour long presentation on blogging inspired me to get off the sidelines and into the game.
All in all, RootsCamp was a very positive experience. Another inspiring speaker was Ohio State Representative Marian Harris who described her new career as an elected official "at a time when most of my friends are retiring".
One moment though bothered me and it came early on. Lt. Governor Lee Fisher gave an opening day talk that was designed I suppose to establish his "bona fides" as a true progressive in front of a group of at least 100 progressive activists from throughout Ohio.
Fisher started by asking if people "remembered what happened on May 5, 1970"? At first I thought maybe it was some relatively unknown event that had been overshadowed by the Kent State shootings the day before. But no, Fisher dove into his history as a student at Oberlin and how the shootings had affected him. He had really meant to say May 5, 1970, because he didn't know the correct date for the Kent State killings. Just to confirm, I checked a blog that reported on Fisher's speech --- "Who remembers May 5, 1970, asked Lee Fisher..." (
Maybe I'm making too much out of it, but May 4, 1970, like November 22, 1963 and September 11, 2001 is a date etched in my memory, and I'm not running for the U.S. Senate.
As a postscript I found something I wrote during my only visit to the site of the shootings. The date of my visit was May 4, 2006 --- the 36th anniversary.

Thirty six years ago today America killed its children. This afternoon I visited Kent State’s North Campus for the first time in my life. I will never be the same.
2400 headstones stand in the Commons area, one for every American military person who has died in Iraq. Look at these in silence. Think of what you personally have done (or not done) to cause these deaths, this new Vietnam.
Move up “Blanket Hill”. Imagine the National Guard beating its tactical retreat in 1970. Up past the Pagoda where the then 19 year and 2 week old Allison Krause holds her boyfriend’s hand in the photo you can’t get out of your mind. Half an hour later she’d be dead.
Crest the hill at Taylor Hall. The same black metal railing still surrounds the building. Taylor Hall is and was the home for the journalism school. A cold blooded killing was executed right in front of the press building but to this day no one’s paid for the crime.
Look to where the Guard retreated south to the practice field before they returned here to the Pagoda for the fatal volley. Why, when they got back to here, the high ground, did they feel the need to fire?
Finally, proceed sixty yards southeast down the hill to the parking lot in front of Taylor Hall and the eerie memorials to the four students who died. Each is an enclosed area within the parking lot with six small posts surrounding a rectangular grave-like plot.
Small rocks sit on all six posts at each site. Signs from the Jewish campus group Hillel at each site explain that 3 of the 4 students who were slain were Jewish and that Jewish tradition is to place stones rather than flowers at gravesites because flowers die out but stones survive.
Before I got close to any of the sites I heard a sharp, startling sound that caused me to look up. It was the sound of a Hillel sign striking the pavement after a strong north wind blew in.
Without a sound, visitors to the site picked the sign up and stood it up again inside its small, stone-filled barrel.
I went through the parking lot and saw the wind blow down another sign. I picked it up, surveyed the wind, and then pushed the sign back into the barrel and leaned the top of it against one of the posts, hoping for stability.
Thirty seconds later another sign nearby fell and a young girl, 25 years younger than me, bent over, carefully picked up the sign, and gently set it upright.
And then it hit me and my eyes filled with tears. We were lifting up far more than signs. We lifted up the hopes, spirits, and souls of those who died. It’s up to us now.

Friday, February 27, 2009


In January 2008 I started a group called "Mahoning Valley for Obama". We grew and grew and eventually had 150 people at a meeting at the Chevy Centre in Youngstown before the Ohio primary. We continued to meet throughout the spring and summer and we provided a large group of local volunteers for the Obama campaign in Mahoning County.
Fast forward to January 2009. After the election I wanted to continue the group in a new form in response to Barack Obama's call for citizens to remain involved in their communities. In fact, the new Obama administration even formed two new entities called "Organizing for America" and that are designed to harness the political and community service energy of Obama's 13 million person email list.
In response I started up "Mahoning Valley for Change". We've had three meetings so far as well as a successful community service event.,
A short term project has been to arrange a public meeting regarding our local area's economic stimulus proposal(s). We thought it would help to get city, county, state, and federal officials together to discuss this region's priorities and plans for the Obama administration's economic stimulus package in front of a hopefully large group of citizens and the press.
Well, so far, not so good. A member of our group volunteered to contact U.S. Representative Tim Ryan's office. She tried at least twice to speak with Ryan's Press Secretary Pat Lowry. No response.
So, last week I went into the Congressman's downtown Youngstown office and asked to speak with Barb Ewing, Mr. Ryan's Economic Development Coordinator. The receptionist said Ms. Ewing was on a phone call and I thanked her and left my name and phone number while explaining that our group had a meeting on March 4 and we were hoping a staff person could attend and bring us up to date on the stimulus legislation and how we might benefit locally.
Today, after three days of silence, I called Ryan's office, gave my name and asked for Barb Ewing. After about ten seconds on hold I was told she was out/couldn't come to phone. So, I explained that I had been waiting for a return call and asked what the problem was. All of the sudden the receptionist said she remembered me and that she had tried to call me but that "my phone didn't answer".
That's right, it was the lamest of the lame excuses. Not, "I'm sorry we've been so busy" or "I really do apologize for the mixup". No, it was blame the citizen. Must be my phone that doesn't work. Not to mention e-mail (she also said she e-mailed me ... ah no, another lie). I tried to hold my ground, pointing out that if I hung up and used my cell phone to call my home phone that it would surely work --- it did later, by the way. I also mentioned how we have an answering machine and caller ID and NO call had come to us from the Congressman's office. I also mentioned the 30 or more e-mails I get a day and yet, guess what, that's right, not ONE from the Congressman's office.
So ... that's why it's important for citizens to get more involved in their own government. Our representatives, and the people who work for and represent them, sometimes don't respect us. And they need to learn that respect or they need to be fired.

Running for Office

No, not me. Mark Prokay, co-leader of the former group Mercer County (Pa.) for Obama decided to take up the challange from our new President and actually run for office. Mark is running in the Democratic primary for a seat as a Hermitage City Commissioner. At least he will be if he can get 100 valid signatures by March 10th to get on the May ballot. So today I took the 25 mile drive over the state line and joined him in some door to door work gathering signatures. Mark had checked and verified that an "out of state" person like me is qualified to gather signatures.

Now I majored in Political Science but let me tell you that no class at Ohio State ever gave me as much knowledge about politics as the thousands of voters I've spoken to during door to door work. I can see how the thought of knocking on doors and talking to complete strangers can be terrifying to some. Yet in 20 plus years of such work for people like Barack Obama, Charlie Wilson, Ted Strickland, Paul Hackett, John Kerry and, skipping back a decade or two to Dick Celeste and Howard Metzenbaum, very few people have been outright scary and most have actually been friendly. Sometimes the homeowner may want to vent, but usually they respect the fact that you put in the effort to walk their neighborhood in the cold, in the snow, in the heat, what have you.

Mark is the first of our group of Obama supporters to run for office. My hope is that we can get many, many more --- especially on our side of the border in the Mahoning Valley of Trumbull and Mahoning counties. Here's a picture of Mark in action at last year's "Barack the Valley" in Sharon during the Pennsylvania primary. Mark and his pal Don Christoff badgered the Obama campaign until they sent in Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius as a speaker to the event which drew several hundred people. In fact the event garnered so much attention and made Hillary Clinton's camp so nervous that they sent in Bill Clinton to speak the same day about 5 miles up the road.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Well, here I am. It took awhile, but becoming the 27 millionth or so blogger in the US is still better than never having blogged at all.
Regarding the name "Flash of Green". Some other would-be names were already picked at Blogger but this one still sounds right. It's the name of a mid-80s movie that hardly anyone saw starring Ed Harris and Richard Jordan.
In the movie, a small town Florida reporter struggles with political corruption and his own fading ethics. The flash of green refers to bribes of cash changing hands, but also to a rare sunset sighting along the ocean horizon when for a split second the sun shoots up a ray of green just before it disappears below the water line.
The movie and the name seem to embody much of what this blog will talk about. Politics and the ethical choices we all have to make plus the relief that the wonders of the natural world can give us from the follies and failings of humanity. Just call this my latest attempt to keep hope alive.
Plus, hey, green's hip and trendy now anyway, right? Green Jobs, Green Buildings, Green With Envy. It all fits.