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.