$4 Million Fiasco 

Summit's new voting machines have an added feature: They suck at counting.

With less than a week before the May 2 primary, Summit County voters fear an encore presentation of the 2004 election, when Ohio Secretary of State Uncle Tom Blackwell did his best to suppress the vote. Last fall, Blackwell chose opti-scan voting machines to replace Summit County's old punch-card system. But the county Board of Elections quickly discovered that its $4 million purchase carried an added feature: a 30 percent failure rate due to faulty memory cards that count the votes.

While Blackwell maintained the machines were working fine, the Board of Elections was still scrambling to fix the problem. "There's no question there's still a problem," says Chairman Wayne Jones.

But one way or another, all votes will count come May 2, he says. "We'll have an accurate count even if we have to hand count the votes. It's just gonna be a ton of work, considering we spent around $4 million for these machines. But I don't want people not to vote because they think the fix is in."

Elections Director Bryan Williams acknowledges that major problems remain. "We've experienced significantly higher than usual failure rates," he says. But the problems aren't the result of a Blackwell conspiracy -- it's a shortcoming of good old American manufacturing.

"These are American-made memory cards, as opposed to the Japanese counterparts," Williams says. "They're supposed to be more reliable, but in our case, they haven't been."

Yellow journalism
A major story is brewing over at Mission: America, a Columbus group dedicated to educating youngsters about the dangers of turning fag.

The group's director, Linda Harvey, recently wrote to the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, posing as a reporter with a list of seemingly objective questions about its policies. But a look at Harvey's credentials show a slight slant to the right of . . . frickin' wacko.

Mission: America's financial backers include Citizens for Community Values, the group trying to stop gay people from adopting and straight people from getting lap dances, and Abiding Truth Ministries, whose founder, Scott Lively, authored a book claiming the Nazis were homos, which explains their perfectly ironed pants.

Harvey has written a number of thought-provoking essays and posted them at her website, including such hits as "Josh Is Taking Matt to the Prom" and "Why I Hate Halloween."

"My reaction was, 'Why didn't she just call me?" says Earl Pike, director of the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, who photocopied over 1,500 pages of records for Harvey before finally giving up. "There's nothing that we would have to hide. It's just kind of sneaky and weird and strange."

Public service, Cleveland-style
When she awoke to find her car gone, replaced by a pile of shattered glass, Beth Judy knew she was in for a sub-par day. But she didn't think the City of Cleveland could actually make things worse. (Judy, you see, isn't from Cleveland.)

The 26-year-old lives in a friendly Ohio City neighborhood filled with parks, gardens, and the occasional hooker. Last week, someone jacked her Honda from her apartment complex. When she called the cops, they quickly told her where to find her car: the impound lot.

"You parked too far from the curb," a dispatcher told her. "You got a parking violation."

The criminals had kindly dropped Judy's car off a mile or so away. But they parked it illegally. So sometime just before 3 a.m., a cop wrote Judy a parking ticket, then had her car towed. Apparently the broken window, loose ignition wires, and destroyed console weren't enough to tip the cop off that the car had been abandoned by thieves.

Judy went to pick up her car from police impound, where she was charged $70 to get it out. There was also an extra present inside: a $25 parking ticket.

The cops were nice enough to waive some extra fees. But, says Sergeant Dan Galmarini, "These tow-truck companies have to be paid."

Getting the lead out
Sherwin-Williams shareholders got a rude awakening at their annual meeting last week. Swarms of protestors filled the sidewalk outside the paint company's Prospect Avenue headquarters, chanting "Pay up, clean up, get the lead out!"

The demonstration was organized by ACORN, a group that's lobbying companies that sold lead paint to help fund the clean-up of contaminated homes, pay for screening, and provide other assistance for lead-poisoned kids. Cleveland has among the nation's highest rates of lead-poisoning, which can cause learning disabilities, behavior problems, and even death.

Demonstrators are hoping the industry will pay for problems resulting from its paint, much as the asbestos and tobacco industries have been forced to do. But Sherwin-Williams has avoided footing the bill. The sale of lead paint has been banned since 1978, and it's nearly impossible to prove who made the paint that now contaminates older homes.

In February, a Rhode Island jury ruled that Sherwin-Williams created a public nuisance by manufacturing paint that poisoned thousands of kids. The company may have to fork over billions of dollars to clean up old homes in the state. ACORN is hoping Cleveland City Council will sue Sherwin-Williams too.

But so far, demonstrators don't seem to be winning the popular vote. During their protest, security officers locked the front doors. Frustrated employees were forced to show IDs at the one remaining open entrance.

"This is bullshit," muttered one woman, after trying to get inside.

Helping the kids
Speaking of Sherwin-Williams, Cuyahoga County is rumored to be courting company CEO Chris Connor to serve as chairman of its Invest in Children campaign.

Michelle Katona, director of the county's Office of Early Childhood, won't exactly deny the rumor. "We have established nothing formally," she said, but "we want Sherwin-Williams, like the other major businesses, to be partners."

It seems only fitting. Cleveland's Leading Protector of Child Molesters ™, Bishop Anthony Pilla, is already a member of the program's partnership committee.

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