Basic Math

Cuyahoga Valley uses creative counting to get a top ranking.

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The Plain Dealer recently ran a front-page story touting Cuyahoga Valley National Park as the third-most-visited park in the country -- above Yellowstone and Yosemite. The National Park Service claims 3.3 million people visited the park last year.

Naah, we weren't buying either.

A quick call to Mary Pat Dooley in the park's public-affairs office validates our suspicions. It seems that people who drive through the park on their way to work get counted as visitors. Actually, they're counted as two or three visitors, says Dooley. They like to average up to 3.3 people per car. And you get counted both ways. So, commuting along Riverview Road to work and back, a single driver can represent 33 new visitors each week.

The park also counts joggers. And anyone skiing at Brandywine and Boston Mills. Or swimming at Dover Lake Park. Or riding on the train. Or merely looking in the park's general direction.

Simply by reading this article, you're probably being counted for at least two visits.

Yellowstone, on the other hand, can't fudge its numbers so easily. "There are five entrance roads," says spokesman Paul Chalfant. "There is no commercial travel through the park." Its per-car average? About two.

Acadia National Park ranked 10th in 2004. Spokesman Charlie Jacobi says that each park uses a different formula to tabulate visitors. "Up until 1990, we were considered number two," he says. "After we recalibrated our formula, we were number seven."

Jacobi says they can count visitors any number of ways, but in the end it doesn't change anything. "It doesn't matter," he says. "There are a lot of people here."

Sounds like something a 10th-ranked player might say. In your face, Maine!

Thanks for sucking!
The Cuyahoga County Democratic Party has a way of dealing with public officials who screw up: throw them a dinner party honoring their accomplishments.

Next month, the party's annual dinner will fete Treasurer Jim Rokakis, Coroner Elizabeth Balraj, and Engineer Robert Klaiber.

Rokakis is apparently being celebrated for his $33 million blunder last week, when his office shorted schools on taxes they were owed. The shortfall was so great that at least one district threatened to close two elementary schools to make up the difference. The county is still trying to sort out the mess and plans to send the rest of the money in May.

Balraj, meanwhile, has managed to turn her office into a nexus for controversy. As Scene reported last year, defense lawyers accuse her of allowing police and prosecutors to steer her death rulings to shore up bad murder cases ("Dead Wrong," September 15, 2004). The Plain Dealer followed up a month later by reporting much the same thing.

Punch can't think of anything Klaiber has botched lately, but considering the company he keeps, it might be wise not to cross any bridges in the near future.

Party Executive Director Cindy Marizette shrugs off the ugly ink honorees are getting.

"We made our selections well before the media came out with their stories on both of those individuals," she says. "It's just based on their years of service to the Democratic Party and that they are both outstanding public servants from the Democratic Party's point of view."

Which, of course, tells you all you need to know about the state of the Democratic Party. Is it too late to nominate Tom Coyne?

Maybe we lied
Chris Borello doesn't look like your typical environmental activist. She bathes and looks like she owns an iron.

Borello is a housewife in Uniontown, near Akron. She lives around the corner from a former trash dump that seems to be making lots of people sick.

In 1969 or '70, the Army planted three enormous steel eggs in the dump. Each was six feet tall and weighed more than eight tons. Neighbors suspect they were packed with low-grade plutonium left over from the nation's nuclear weapons programs ("See No Evil," April 25, 2002).

Sounds like a job for the EPA, right?

Borello thought so too. She's been fighting since 1984 to get the agency to figure out what was in those eggs and to see whether it may be causing 120 families living within two miles of the site to suffer abnormal rates of cancer, miscarriages, and birth defects.

Publicly, the agency says the neighbors are wrong. "It is the U.S. EPA's position that there was no plutonium," the agency wrote to Borello earlier this month.

But the EPA might be charitably described as "lying through its teeth." Because its own records say otherwise.

The agency hired Dr. Melvyn Gascoyne, a plutonium expert from Manitoba, to study the dump last year. Using the EPA's own data from 34 test wells on the site, Gascoyne found levels of radioactivity higher than those found at the Nevada Test Site, where the government tested nuclear weapons for a decade.

Then Borello stumbled across a 2001 EPA report that found "elevated" levels of plutonium at the site. "They ignored their own results," Borello says. (The EPA did not return calls seeking comment.)

But instead of coming clean, the agency recently capped all the testing wells, making it impossible to use them for future testing. "I am perpetually amazed by these people," Borello says.

The Man's got 'em down
The phone business can be boring, but the folks at SBC have found a way to spice things up: canning people for sport!

Apparently, the company is firing people for the heinous crime of following their managers' instructions -- at least according to some now jobless salespeople. Here's what they say happened:

Someone up the corporate ladder wanted the Cleveland call center to shill more long-distance packages to existing customers. Someone calls in with service problems, and the rep pitches the long distance -- that sort of thing. The more packages the rep sells, the more incentives he earns.

But some salespeople work almost exclusively with new customers. Hence, making sales to existing customers seemed impossible. So last October, they say, their managers gave them a tip: Even if the sale is with a new customer, record it as if it were with an old one. The computers -- and the corporate bosses -- won't know the difference.

That worked out fine -- until someone up the ladder got wind. In February, 24 people were suspended. Earlier this month, SBC fired 19 of them. (Five were spared because they made fewer "fraudulent" sales.) One manager also lost his job, the workers say, but they're still livid.

"We were coached to do that," says fired salesman Robert Gadson, who is shopping for a lawyer. "We trust what our managers tell us."

Employees have another theory: After buying up half the communications industry, SBC must be a little overstaffed. So the company has found a convenient way to rid itself of well-paid workers.

Not so, says SBC spokesman David Saltz. The company has reduced its workforce elsewhere in Ohio, he says, but the Cleveland firings were isolated.

Or so the Soviets would have us believe.

Devil may care
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction doesn't want its inmates practicing kook religions like Wicca and Satanism. So it went before the state Supreme Court to argue against letting prisoners have quartz crystals and Celtic runes.

State Solicitor Douglas Cole made a novel argument: He claimed that allowing prisoners to freely practice offbeat religions would violate the separation of church and state by providing an incentive to be holy.

If the court didn't find in ODRC's favor, he claimed, getting religion would become "the No. 1 way to get privileges."

Clearly, Cole didn't read Scene's November 19, 2003 story "Captive Audience," which documented exactly the phenomenon he described. In this case, however, it was the Jesus freaks running the prison system who were handing out privileges to those who joined Promise Keepers or secured a spot in a religious dorm.

The practice triggered a recent federal lawsuit by a former warden of Richland Correctional.

The warden, Norman Rose, filed suit last month against prison director Reginald Wilkinson, claiming that he illegally promotes religion.

Rose was fired after he ordered inmates to watch a Promise Keepers conference on closed-circuit TV. He claims that he thought the event was secular because it was heavily promoted by the ODRC, and that his bosses threw him under the bus to hide their own endorsement of Christianity behind bars.

The suit claims Wilkinson "used the state agency to promote, endorse, and sponsor Christian proselytizing events."

Perhaps Wilkinson should consider handing out crystals to any inmate willing to get baptized.

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