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Scene & Heard

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Decade-Old Pro-Business Ohio Bill Let Lead-Paint Manufacturers Off the Hook for Paying for Cleanup

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 2:30 PM

  • Mike Mozart/Flickr CC

In October of last year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a California case in which the state courts found that paint manufacturers – one of which was Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams – must pay the cleanup bill for thousands of homes contaminated with lead paint. The manufacturers will be paying $409 million for the California home contamination fix, though it is still being figured out how and when the amount will be turned over to 10 California cities and counties involved in the case.

Meanwhile, back here in Ohio, the PD reported a few weeks ago that a plan to have local private businesses and government institutions in the area — which included the city of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals — fund the cleanup of lead with private bonds was falling apart. Once again, it is the old “pass-bucking” in Cleveland when it comes to the toxic lead paint issue with children.

So how did California get $409 million from the businesses that made the lead paint and profited from it (and did so decades after everyone knew there were health issues in such paint), while Ohio is trying to scratch and claw for a tiny amount of money on this issue? Well, as usual, when the Ohio business community needs something — in this instance, protection against liability for bad products — the Ohio state legislature takes care of business.

California first filed their case in 2000, and for the next 18 years, they fought hard against the paint manufacturers’ constant appeals and legal wrangling over economic interpretations and what the big dollar amount might be. Eventually, the ruling amount was reduced by the courts from $1.15 billion to $409 million, but the perseverance by the cities and counties did pay off. The national high court ruling three months ago means the end of the road over lead paint liability appeals for Sherwin-Williams in California.

Slightly different in Ohio. Around 2006, several Ohio cities – including Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo, East Cleveland, Canton, Lancaster, and others — filed public nuisance lawsuits against paint manufacturers. But the paint manufacturers decided to move their defense plan out of the courtroom and into the state legislature.

In December of 2006, the legislature passed a pro-business bill that restricted the lead paint liability lawsuits and consumer fraud damage cases against businesses. There was some court fighting over the bill, but eventually the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the pro-business bill just fine in August of 2007. The Ohio city lead paint lawsuits eventually all got dropped because of that bill.

One lawsuit hung around, however. Then Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann filed a lead paint lawsuit in early 2007, saying there was “a long history of problems with lead paint and there are victims, particularly children in economically depressed areas where the homes are filled with lead paint” and “all parties should be held accountable.” Sherwin-Williams was one of those parties sued by the state.

Dann resigned in May 2008 over a sex scandal and the Ohio AG’s office was up for grabs. Democrat Richard Cordray eventually won, and took office in January of 2009. Cordray’s got rid of that case quickly. One of his first acts as state AG was to drop the lead paint lawsuit against Sherwin-Williams and others. "I understand and strongly agree that exposure to lead paint is a very real problem," Cordray said in a statement at the time. "But I also know that not every problem can be solved by a lawsuit."

He added that "after assessing the law, facts and adverse legal rulings in these types of cases nationally, the attorney general concluded that those at risk — and Ohio's economy — would be best served by focusing on how public/private partnerships can be enhanced to address any existing problems with lead paint exposure."

Well, we can now see how that all worked out: lead paint public/private partnerships solutions in Ohio – 0. Lead paint lawsuits in California - $409 million.

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Beachwood Incentive Package to Lure Small Company Draws Attention of Former City Council Candidate

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 2:23 PM

  • Beachwood City Hall, City of Beachwood

On Dec. 17, 2018, Beachwood city council approved up to $86,800 in economic development funds for Surgical Theater, a virtual reality medical company with a $1.7 million payroll and twelve employees. The company had a competing economic development offer from the city of Mayfield, where it’s currently located, but Surgical Theater told that they were approached by Beachwood property owners interested in housing the tech start-up. The building, located at 3700 Park East, is owned by Jonathan Berns, the brother of Beachwood Councilman Justin Berns.

Mike Burkons, a business owner who unsuccessfully ran for Beachwood city council in 2017, is calling attention to the recent incentive grant and the number of companies that have received such grants that ended up moving into Berns’ building. With the addition of Surgical Theater, the building will become home to five of the fifteen companies that have been approved for economic development grant dollars since Beachwood began offering the incentives in 2013. Two of these grants have been approved since Councilman Berns took office in 2016.

Councilman Berns, a home developer and the son of previous city council member Sheldon Berns, did not vote on the matter at the December 17th meeting. At the meeting the incentive package was approved on a 6-0 vote as an emergency measure, meaning it did not receive the typical rounds of review and potential citizen input.

Incidentally, Councilman Berns’ 2015 campaign finance report indicates that his brother, Jonathan, gave $5,000 to the candidate’s campaign — the single largest donation and an amount that is over a third of the entire campaign contributions. Councilman Berns did not reply to Scene’s requests for comment. He is up for re-election in 2019.

Burkons argues that regardless of whether the councilman voted on the issue, the conflict of interest should have been a matter of public record. Burkons suggests that the City Council members, “made an intentional decision not to mention the building owner,” and while the practice itself might not be illegal, Burkons notes, “I don’t think it’s the city’s responsibility to bridge the gap between what the tenant wants to pay and what the landlord wants to be paid.”

Burkons raises an interesting point. According to recent listings, space in 3700 Park East rents for $20 per square foot per year. To relocate to a new space that is 5,685 square feet, Surgical Theater would be expected to pay $113,700 per year. With the job growth grant from the city, Surgical Theater will receive $40,000 upfront, money that can be spent on their lease payment, reducing their actual payment without any impact on the comparable rental market. With only 15 incentive grants over six years, it’s difficult to make the case that this use of public dollars is artificially inflating the rental market, but that and the question of whether Beachwood can justify spending public dollars on economic development are valid concerns.

The idea that all local efforts to attract businesses are worthy of public dollars is not supported by evidence, particularly when the city is already a prime location for businesses and their CEOs, complete with large commercial spaces, highway access and well-funded public schools. Indeed, just the presence of large spaces gives Beachwood an advantage above primarily residential suburbs, like Cleveland Heights. Simply, the availability of larger spaces creates a market for businesses that are looking to expand. In fact, the Cleveland Heights-based company, Lee Silsby Compounding Pharmacy, recently moved to Beachwood when it sought to expand. And like Surgical Theater, they also received an incentive grant. But if companies are moving because they need a new space, why are public dollars being spent on enticing them?

Councilperson Barbara Bellin Janovitz believes it’s impossible to know whether a company would have come without an incentive but that the city should still be investing in economic development grants anyway. “We have a policy in place to try to attract businesses that will be good for the city long-term,” she told Scene. “We never know if a company would come without the grant, so we use our knowledge to make the best decision with the information we have.” In other words, the city feels an innate need to compete with other municipalities despite any indication that a competitive edge is necessary. Beachwood is competing for the sake of being competitive.

Unlike the residential suburban cities vying for new businesses, Beachwood does not tax the income of residents who work outside of the city.

Beachwood’s income tax rate is 2% for those who work in the city but there is a full credit for those who live in the city of Beachwood and work in another city, such as Cleveland. According to 2015 estimates, 4,574 residents of the city are employed outside of the city of Beachwood. With a 100% tax credit, these residents, who likely have well-paying jobs to support their housing costs, do not pay income taxes to their city.

Councilperson Janovitz says that while she had never really considered it, she would likely not be in favor of a change to the city’s taxation policies. Janovitz states that she, “does not believe that the city should shift the tax burden from businesses onto the residents.” So, who carries the burden of paying for Beachwood’s city services? Those who work in Beachwood, where the average salary is $45,860 a year.

Are economic development dollars being used to strategically place companies into buildings owned by people close to city leaders? Janovitz argues against that logic, and notes that the city is so small and close knit that many people know landlords. However, economic development practices, local tax policies and relationships between city councilmembers and business people are complex issues that can get murky in such small, comfortable suburban municipalities. That’s why, for citizens like Burkons, a move towards increased transparency is essential. “I think the right questions need to be asked,” he says.

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OHSAA Blames Super Rude Parents for Dwindling Numbers of High School Sports Refs

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 2:02 PM

  • Photo via Wikimedia Commons
The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) recently unleashed a strongly-worded letter addressed to parents of high school athletes, essentially blaming them for dwindling numbers of high school sports officials.

In the essay titled “Dear Mom and Dad: Cool It,” OHSAA, with the support of the National Federation of State High School Associations, explained that parents loudly criticizing game officials or coaches is one of the main reasons high school refs are quitting — at least according to recent National Association of Sports Officials study.

Yes, it seems that plenty of parents are forgetting one key thing while attending their kids' high school games ... these athletes aren't professionals, they're not even college age. These are young people going through the most awkward years of their lives. Yes, some will go on to play elsewhere, but most are participating for the fun of it all.

Worst of all, as the letter pointed out, these irate parents, no matter how "correct" they are about a certain "bad" call a ref made, are embarrassing their kids.

"Make no mistake about it. Your passion is admired, and your support of the hometown team is needed. But so is your self-control," the letter said. "Yelling, screaming and berating the officials humiliates your child, annoys those sitting around you and embarrasses your child’s school."

As more established refs retire in Ohio and across the country, OHSAA said that there are fewer and fewer younger men and women willing to take their place.

Those sideline commentators who think they see the call the "right way" are more than welcome to get certified as an Ohio high school referee right here.

Bottom line: There are no games without officials (as seen at various games around the state that have had to be canceled for the lack there of). When you attend a high school game remember to act like the adult you are, saving your choicest of insults for the next Browns vs. Steelers game. 

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Inaugural Cleveland Open, the First Local ATP Event in 34 Years, Comes to the Cleveland Racquet Club in Late January

Posted By on Tue, Jan 15, 2019 at 3:38 PM

  • Steven Pisano, FlickrCC

The Cleveland Racquet Club will host the inaugural Cleveland Open, the first ATP event in Cleveland in 34 years, from Jan. 28 through Feb. 3.

Some competitors were announced today, including Bernard Tomic (ranked 85th), Thomas Bellucci and Victor Estrella Burgos.

The 48-player field will be chasing their share of $81,240 in prize money.

Tickets for the first rounds are free, with $20 and $140 tickets available for the quarters, semis and finals.

For more information or tickets, click here.

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First Four Ohio Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Open Tomorrow, And Long Lines Are Expected

Posted By on Tue, Jan 15, 2019 at 2:20 PM

Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Colorado - PHOTO VIA WIKIMEDIA
  • Photo Via Wikimedia
  • Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Colorado
After months of delays, medical marijuana is finally coming to Ohio.

Wednesday, four dispensaries around the state are set to open at 9 a.m. on the first day that medical pot becomes legal under state law.

While none of the four dispensaries are in the Cleveland area, residents can expect others to follow shortly. The four opening are Cresco Labs CY + Dispensary and Ohio Valley Natural Relief LLC, both in Winterville, just outside of Steubenville, The Botanist in Canton and The Forest in Sandusky.

Those looking to purchase the medicinal herb must receive the go-ahead from a licensed physician. While edibles may be coming to Ohio soon, the stores will open with just regular old pot (although it may be quite a bit stronger than your typical bud).

However, you may not want to rush to the stores just yet. With only four stores opening, they may have a tough time meeting the demands of those 3,500 people who've already been issued cards by the state. Long lines can be expected tomorrow, as well as limits on how how much product can be purchased at a time.

According to the Akron Beacon Journal, there are still thousands waiting to get medical cards, which will eventually flood the demand on the market even more.

So, tell Grandma she can finally fix that glaucoma, but she might want to wait a few more weeks. 

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Toledo Blade, Eyeing 'Digital Future,' Will Offer Only E-Delivery Two Days Per Week

Posted By on Tue, Jan 15, 2019 at 10:14 AM

A stock photo of a stack of newspapers, not meant to be nostalgic.
  • A stock photo of a stack of newspapers, not meant to be nostalgic.
The owners of the Toledo Blade have announced that the paper will be delivered exclusively in a digital format two days per week beginning Feb. 24.

Citing a "digital future" — not unlike Advance Local, corporate parent of Cleveland,com, long has — Block Communications Chairman Allan Block said that the daily paper for Ohio's fourth-largest city would "maintain its news department," and would still deliver regular print editions five days per week. In an official statement, though, he used language that tends to precipitate editorial cuts.

"We will remain flexible as to how we implement the digital future," he said, "based on local competitive and market developments."

Well, market developments in the media industry sure haven't been great. This week opened with news that the East Bay Express, a beloved alt-weekly in Oakland, California, laid off virtually its entire editorial staff and will convert to a "freelance model" after a crippling lawsuit. ("Virtually its entire editorial staff, for the record, is 4.5 full-time equivalent employees, just to give you a sense of the skeleton crews with which alt-weeklies are operating these days.)

In national news, the reviled Alden Global Capital, through its subsidiary Digital First Media (DFM), has made a bid for the Gannett Newspaper Chain and its 109 local dailies, including USA Today.

DFM are the "vulture capitalists" who eviscerated the Denver Post. They represent "one extreme of the industry, unusually naked in their strategy of extraction." DFM has eliminated two out of every three positions at the media properties it acquires while its executives get obscenely rich in the process.

"[The Denver Post] has turned into a shell of its former self so its hedge fund owners can buy houses in the Hamptons," a New Republic story on DFM's desecration in Denver read. It's the same story at other publications across the country as hedge funds have gleefully assumed control of the industry, content to bleed communities of news and jobs for their own enrichment.

"They’re not reinvesting in the business,” said media analyst Ken Doctor, about Alden Capital and DFM. “[The industry] is dying and they are going to make every dollar they can on the way down."

Meanwhile in Cleveland, the beacons of truth and democracy at Advance Local march diligently forward with their union-busting efforts. After announcing that the Plain Dealer would outsource 29 local production jobs to various national offices and/or remote locations where other Advance papers are assembled — in Orwellian doublespeak, this is described as "centralizing production" — Advance is poised to negotiate with a depleted News Guild when its contract expires in February. Who can say what horrors await. homepage, morning of 1/15/19
  • homepage, morning of 1/15/19

In Toledo, the "transition to digital" is at an earlier stage, praise God. But Block Communications, which also owns the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a handful of regional internet and television subsidiaries, will "remain flexible."

That means that readers will have to be flexible too, and should voice their displeasure as its daily paper converts from journalism the city needs to "content" its residents despise. 
"What is written without effort," Samuel Johnson reminds us, “is in general read without pleasure.”

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More Americans Now Die From Opioids Than Car Accidents

Posted By on Tue, Jan 15, 2019 at 9:10 AM

  • (nosheep/Pixabay)

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The opioid epidemic is hitting closer to home than some Ohioans might realize. According to the National Safety Council, the odds of dying from an opioid overdose are, for the first time, greater than the odds of dying in a car accident.

The odds of dying from an opioid overdose are 1-in-96, compared with 1-in-103 for motor vehicle deaths. Manager of Statistics for the council, Ken Kolosh, said while more people are aware of the opioid epidemic, most don't consider it to be a problem that affects them personally.

"When the National Safety Council does public-opinion poll research, we see only a little less than a quarter of people think that this is a significant issue to their family and their own health and well-being," Kolosh said.

Kolosh noted that opioid overdose is a very specific poisoning, with lifetime odds of death that are much greater than the risk of death from falls, gunshot wounds, drowning or fire. Ohio is among the top five states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths, with more than 3,600 in 2016.

Nationally, there were nearly 170,000 preventable-injury deaths in 2017 - a 5 percent increase from 2016. Kolosh said the data is not intended to scare people, but rather to help illustrate risks faced on a day-to-day basis.

"The everyday risks we face either by getting in the car to commute to work or the drugs that may be in your medicine cabinet pose a much more significant risk than the headline news of a plane crash or a train crash or a lightning strike," he said.

He added that preventable deaths and injuries often are considered "accidents," when in reality, a person's odds of dying are affected by the choices they make.

"We can make smarter decisions throughout our lives. We can buckle up when we're in a car. We can not drink and drive. We don't have to speed," Kolosh said. "In addition, when we are in a doctor and we need pain relief, we can request non-opioid pain-relief treatment."

More than 100 people in the U.S. die every day from opioid drugs.

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