Thursday, November 08, 2007

Even more trash talk in Lorain

The phone rang today.
It was Helen Goldberg, a 90-year-old resident of Lorain's 1st Ward who calls me occasionally.
"I have a good idea for a story," she said.
"Write about what's going on with the trash pickup in Lorain."
We have been writing that story for a long time now and yet sharp-as-a-tack loyal reader Helen has looked right over it -- or has not understood a word we have written.
Chuck Camera, street supervisor, told me after I talked to Helen yesterday that it isn't a fair program for Lorain, the city with a lot of renters (landlords evict them and pile all their belongings in the street) and streets lined with parked cars (so the automated arms on the garbage cans can't get at the bins).
He estimated that of the 22,000 households in Lorain, only 13,000 to 16,000 pay to have their trash picked up.
What about the other 6,000 to 9,000 people?
They either live in apartments and use the apartment Dumpsters or they throw it anywhere they can find -- including the middle of the street, Chuck said.
After I taked to Chuck, I asked our courts and county reporter, Brad Dicken, to write a trash story explaining what's going on but with a bit more of a human angle.
"Talk to the people," I said, "not just the bureaucrats."
Brad told me that the pilot program Lorain is being asked to join is for only two years and 900 households.
After those two years, Lorain can keep doing what it's doing, convert the whole city to the new program or dump the program all together.
If it dumps the program all together, its grant money from the Lorain County Solid Waste Commission would drop minimally (from $250,000 to $225,000), Brad told me.
So, I think that's a small price to pay for a greener planet.
Well, at least a greener county.

(By the way, if you don't understand what's going on either, you're in good company. Lorain Mayor-elect Tony Krasienko was quoted in our story today as saying, "We still never got a complete answer on everything. It's still a little fuzzy.")

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Sorting through the trash (collecting)

As a person who faithfully recycles, I was a little dismayed to find out the only thing that stood between me and a healthier planet were six city councilmen in Lorain who last night voted no on "pay as you throw."
For those of you who have been living in a Dumpster for the past few months, "pay as you throw" is a program (being pushed by the Lorain County Solid Waste Policy Committee) in which households are limited to the amount of trash they can put on the curb.
The common way to do this is to give every household two containers. One for trash and one for recylables. The theory behind this is that people trying to save space in their limited trash bin will throw recyclables in the other one, where they belong -- instead of between the coffee grounds and banana peels in the garbage.
Sounds like an idea that should have no opposition, right?
Well, it did. In Lorain. Where I live. The city council vote was 3-6 against the program.
Lorain has to approve it by Wednesday in order for the county to get $1.5 million in recycling incentives.
How could they do this, I thought ... when every other city in Lorain County has approved it?
And then I got this interesting e-mail from Rocky in LaGrange where "pay as you throw" has already been implemented:

"i am a resident of lagrange and have been on the "pay as you throw" program for a few months now. i have received zero cost reduction, actually my last bill went up and i am giving less trash. not to mention i no longer have the ability to throw away large objects or construction material, unless i rent or borrow a truck to load up and take into town to designated area which allows you to throw away such items. i live outside the city and i am truly considering dropping my trash pick-up completely and just burning everything i can and dropping what i can't off at the designated area when needed. to me lorain did the right thing. the program needs to revised to accommodate their issues, but also issues they have not brought up. the designated dumping area needs to be dropped. a monthly or bimonthly or quarterly pick-up for large items and construction material at our residence would be a better solution. also the price needs to go down for people to accept this. throwing away less trash and recycling more should mean we pay less. i am 100% behind the decision that was made in lorain, things need to be improved drastically in my opinion.
also i wish the other city councils would have been as smart as the lorain council in trying to get this program improved before implementing it!
kudos to lorain!"

And now I'm all confused. You mean the trash collectors will never take that old couch or that broken lawn chair if you put them out on the treelawn?
Well, shoot, sometimes you have stuff that won't fit in a garbage can but I don't want to have to haul it to a dump. It's tough enough to do that with tree branches.
And for all this inconvenience -- and the number of trash collectors it should eliminate -- I should see cheaper bills.
We have to do some more reporting on this story, I think.
The only problem is I won't know before I go to the polls today whether to reward or punish those Lorain politicians who voted down the program.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Countdown to elections

There is a lot of last-minute scrambling in the newsroom on the day before elections.
We got our manifest for Wednesday's paper this afternoon. (You know the newsroom gets to fill around the ads, not the other way around, right?)
We usually have an entire section of the paper designated for election results -- but not this year. They are installing a new press and until it is fully functional, we can only get four sections in the paper.
It's true, sometimes you get a paper with more than four sections but that only means some of those were printed ahead of time and then stuffed into the paper (as was our 44-page election preview). Kind of tough to do that on deadline, though, so the election "section" will actually be the back of the A section. Hope it's easy for you to navigate.
We've talked a little about what will go on Page 1 on Wednesday. Like I said in a previous post, we like the county sales tax hike and the Lorain and Elyria mayoral elections for Page 1. But we also like any upsets, any unseated incumbents. They'll be considered for the front page, too.
We also plan for photos and -- much to the dismay of our chief photographer, Bruce Bishop -- we set up assignments for just about everyone since we don't know who the winners will be. He'll bring in his entire crew to help out election night.
Almost everyone in the newsroom will shift their hours to work Tuesday night. There will be a skeleton staff around during the day in case any other news breaks. We've always joked that election day would be a good day for a criminal to rob a bank -- at least as far as newspapers are concerned. I think the police are still at full shift that day.
But I'll be in early and take a break in the afternoon before coming back for all the excitement.
Our Gal Friday, metro desk assistant Paulanne Oakes, always makes sure everyone in the newsroom has plenty to eat on election night. She plans and cooks and orders and no one ever goes home hungry.
Exhausted, yes, but not hungry.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Nobody's perfect -- especially around elections

I walked into the office Thursday and all hell had broken loose.
Everyone in the newsroom -- all six of them at that point -- had logged one complaint or another about our Special Election Section that had come out in that day's paper.
Ooh, that hurts.
There are not words to describe how tough it is to put out one of those election guides -- especially when we have to gather information on 60-plus races involving some 300 candidates.
There are no big, flashy races coming up Tuesday -- my apologies to Bill Grace and John Romoser and Bonnie Ivancic and everyone else who is slighted by that comment.
The race we are looking at for the top of Page 1 the day after the elections is the countywide 0.25 percent sales tax increase. That is what we see as our biggest election story.
Oh, and any incumbent mayor getting unseated. Those stories will get prominent play, too.
Oh, and the school issues -- such as the 4.99-mill bond issue in North Ridgeville.
Oh, and the 0.25 percent income tax increase in Avon to build a YMCA rec center.
And that about sums up why it is such a bear to mold an election into something our readers can -- and want to -- read. Nothing is that important and everything is very important.
Christina Jolliffe, the metro editor, is point person at election time. She is the epitome of organization (God love her) and manages to keep everything straight.
We decided for this year's election preview to give all the candidates the same questions to answer. We thought that would give voters the most accurate picture of the differences between the candidates.
And for the most part, it worked out. The races were divvied up between the reporters (God love them) who managed to quiz the candidates while maintaining their already big workloads.
I say it worked "for the most part" because some of the complaints were "you didn't run everything I said."
Well, here's the deal. We only have so much room. We -- news editor Ben Nagy, that is -- had to do some creative cramming to get all the information we had into the 44 pages allotted to us for the section.
Ben figured out how everything would fit. We decided it would be more useful to readers to group cities -- for instance, all the races in Amherst -- rather than topics -- for instance, all the school board races. Ben and his copy editors had four days to do this.
We checked it and checked it and checked it again, Ben graciously fixing all the problems we found.
But, as usual, we did not get it absolutely perfect. (I actually think it might be the quest for that elusive perfection that keeps journalists coming to work everyday.)
We left out some photos (they were misplaced in our electronic archive) and we misspelled one candidate's name (sorry Bob Slovak, candidate in North Ridgeville's First Ward).
But, I think we now have everything straightened out and we can relax.
Until Tuesday night, that is.