Welcome to Auburn Township in Beautiful Geauga County Ohio

News Stories and Events for 2024 January thru March                 

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CBO REPORTS GRIM LONG-TERM OUTLOOK FOR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

Thursday, March 21, 2024
Brett Rowland | The Center Square

The Congressional Budget Office on Wednesday released a bleak outlook for the federal government with new projections that show debt levels will reach their highest levels ever in five years.

"Debt held by the public, boosted by the large deficits, reaches its highest level ever in 2029 (measured as a percentage of GDP) and then continues to grow, reaching 166% of GDP in 2054 and remaining on track to increase thereafter," according to the CBO report. "That mounting debt would slow economic growth, push up interest payments to foreign holders of U.S. debt, and pose significant risks to the fiscal and economic outlook; it could also cause lawmakers to feel more constrained in their policy choices."

The CBO further projected that the Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance trust fund will be exhausted in 2033, the Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund in 2035, and the Highway Trust Fund in 2028.

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said the new report should serve as a wake-up call for Congress.

"This is yet another reminder that politicians put political priorities ahead of the long-term health of the country," she said. "There is no way to look at these eye-popping numbers without realizing we need to make a change. And yet we have lawmakers promising what they won’t do: I won’t raise taxes, I won’t fix Social Security, I won’t pay for all the things I do want to do. And so we continue on this dangerous path."

MacGuineas said neither President Joe Biden nor former President Donald Trump have been talking about solutions on the campaign trail ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

"So far, the presidential campaign is not offering any hope – candidates need to be asked how they would fix Social Security, fix Medicare, and bring the debt back to manageable levels," she said. "Voters should not be satisfied without specific answers."

The CBO report found that "interest costs more than double in relation to GDP between 2024 and 2054, driven by rising interest rates and growing debt."

"Those costs reach 6.3% of GDP in 2054 and are larger in every year than their average of 2.1% of GDP over the past 50 years," according to the report. "Higher interest rates account for about two-thirds of the projected rise in net interest costs over the 2024–2054 period; primary deficits account for the rest."

MacGuineas said the biggest concern is the rising cost of interest.

"The scariest part of our grim fiscal outlook is rising interest costs. Those costs have already doubled as a share of the economy since 2015, and this year CBO believes interest will cost more than defense spending or Medicare," she said. "By 2053, interest costs will double again after becoming the single largest line item in the entire federal budget in 2051. This year, we will spend $870 billion on interest – more than all the federal dollars we spend on children – and that number will only grow from here."

Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, called the long-term outlook "dangerous."

"CBO’s new report shows that over the next three decades, America’s debt will grow by more than $100 trillion, as we pay out more than $75 trillion on interest alone. Our debt is projected to continue climbing, approaching twice our gross domestic product, which is uncharted territory for the world’s largest economy," he said. "Looking ahead to 2025, the leaders we elect this fall will face a series of critical fiscal decisions, including the debt ceiling and expiration of some of the 2017 tax cuts. As we enter the heart of campaign season, CBO’s report is proof positive that our debt challenge is serious, and fiscal solutions should be a key part of the national conversation."

Full LONG-TERM BUDGET OUTLOOK 2024-2054 pdf report.



SAMPLE BALLOTS FROM THE GEAUGA COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Geauga primary election is Tuesday March 19th. Vote as if your life depends upon it!

The Geauga Board of Elections provides sample ballots for the March 19th election. You may view and/or print these sample ballots by following this link to the Geauga Board of Elections.

Click on “Find Ballots,” select your “Precinct Name,” and Party (D or R). Then click on “View Ballot.” The next screen will display the ballot for your precinct. This screen is a PDF file which allows you to print a copy or save to your cell to use as a “cheat sheet” when you go to your voting location.

We hope you find this information helpful.



OHIO DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND WORKFORCE RELEASES SCIENCE OF READING SURVEY RESULTS

March 6, 2024
Megan Henry | Ohio Capital Journal

About a third of school districts and community schools are using at least one of the initially approved curricula for kindergarten through fifth grade core reading instruction curriculum.

Starting next year, Ohio school districts and community schools will have to use core curriculum and instructional materials for English language arts and reading intervention programs from lists created by the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce as part of the state’s science of reading implementation.

ODEW recently released their list for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten through fifth grade, and about a third of the state’s school districts and community schools are already using at least one of the initially approved core reading instruction curriculum, according to ODEW survey results.

This is part of ODEW’s efforts to implement the science of reading across classrooms starting next school year.

The state’s two-year, $191 billion budget included science of reading provisions — $86 million for educator professional development, $64 million for curriculum and instructional materials, and $18 million for literacy coaches.

The science of reading is based on decades of research that shows how the human brain learns to read and incorporates phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Ohio is one of 37 states that have passed laws or implemented new policies related to evidence-based reading since 2013, according to Education Week.

“There’s nothing more important than young people knowing how to read,” Gov. Mike DeWine said back in January at ODEW. “I’m convinced that using the right curriculum and making sure all the teachers are teaching in that way based upon the science of reading is going to make a huge, huge difference in the next few years.”

It has previously been reported that 40% of Ohio’s third-graders are not proficient in reading and 33% of third graders were not proficient in reading before COVID-19.

“I think this is a great opportunity to really improve reading in the state of Ohio and it’s one thing I’m going to monitor myself very, very closely,” DeWine said.

ODEW Survey

One of the first steps in preparing to get the science of reading in every Ohio classroom was figuring out what curriculum is currently being used in schools and what professional development educators are receiving.

ODEW sent a survey in September to all public school and community school superintendents (1,007 in total) about the instructional materials they use and professional development training their educators receive. Almost all of them (995) completed the survey as of Dec. 22 and ODEW recently released the survey results.

The survey showed 789 school districts and community schools use the same core instructional materials for kindergarten through fifth grade. Of those, 93% use published curriculum while the remaining 7% use locally created instructional materials for core literacy instruction.

Professional development

Nearly 70% of school districts and community schools said their teachers previously completed science of reading professional development before this current school year, according to the survey results.

The science of reading provisions in the budget includes stipends for teachers to receive professional development in the science of reading.

K-5 teachers, English language teachers in grades 6-12, intervention specialists, English learner teachers, reading specialists and instructional coaches will receive $1,200 stipends. There will also be $400 stipends for middle and high schoolers teachers in other subject areas.

All teachers and administrators must complete their professional development by July 2025, unless they have already completed a similar course.

“It was very plain to me and to my wife, Fran as we traveled around the state last year that a lot of teachers had come out of their college without really the background in science of reading,” DeWine said. “So this is going to take a while, but I think teachers are embracing it when they really start to see the results.”

The Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor is required to create an audit process that shows how every educator training program aligns with teaching the science of reading instruction.

Literacy coaches

The budget will fund 100 literacy coaches that will help public schools with the lowest level of proficiency in literacy based on their performance in the state’s English language arts assessment.

More than 400 community schools and districts reported having no literacy coaches. 18 districts and community schools have between six and 10 literacy coaches, and 10 reported having more than 10 literacy coaches, according to the survey results.



REP. ROY FIGHTS TO REMOVE FEDERAL LIABILITY PROTECTIONS FOR COVID-19 VACCINES

Friday March 8, 2024
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC — On Tuesday, Representative Chip Roy (R-TX-21) introduced the Let Injured Americans Be Legally Empowered (LIABLE) Act, a bill that would empower Americans to hold COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers liable for any losses their vaccines caused.

Representative Roy said, “The long train of abuses committed by the government and public health establishment in response to COVID-19 will continue to impact the American people for years to come.

Millions of Americans were forced to take a COVID-19 shot out of fear of losing their livelihoods and under false pretenses. Many have faced injury from the vaccine, but few have been afforded little recourse. To date, a mere 11 injury claims have been paid out despite nearly 700 million doses of the vaccine having been administered.

I am introducing the LIABLE Act to empower Americans to remove crony federal liability protections for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers and empower injured Americans. The American people deserve justice for the infringement on their personal medical freedom and those medically harmed deserve restitution.”

COVID-19 vaccines are considered “countermeasures” under the Public Readiness and Preparedness (PREP) Act, which broadly shields their manufacturers from civil liability related to losses stemming from the vaccines. Instead, injured Americans must seek relief under the onerous Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP) – but only 11 COVID-related claims have been paid out of CICP.

The LIABLE Act would empower injured Americans by:

• Removing all federal liability protections for the COVID-19 vaccine;

• Preserving the ability of injured Americans to access pre-existing compensation programs; and

• Specifying the bill is retroactive to ensure Americans who received the COVID-19 vaccine before the bill is enacted benefit.

Co-sponsors of the bill include Representatives Lauren Boebert (R-CO-3), Josh Brecheen (R-OK-2), Eric Burlison (R-MO-7), Michael Cloud (R-TX-27), Warren Davidson (R-OH-8), Bob Good (R-VA-5), Clay Higgins (R-LA-3), Thomas Massie (R-KY-4), Mary Miller (R-IL-15), Barry Moore (R-UT-1), Ralph Norman (R-SC-5), Randy Weber (R-TX-14), Troy Nehls (R-TX-22), Andy Harris (R-MD-01), Paul Gosar (R-AZ-09), Eli Crane (R-.AZ-02), Russ Fulcher (R-ID-01), Scott DesJarlais (R-TN-04), and Andy Biggs (R-AZ-05).

Supporting organizations of the bill include Children’s Health Defense and React19.

More support for this legislation:

"Thank you to Congressman Roy for championing this vital legislation. The Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP) has failed those injured by COVID-19 vaccines. The program is wholly inadequate and inconsistent with constitutional principles in providing just redress. The damages and fatalities caused by the COVID-19 vaccine demand accountability. This legislation represents a critical milestone in rectifying these injustices and paving the way for a more accountable future. This legislation is crucial for holding vaccine manufacturers accountable.” - Mary Holland, President of Children's Health Defense

Read the full piece of legislation here.



STACY HARTMAN TAKES THE STAND IN GEAUGA COUNTY JUDGE GRENDELL OHIO DISCIPLINARY HEARINGS

March 5, 2024
Nick Evans | Ohio Capital Journal

Grendell placed Hartman’s two boys in juvenile detention after they refused visitation with their father.

Stacy Hartman took the stand Monday in the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct case against Judge Timothy Grendell. In the midst of a custody dispute, the Geauga County Juvenile and Probate court judge put Hartman’s two boys in juvenile detention after they refused visitation with their father, Grant Glasier.

The incident drew national attention and has taken up a large part of the disciplinary proceedings against Grendell. Hartman declined to be recorded or photographed on the witness stand.

Hartman on the stand

Ohio Disciplinary Counsel Joseph Caligiuri first asked Hartman about the circumstances prior to the incident that put her children in custody. She and Glasier had three children together, but Hartman described their nine-year marriage as “rocky,” and alleged there had had been abuse.

In early 2017, before the case was referred to Grendell’s court, the police responded to an incident at Glasier’s home while their sons Carson and Conner were visiting. Hartman recalled her oldest, Carson, crying hard over the phone saying, “his dad had slammed him against the wall again.” Later, Board chair Peggy Schmitz pressed her explain what she meant by “again.”

“I was aware of one other time that Carson was slammed up against the wall,” she said.

When Hartman arrived at Glasier’s home after the phone call, she described his knuckles as bloody, but police didn’t wind up pressing charges. In the following months, the boys’ guardian ad litem moved to suspend Glasier’s visitation, and the Domestic Relations court granted that request.

Over the next three years, Hartman said, her children regularly participated in reunification counseling at her urging, even if they were resistant. As she explained it, the kids were frustrated because Glasier “wouldn’t admit to any wrongdoing whatsoever.”

The case was eventually transferred to the Juvenile Court, and in the initial hearings, Hartman described Grendell as firm, but fair. She also noted he didn’t seem up to speed when he first heard the case. For instance, he asked Hartman and Glasier whose visitations had been suspended.

But that demeanor took a turn in May of 2020. The judge converted Glasier’s motion for custody — which Glasier was prepared to dismiss — into one enforcing visitation. Grendell did this mid-hearing, without prior notice or an opportunity for the parties to present evidence.

“I was shocked,” Hartman explained, “I didn’t know what was going on.”

The judge’s order was for Glasier to have his two sons for the full weekend unsupervised. Grendell has pushed back on the question of supervision arguing he ordered his constable to supervise for an hour and then allowed the constable to drop in at random.

“He was very forceful,” Hartman said of Grendell. “He was very one-sided.”

Juvenile detention

Two days later, when the court-ordered visitation was set to begin, Hartman brought her boys to the Sheriff’s office for drop off. She explained the boys were reluctant and didn’t want to pack for the weekend, so she packed for them. On the stand she repeatedly described encouraging them to go with their father.

But importantly, she insisted she never “ordered” them to do so.

Under Ohio law, a child is “unruly” if they do not “submit to the reasonable control” of a parent by being “wayward or habitually disobedient.” Refusing court-ordered visitation, doesn’t quite get them there — a point Grendell’s own disciplinary filings seem to acknowledge.

“The boys were not placed in custody because they allegedly refused to go with their father during his court-ordered parenting time; but rather, for their alleged ongoing disobedience of their mother,” Grendell’s answer to the disciplinary complaint states.

After the boys refused to go with their father, the constable called Hartman on speakerphone, telling her she needed to tell the boys to go, and warning they could be placed in juvenile hall. “I was frantic,” Hartman described, but she encouraged them to go. Because they refused, the constable took them into custody and they spent the weekend in juvenile hall.

“I was a mess,” Hartman said, “I was trying to figure out what I could do to help my kids.”

She was angry when she learned that the court had also placed restrictions on the boys’ communication, only allowing them to call their father.

“Even a criminal is permitted a phone call,” Hartman said.

Ahead of the drop off, Hartman explained, Grendell had never mentioned anything about potential unruly charges. After the boys were taken, she added, no one explained Hartman herself was the “victim” of those charges.

Eventually Grendell transferred the case back to Domestic Relations. The disciplinary counsel noted that move came just days before a news story about the case was set to air. After the transfer, the parties reached a settlement relatively quickly. The kids would have to respond in a timely fashion when their dad requested visitation, but whether they went was still up to the kids.

Another notable element that transfer brought to light was the absence of witnesses. When the case returned to Domestic Relations court, witnesses testified under oath about the status of the case. During the entirety of his time overseeing the case, Grendell heard sworn testimony from no one.

From the stand, Hartman argued Grendell had done “irreversible damage” to her son.

Her oldest, Carson, “became very depressed. He started cutting himself. He started failing out of school. He started being mean to his brother.” She said her younger son Conner had grown quiet and the incident “destroyed” his relationship with Carson.

She described how Carson moved out at 18 and after trying to live on his own, dropped out of school and moved to Florida to stay with Glasier. A few months later Carson died in a motorcycle accident in Pennsylvania.

Cross examination

After the disciplinary counsel finished its questions, Grendell’s attorney, Kimberly Riley, did her best to poke holes in Hartman’s testimony.

She asked if Hartman was aware that the constable had offered to stay the full weekend with Glasier and the boys. “No, no one ever told me that,” Hartman explained. Riley also asked why Hartman resisted signing a diversion contract over financial concerns when the therapist agreed to accept a payment plan.

“I didn’t trust the court at that point,” Hartman said, adding “they were giving so much pressure” to put the kids in the diversion program.

“Ultimately, I didn’t think my boys were guilty of anything,” Hartman said.

A few weeks after their stay in juvenile detention, some family friends organized a prayer vigil at the courthouse. After Riley noted Hartman’s phone number was on the flier, she asked if Hartman had paid to have it posted on the Geuaga Maple Leaf’s Facebook page. “No that’s not correct,” Hartman said. Then Riley suggested someone else paid for its placement.

“I’ve never heard of any kind of money exchanged,” Hartman insisted.

In a statement, editor John Karlovec confirmed, “Hartman did not pay the Maple Leaf to post her flyer to its Facebook page.”

As for the failure of reunification counseling prior to the juvenile hall incident, Hartman insisted she regularly encouraged the kids to participate. Riley pressed her on whether there were consequences for refusing. Hartman said yes — she didn’t let them have friends over and took away movies and video games.

She added that her sons liked to build forts with old stage set materials, so she took that away; her daughter with Glasier had recently gotten Snapchat and Hartman canceled her account.



HOW FOREIGN GOVERNMENT LOBBYISTS ARE MAKING CONTRIBUTIONS TO OHIO MEMBERS OF U.S. CONGRESS

March 5, 2024
Zurie Pope | Ohio Capital Journal

As Ohio Senate Republicans move forward a bill to ban foreign contributions to ballot issue campaigns in the state, campaign finance records show Ohio’s U.S. Congressional delegation receiving contributions from foreign government lobbyists.

Introduced by Republican state Sens. Theresa Gavorone and Rob McColley, Ohio Senate Bill 215 would ban foreign nationals from making campaign contributions in favor of, or against, ballot issues in the state of Ohio. It was passed last week by the Ohio Senate and awaits action in the Ohio House.

The law also requires “a certification that the campaign committee, political action committee, legislative campaign fund, political party, or political contributing entity, as applicable, has not accepted any contribution that is prohibited under this chapter.”

Both Ohio and federal law already prohibit foreign interests from participating in candidate races,” Gavorone said during testimony for the bill on February 23. “This bill simply closes a campaign finance loophole for issue campaigns.”

This bill comes after the passage of November’s Issue 1 amendment protecting reproductive rights, and claims by Republicans of “foreign election interference.”

There is no evidence of election fraud during the Issue 1 election in November. Neither Senator Gavorone nor Senator McColley responded to requests for comment.

Democrats argue the bill goes too far, as it has a provision that could make it harder for grassroots movements to get on the ballot even with U.S. dollars.

Foreign government lobbyist spending on Ohio lawmakers

Lobbyists that directly represent foreign states or corporations must file with the U.S. Department of Justice as part of the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), disclosing their lobbying efforts on behalf of these entities.

FARA filings show that lobbying groups promoting or representing the interests of foreign governments and corporations have given thousands to candidates in Ohio for U.S. Congressional and Senate races.

These findings are a local manifestation of a nationwide trend. $33.5 million in individual contributions came from foreign agents or lobbyists during the 2020 election cycle, according to an analysis from campaign finance researchers OpenSecrets released in 2021. Similarly, OpenSecrets found more than $163 million in political contributions from “foreign influenced corporations” between 2018 and 2022.

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck is a lobbying firm based in Denver Colorado which made $46.63 million in lobbying revenue in the first three quarters of 2023. The firm’s overseas clients include the Republic of Egypt, the Republic of Kazakhstan, and Morocco. Most notable among them is Saudi Arabia. According to OpenSecrets, Saudi Arabia spent $900,000 on Brownstein Hyatt in 2023, and its relationship with the country has been well documented.

The firm’s supplemental statement provided on Sept. 30 of last year, which covered the period up to Aug. 31 last year, shows lobbyists employed by Brownstein Hyatt cumulatively donated $5,750 to the reelection committees of Democratic Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. Brown is chair of the U.S. Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, which oversees a subcommittee that deals with international finance and trade.

On June 16, 2023, Brown and Congresswoman Maxine Waters submitted a letter to the Treasury Department, asking them to investigate the merger of PGA Golf with LIV Golf, which is funded by the Saudis.

“Saudi Arabia has a repressive government, known for chilling dissent, jailing dissidents, and enacting draconian punishments,” the letter read. Prior to that, Brown critiqued the Saudi-led war in Yemen, posting, “We need to send a clear message to Saudi Arabia that the US will take action to stem the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” in a Tweet from Nov. 28, 2018.

One of the firm’s lobbyists also donated $1,000 to the campaign of Ohio Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Carey, representing Ohio’s 15th Congressional District, on June 13 last year, and gave $13,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) cumulatively.

Qatar, another Gulf State, spent $6,752,423 in 2023 to lobby the U.S government on its behalf. Of those millions, $315,000 went to Holland&Knight, a multinational lobbying firm based in Tampa, Florida. Most of the contributions made by Holland&Knight lobbyists went to the firm’s political action committee. That PAC then contributed thousands to the campaigns of Ohio U.S. Congressional lawmakers. Those donations included:

$2,500 to Republican House Rep. Jim Jordan on April 27.

$1,500 to Republican Senator J.D Vance on May 4, to retire debts accrued during his 2022 campaign.

$1,000 to Democratic House Rep. Shontel Brown on April 27

$1,000 to Democratic House Rep. Greg Landsman Dec. 18

The Chartwell Strategy Group, a Washington D.C.-based “strategic advisory,” firm, received $350,00 for their lobbying on behalf of China in 2023, according to OpenSecrets. Specifically, Chartwell did consulting for iFlytek Co. a semi-state owned Chinese information technology company whose technology was linked to human rights violations of Uyghur Muslims.

On April 16 last year, Chartwell Managing Director Ozzie Palomo donated $3,300 to Ohio Republican Congressman Dave Joyce of Ohio’s 14th District, according to statements provided by the firm on Sept. 30 last year.

You can’t trust China, they’re not our friend. They’re not an ally. They are out for world domination,” said Congressman Joyce in a segment for Fox Business from May 23 2023. “They’re everywhere, and they need to be replaced.”

Senate Bill 215 “misses a really important piece of the puzzle”

Good government advocates say that the trouble with Senate Bill 215 is that it doesn’t address dark money political funding.

“The problem that I see with Senate Bill 215 is that it misses a really important piece of the puzzle without having greater transparency,” said Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio.

While Turcer agrees that “there is a real benefit to ensuring that Ohio elections are not influenced by foreign money,” Turcer ultimately feels “we need to focus on doing what we can to ensure there’s greater transparency in our elections, and specifically address the dark money that is spent on political advertisements, so that Ohioans can follow the money, understand who is trying to influence them.”

To Turcer, without accountability, neither foreign lobbying, nor any lobbying, can be addressed substantively.

“If you don’t have greater transparency, you can have another law on the books where you can’t actually hold them accountable.”

Turcer said that greater transparency not only means disclosure of where campaign money is coming from, but also more information provided by the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee to help people understand lobbying efforts in Ohio, and giving people access to the Legislative Service Commission’s records.

“At the end of the day, any of our legislators could take action every day to talk about dark money,” Turcer said. “This is a good time for candidates and public officials to be thinking about, well, how can we create a system so that we are not repeatedly ripped off, where we don’t actually need the FBI to investigate to figure out if something is going wrong, that we as Ohioans and our government have the tools so that we can actually stop a scandal before it spins completely out of control?”

Turcer warned that the power of dark money, both domestic and international, had a corrosive effect on American democracy.

“The undue influence of money puts us on a path towards plutocracy. Some might even say we’re there.”



AUBURN TOWNSHIP ISSUES FOR MARCH 4, 2024

Published Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Although the right to use marijuana passed in 3 of Auburn Township’s 5 voting precincts in November 2023, Trustees Troyan and McCune noted that there appear to be a lot of details yet to be worked out on a legal basis before medical marijuana may be permitted in Auburn Township. Trustee McCune cited the possibility of an additional $500,000 in income to Auburn Township if Medical Marijuana were to be legally dispensed in Auburn Township. Mr. McCune claimed to know one of the CEO’s of Medical Marijuana because the latter currently lives in Auburn Township.

 

In regards to Auburn Township’s Community Park, the Western Reserve Land Conservancy has asked for the Trustees to maintain a border; Trustee Cavanagh suggested planting trees four feet within a recognized boundary so that the area will be protected from human travel/exploration.

On a fiscal note, Dan Matsko reported the availability of $2,337,494.54 total cash in two separate accounts, with a reported Road and Bridge Carryover of about $300,000 in anticipation of Moreland Drive paving at a cost exceeding the million dollar range. In addition, the township is anticipating setting aside funds for purchase of a new truck at a cost of about $60,000. The Payment Listing reported a total payment of $407,128.75 for bills and obligations incurred from February 22- March 4, 2024. The largest payment was #8213 for $361,462.64 to Auburn Volunteer Fire Department, a “Volunteer” unit in name only.

Although Mr. Matsko claimed not to know the township’s relationship to the recent Endo International emergence from bankruptcy via the drugmaker’s payment of $465 million to settle claims filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, Auburn Township is involved in a final “signing of approval” before the March 19, 2024, final court hearing for Endo’s Chapter 11 resolution.

Endo filed for bankruptcy in August 2022 as a result of an $8 billion debt to lenders and creditors in relationship to federal charges that the drugmaker bore responsibility for creating an opioid epidemic. The initial settlement in November 2023 indicated that the Federal Government had possibly overpaid Endo for misbranded and/or misrepresented medications. As a result thousands of lawsuits filed by states, local governments, and private individuals against companies representing Endo and/or marketing Endo pharmaceuticals have required a signing off before the final March 19, 2024, emergence of Endo International. See Drugmaker Endo reaches $465 million bankruptcy settlement by Dietrich Knauth of Reuters on February 29, 2024. It appears from Mr. Matsko’s statement that a group of Auburn Township employees were able to vote/their approval.



GEAUGA BUDGET COMMISSION FINDS EXTRA DOLLARS IN WEST GEAUGA LSD RENEWED “EMERGENCY” LEVIES; MORE GIVEBACK TO TAXPAYERS

Thursday, February 29, 2024

As a result of the 2023 Inside Millage Revaluation, termed by many taxpayers as an unvoted windfall for all five local school districts, the Geauga Budget Commission, composed of Auditor Chuck Walder, Prosecutor Jim Flaiz, and Treasurer Chris Hitchcock, has uncovered its responsibilities regarding tax levy review. The authority for this review is granted by Revised Code 5705.31 under Tax Levy Law in Ohio’s Constitution. Had the debacle of the sexennial revaluation not become apparent in the privation to Geauga County real estate payments, the Geauga Commission would not have had the opportunity to research the disservice to homeowners and taxpayers.

The specific authority granted to the county budget commission is as follows: to “examine such budget [including school tax levy] and ascertain the total amount proposed to be raised in the county for the purpose of each subdivision and other taxing units in the county.” In addition, the budget commission has authority for approving “(A) [a]ll levies in excess of the ten-mill limitation,

(B) [a]ll levies for debt charges not provided for by levies in excess of the ten-mill limitation, including levies necessary to pay notes issued for emergency purposes . . .”

In a graph comparing the 2024/2025 school year budgets for Kenston, Cardinal, Chardon, Berkshire, and West Geauga LSDs, the Geauga County Budget Commission was able to demonstrate that there excess carryover cash per each enrolled student. Although the revenue slightly trails the expense per student in Kenston, Cardinal, and Chardon, LSD’s, with both Berkshire and West Geauga LSD’s demonstrating more revenue than expenses for enrolled students. Nevertheless, each system is still receiving sizable cash carryover in the bank.

The anomaly is West Geauga LSD, as the only school district in Geauga County that helped out its taxpayers by suspended collection of $1 million and made its taxpayers feel better while dealing with 33.3% additional revenue in the amount of $1,307,637 and a total inside (unvoted) millage for 2023 of $5,585,072 and an increased unvoted millage for 2024 of $1,307,637. Further, the revenue (income) to West Geauga exceeds student expense by a whopping $2.6 million, according to oral testimony at the hearing.

In the end, the West Geauga Budget Summary on February 28, 2024, demonstrated that West Geauga’s Beginning Balance of $27,114,659 gained $2,081,637 because its certified revenues exceeded its expenses by $2,081,631. Depending on methodology, the carryover (cash in the bank) per enrolled West Geauga student worked out to $14,000+ 80% of per-student expenses. In spite of its generous offer to mitigate $1,000,000,West Geauga LSD is awash in excess carryover cash.

Prosecutor Flaiz pointed out two landmark legal judgments that were resolved in the Ohio Supreme Court to resolve excessive tax burdens created for taxpayers without their authorization. The first is Village of South Russell v. Budget Commission of Geauga, 1984 12 Ohio St.3d 126, 465 N.E and

Sanborn v. Hamilton County Budget Commission, 2014-Ohio-5218, 27N,E, 3d498. Both of these judgments deal with the question of excessive cash carryovers in favor of taxpayers, who funded the appeals, and received the favorable judgment, In explaining that West Geauga has reached the 20 mill floor, Prosecutor Flaiz explained that West Geauga could accept the Budget Commission's decision that the school district must return a portion of their hoarded funds back to the taxpayers or file a legal court appeal at their own additional expense.

Treasurer Chris Hitchcock heard that West G. has a long-term dream to develop a totally new campus with a consolidation of two buildings: Grades 1-5 and Grades 6-12. Nevertheless, when Hitchcock asked about the school system’s hiring of an architect, the spokesperson acknowledged that no architect has been hired to do any research or plans. Hitchcock said that the school district has $26 million in the bank, a result of its unvoted windfall without the voice of its taxpayers, Hitchcock insists that those unvoted funds, by virtue of no immediate plans by West Geauga LSD, must go back to the taxpayers.

That explanation brought on the West Geauga explanation about need to replace stadium turf with Hitchcock’s quick response that West Geauga “has 90% of everything it could possibly need already. In fact, Hitchcock stressed that West G. “already has an embarrassing amount of cash; at least $12 million needs to be returned to West G. taxpayers.” Anything less is “just idle talk to excuse hoarding cash.”

Flaiz resumed his logical argument, noting that excessive cash carryover held by West Geauga is the single biggest issue. He reviewed the history of old LSD levies from 1989, and two so-called emergency levies that were initiated in 1992 as part West G’s jumping on “the Emergency Levy trip. In fact, according to Flaiz, two Emergency levies bring in $4 million dollars. Flaiz explained that Emergency levies “must provide for emergency needs or operating deficits only.” The “Emergency” monies raised in February 2003 were initially for only four years, but the “Emergency” renewal passed by voters in 2007 was for a five year period. The next “Emergency” renewal was for five years. The following “Emergency” renewal passed in 2016 was for a ten year period. Therefore, the unspecified/unexplained “Emergency” usage of moneys served West Geauga Local School District well because of the generosity of its taxpayers. According to Flaiz, in 2016 the West Geauga General Fund balance was already $13 million in cash. Due to voter generosity, that General Fund balance has continued to grow—perhaps in non-linear fashion, and still the taxpayers were not yet critical.

Flaiz emphasized that because West Geauga was not forthright with its taxpayers, the General Fund nearly doubled. Flaiz concluded that the West Geauga LSD has given him heartburn with the absolute need for the Budget Commission to analyze and approve budgets every single year according to the authority granted by the Ohio Constitution, especially when subdivisions like West Geauga are collecting “Emergency” funds for “Non-Emergency” needs.

From an analytical point of view, has West Geauga LSD defrauded its taxpayers when it has borne no “Emergency” since 1989?

Perhaps the most significant response was the comment from the West Geauga Budget Administrator/Fiscal Officer: “We work very hard to spend what we bring in.” That remark brought a laugh from many conducting the budget review and the response from Flaiz that West G “Emergency” funds could be eliminated altogether. “I don’t want to debate the potential for fraud.”

Hitchcock expressed his admiration for West G as a “phenomenal school system. Nevertheless, until you approve a levy, excessive funds must be suspended. Give the extra funds to taxpayers. Taxpayers have been hornswoggled.”

Auditor Walder followed up with suppression of $2.3 million in “Emergency funds” and Prosecutor Flaiz urged West Geauga LSD to observe “the law. Accept the judgment or take us to court.”

When this writer left the audio version of the Geauga Budget Commission at approximately 11:15 am, Chris Hitchcock’s words still rang out: “Stop hoarding $29 million.”



CHLORMEQUAT IN CHEERIOS AND QUAKER PRODUCTS: WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT THIS PESTICIDE

Monday, February 26, 2024
Mary Walrath-Holdridge | USA TODAY

Four out of five Americans likely have a lesser-known pesticide in their bodies thanks to the consumption of certain foods, according to a new study.

Published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology on Thursday, the study found that 80% of tested Americans had the chemical chlormequat in their systems, a plant regulating agent that is currently not approved for use on edible crops in the U.S.

Imported foods treated with chlormequat are allowed to enter the country, however. According to a brief published alongside the study by the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group (EWG), the findings "ring alarm bells," as the chemical is thought to be harmful and was found in common oat and wheat-based products, including Cheerios and Quaker Oats.

Here's what to know about the findings.

WHAT IS CHLORMEQUAT?

Chlormequat chloride is a pesticide used as a plant growth regulator. The agricultural chemical works by decreasing stem height. This prevents crops from bending over, which can make harvesting more difficult. It is most commonly used on wheat, oats and barley, per the EWG.

Chlormequat is not approved for use on edible plants in the U.S. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided in 2018 to allow the importation of foods treated with the chemical. It is approved for use on food crops, mostly grains, in the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada.

WHAT DID THE STUDY SAY?

The study, published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, found that chlormequat was detected in 77 of 96, or 80%, of Americans tested for chlormequat.

Researchers used urine samples collected from three geographical regions between 2017 and 2023 to test for the presence and concentration of chlormequat in the bodies of the participants. The study found not only that 4 out of 5 Americans have the pesticide in their system, but that the concentration has increased compared to prior years.

The study also found the chemical in 92% of oat-based foods purchased and tested in May 2023, including Quaker Oats and Cheerios.

WHAT PRODUCTS WERE FOUND TO CONTAIN CHLORMEQUAT?

Researchers found the presence of chlormequat in both traditional and organic oat and wheat-based foods.

Researchers tested conventional oat-based products purchased in June and August 2022 and May 2023. Of both sets, chlormequat was detected in 92% of the tested products. Organic oat-based products had a lower detection rate of 12.5%.

A sample of conventional wheat-based products tested in February 2023 also found that 22% had traces of chlormequat.

The study authors tested several individual items from a variety of brands for the presence of chlormequat. The chemical was found in several General Mills products, including Cheerios; Quakers Food products including oatmeal, granola bars and Old Fashioned Oats; and some generic store-brand granola and cereals, including Walmart and Target.

Mollie Wulff, a spokesperson for General Mills, told USA TODAY in a statement: "All our products adhere to all regulatory requirements. Food safety is always our top priority at General Mills, and we take care to ensure our food is prepared and packaged in the safest way possible."

PepsiCo, which owns Quaker Foods, did not immediately respond to request for comment.

WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF CHLORMEQUAT?

Scientists don't know the exact impact of chlormequat on the human body, as testing has been focused on animals thus far.

Some prior studies have found that chlormequat is linked to infertility, disrupted fetal growth, delayed puberty and disruptions to the metabolic system. However, these studies were performed on mice and rats and have not been conducted on or translated to humans.

EWG said that studies on the pesticide are ongoing but argued, "Although these studies focus only on the chemical’s potential effects on animals, they raise questions about whether it could also harm humans."

The EWG also noted a 2023 proposal by the EPA to allow the use of chlormequat on barley, oat, triticale and wheat grown in the U.S. for the first time following chlormequat manufacturer Taminco's application to do so in 2019. EWG has said they oppose the plan.



THREE GEAUGA REPUBLICAN PRIMARY CONTESTS TO CONSIDER WHEN VOTING ON TUESDAY, MARCH 19, 2024

Saturday, February 24, 2024

The parking lot was crowded with motivated voters seeking to learn more about the opinions and values of Republican judicial candidates seeking two contested Eleventh District Court of Appeals positions paying $169,075, for each of six years and the nitty-gritty behind two Geauga County Republican candidates vying for County Commissioner positions, each paying $86,988 in annual base salary.

 

The Eleventh District Court of Appeals primary contest between Republicans Scott Lynch and Colleen Mary O’Toole was unrepresented at the Bainbridge event, but the exchange in the Primary Race between incumbent John J. Eklund and challenger Shelley M. Pratt was the first live encounter at the Bainbridge Library under strictly-timed conditions. Ms. Pratt was first to speak quite knowledgeably and convincingly as a litigator with about 20 years’ experience as a county prosecutor who prides herself on her ability to write legal appellate briefs. Judge John Eklund, the incumbent administrative Justice on the Warren 11th District Appeals Court, is a Munson Township resident who is intent on safeguarding the Constitution. When asked to name a personal hero/heroine, Ms. Pratt cited the late Sandra Day O’Connor and Judge Eklund reverently referred to the younger U.S. Supreme Court Justice, John Marshall Harlan, often identified as John Marshall Harlan II because he was named after his grandfather. Justice Harlan II served on the U.S. Supreme Court identified as the Warren Court.

 

The remaining two live encounters featured incumbent Geauga Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri, completing his third term and seeking his fourth consecutive election, against Chardon resident and Geauga Republican Chairman, Nancy McArthur. McArthur acknowledged in late 2023 that as a Commissioner candidate she had resigned her position on the Board of Elections, but in her presentation, she did not broach the conflict of interest that her role as Geauga County GOP Chairman would create if she is ultimately elected as a Geauga Commissioner, particularly with regard to Board of Revision decisions that could create.

On the other hand, Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri avoided any discussion of discontinuance of Commissioners’ videoing of each Commissioner meeting and attested that ongoing public comment has and questions have been an ongoing event during his twelve year tenure. In reality, regular attendees and those in the public audience who have continually provided youtube recordings know that Mr. Spidalieri’s representation of ongoing transparency and willingness to accept public comment would be contested by many registered voters.

 

The final encounter between Republican Carolyn Brakey and defeated former Commissioner Skip Claypool was perhaps the most spontaneous and most valuable. Both individuals are seeking the seat of Tim Lennon, who decided in late 2023 that he would not be seeking a third term. Mr. Claypool has clearly expressed anti-NOACA views, along with objections to Lake County influence on Department of Health issues and an agreement with Lake Tran during the summer of 2023.

Please view the debates as recorded during the League of Women Voters voter forum on February 22, 2924, and please participate in the primary election at your normal voting location from 6:30 am until 7:30 pm. Become informed. Ask questions. Vote for the best candidate.



SEVERAL CANDIDATES BYPASS GEAUGA LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS FORUM ON FEB. 22, 2024, AT BAINBRIDGE LIBRARY

Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Bainbridge Library played host on Thursday evening, February 22, to interested Geauga County voters seeking to make informed choices when they vote in the Primary contest on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.

Little incumbent 14th District US Representative, David Joyce, declared himself a No-Show for the infinitesimal time rather than encountering a face-to-face opponent. In fact, Just Dave is Just Dave, known to many as a Republican in Name Only.

During this Primary Season two other Republicans rose to the challenge of declaring against Little Dave, along with a Democrat named Brian Bob Kenderes. Kenderes did not respond to the LWV questionnaire. Neither did Republican Ken Polke or Just Dave himself. For that kind of indifference , Just Dave continues to collect his annual base salary of $174,000.

One of the biggest disappointments, however, was the notification by Portage County Republican challenger Elayne J. Cross that illness would keep her from presenting her plans for 14th District if she is the Republican Primary victor.. For the record, Ms. Cross holds a Bachelor of Science in Education and has teaching experience in Portage County, along with participation in the Portage County, Ohio, GOP Central Committee since 2008. She can be reached at Elayne@ElectCross.US , her Twitter address of @ElayneJCross.

Elayne has identified her top priorities of reducing the size and scope of the US Federal Government by limiting voter participation to “one citizen- one vote.”

To learn more about the 14th DistrictU.S. House of Representatives Republican Candidate,visit her website, www.electcross.us

Other no shows for the Bainbridge Library Candidate Preview were two Republicans vying for the 32nd District Ohio Senate Seat. Challenger Mike Loychik will face current Ohio Senator Sandra O’Brien in the Republican Primary for Ohio Senate District 32 for an annual salary of $68,673.

The victor will square off in November against Democrat Michael Shrodek, a Secondary English Teacher with a Master of Arts from Youngstown State University and community experience in the Niles/Warren area.

Mr. Shrodek identified his top priorities as initiating legislation for the creation of “new election districts,” fostering anti-discrimination laws, seeking increased minimum wage and school funding, and extending more rights to minorities, senior citizens, and disabled individuals.

Sample ballots may be viewed and/or printed by following this link to the Geauga Board of Elections.



LAKETRAN TRUSTEES VOTE TO PAUSE SALES TAX

Thursday, February 21, 2024
Chad Felton | News Herald

The Laketran Board of Trustees recently voted 5-4 to temporarily pause the agency’s quarter-of-one-percent sales tax which was approved by Lake County voters in 2019.

This decision, fueled by a surplus in COVID relief dollars, will be in effect throughout the year, officials confirmed.

As a result, taxpayers are expected to save “a substantial $12 million during this period,” reducing the sales tax to 7 percent.

According to the board, the agency received a combined total of $22 million in aid from three federal COVID relief programs: the 2020 CARES Act; the 2021 American Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act; and the 2021 American Rescue Plan.

“The COVID relief funds were distributed by formula, and while we took great measures to stabilize the agency and support the community throughout the pandemic, we find ourselves with unspent funds,” said Laketran CEO Ben Capelle. “Consequently, we are utilizing these funds to cover operating expenses to the benefit of both Laketran and the local community.”

In December 2022, the board initiated a review of potential methods to pause the sales tax levy and researched options from the Ohio Department of Taxation to temporarily suspend the tax.

Board President Brian Falkowski emphasized Laketran’s commitment to responsible fiscal management.

“We strive to earn the trust of our community through efficient service delivery and transparent use of taxpayers’ dollars,” he said. “In light of the surplus, we are taking the proactive step of returning these dollars.”

In addition to the temporary cut, Falkowski added that the agency is actively exploring alternative avenues to allocate remaining COVID relief funds.

“Last May, we expanded service hours and continue to discuss other future improvements, ensuring the community’s needs are met,” he said.

One initiative under consideration is the establishment of a sidewalk grant fund, aiming to assist local municipalities in expanding sidewalk networks to enhance pedestrian access and safety for transit users.

Capelle noted the agency is also looking at a new scheduling model to offer same-day Dial-a-Ride service that would not require reservations one to 12 days in advance and operate similar to a traditional ride-share service.

“We are confident we will continue to be able to enhance services without the need for these funds,” he said. “The challenge is that COVID funds were a large, one-time grant and it’s irresponsible to put the funds towards something that can’t be sustained over time.

“Many of our transit systems peers are using surplus funds to invest in essential infrastructure, such as transit centers and maintenance facilities,” Capelle added. “We would have considered the same for our Headquarters and Garage Expansion (project), but we did not need the funds because we (had) secured a competitive $14.6 million federal grant in 2022 to fund the majority of that project.”



FRESH BAILOUT AND BRIBERY INDICTMENTS RAISE QUESTIONS ABOUT WHAT OHIO GOV. DEWINE KNEW AND WHEN

February 16, 2024
Marty Schladen | Ohio Capital Journal

The announcement Monday of new felony indictments against players in Ohio’s massive bribery scandal is again raising questions about what Gov. Mike DeWine knew before and after he nominated Sam Randazzo to be the top utility regulator in the state.

The indictment contained new allegations of a long, nefarious relationship between Randazzo, one of the state’s biggest utilities and a group of industrial users. On Thursday, DeWine’s spokesman reiterated that the governor believed in 2019 that Randazzo was qualified to be the top regulator because of his prior representation of utilities and large ratepayers. DeWine on Wednesday conceded that the appointment was a mistake.

Randazzo was indicted along with the former top executives of Akron-based FirstEnergy for their alleged roles in a scheme to pay more than $60 million in bribes in exchange for the 2019 passage of a $1.3 billion ratepayer bailout that was mostly intended to prop up two nuclear plants. Former House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, was convicted of his role in federal court last year and is serving a 20-year prison sentence.

Randazzo, DeWine’s 2019 pick to chair the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, was indicted by the feds in December.

On Monday, law enforcement authorities led by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost again indicted Randazzo, this time on state felony charges. Also indicted were former FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones and former Vice President Michael Dowling. They all pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.

Among the new allegations was that Randazzo had a corrupt relationship with the FirstEnergy executives stretching back to 2010.

As part of it, Randazzo allegedly served as general counsel to the Industrial Energy Users of Ohio while secretly being paid as a consultant for FirstEnergy. In those capacities, Randazzo settled disputes over electricity rates on terms that were acceptable to the energy companies, then channeled the settlement money through shell companies where he skimmed off a portion, the indictment said.

In 2015, FirstEnergy also paid out $8.5 million in supposed “consulting fees.”

The indictment said the money was really intended to be a cash payment to the industrial users so they would drop their opposition to a rate hike FirstEnergy was seeking. Through that “side deal,” a powerful utility paid off powerful industries to grease the skids for a rate hike on all FirstEnergy customers, if the allegations are true.

Between 2016 and 2019, FirstEnergy paid $13 million into Randazzo’s shell companies, the indictment said. Of that, Randazzo passed $7.75 million to the industrial users and pocketed the rest, it said.

On Thursday, DeWine Press Secretary Dan Tierney said that as his boss was entering the governor’s office at the start of 2019, DeWine saw Randazzo’s relationships with FirstEnergy and big electricity users as a special qualification to be the top regulator.

“Governor DeWine knew of Mr. Randazzo’s relationship to FirstEnergy as a paid consultant prior to the Governor’s appointment of Mr. Randazzo,” Tierney said in an email. “As we have previously stated, Mr. Randazzo was appointed due to his expertise and having represented many sides of utility rate issues, having represented both utilities as well as large ratepayers (in) whose interest it is to pay as little as possible for utilities.”

The connections between FirstEnergy and the incoming administration of Mike DeWine and Jon Husted were strong. DeWine’s chief of staff, Laurel Dawson, was married to a man who had been a paid lobbyist for FirstEnergy — and who had received a $10,000 loan from Randazzo in 2016, the indictment said.

DeWine’s legislative affairs director, Dan McCarthy, had also been a FirstEnergy lobbyist. When he was, McCarthy founded Partners for Progress, a 501(c)(4) dark money group that FirstEnergy admitted was used to funnel tens of millions of the corporation’s dollars into the effort to make Householder speaker and pass and protect the bailout. Once in the administration, McCarthy acted from that perch to help pass House Bill 6, the bailout legislation.

And, on Dec. 18, 2018 — just before DeWine and Husted took the oath of office — they met at the Columbus Athletic Club with Jones and Dowling, the top executives for FirstEnergy. Among the topics was whether Randazzo would be acceptable to regulate the executives’ company, the indictment said.

According to the state indictment, Jones and Dowling went from that dinner to Randazzo’s German Village condo, where they seem to have negotiated a payment that FirstEnergy later characterized as a bribe. Shortly after, Randazzo sent the executives a text message requesting $4.3 million over a period of years, according to copies filed as part of Randazzo’s indictments. Jones responded by saying it would be paid in a lump sum, the messages said.

In January, as Randazzo was being vetted to chair the PUCO, he told Dawson, DeWine’s chief of staff, about the $4.3 million payment, but he did not tell her about the other millions he had received from FirstEnergy, the state indictment said. Randazzo didn’t report any of the payments to the Ohio Ethics Commission, it added.

A former aide gave DeWine a dossier reporting shady financial connections between Randazzo and FirstEnergy on Jan. 28, 2019. But Tierney said that Dawson never told the governor about the $4.3 million payment before DeWine nominated Randazzo to chair the PUCO on Feb. 4, 2019.

According to the state indictment, Randazzo spent the rest of the year and part of the next helping to draft and openly lobby for the corrupt bailout. He also took other moves on behalf of FirstEnergy, including canceling a rate review that likely would have forced the utility to lower rates, thereby lowering stock prices and costing Jones and Dowling personally, the indictment said.

Householder and four others were arrested in July 2021. But it wasn’t until the following November — when the FBI searched Randazzo’s condo — that Dawson finally told the governor about the $4.3 million payout, Tierney said.

“The Governor had previously stated he had a conversation with Laurel Dawson in November 2020 about Sam Randazzo when Mr. Randazzo’s property was the subject of a federal search warrant,” he said. “The contractual termination payment was part of that discussion.”

Subsequently, DeWine has staunchly defended Dawson, much as he defended McCarthy, the former aide and FirstEnergy lobbyist.

July 2021 brought the lengthy, specific federal indictment of Householder, FirstEnergy, and others on the heels of Randazzo’s questionable work in support of HB 6. But DeWine apparently didn’t suspect that the company’s $4.3 million payment to Randazzo might have been a bribe — until federal agents searched his condo.

“Please note that the payment was never alleged to our office to be a bribe until later in 2021, well after any such conversation or initial PUCO vetting of Mr. Randazzo,” DeWine’s press secretary said Thursday.

Interestingly, the indictment unveiled on Monday contained a message from a FirstEnergy lobbyist briefing his top bosses on how to talk to DeWine.

“Explain things like he doesn’t know anything about it — and be surprised when he does,” the lobbyist wrote. “Sometimes he knows what you’re talking about. Sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he does and pretends he doesn’t.”



LAST CHANCE TO GET PREPARED FOR THE GEAUGA PRIMARY ELECTION – SEE THE CANDIDATES LIVE IN ACTION IN JUST A WEEK-- 7 PM @ THE BAINBRIDGE LIBRARY ON FEBRUARY 22, 2024!

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Decision time is closing in fast. Geauga County’s future depends on being prepared for the March 19 Primary Election. Learn how the candidates make their decisions so that you, the voters, can make your best decisions at your usual voting place or cast your absentee ballot wisely!

Keep your eyes on the candidates and the issues!

The Bainbridge Library is located at 17222 Snyder Road, Bainbridge Township, Ohio 44023.



RANDAZZO, FORMER FIRSTENERGY EXECS INDICTED FOR ROLE IN LEGISLATION SCANDAL

Tuesday, February 13, 2024
J.D. Davidson | The Center Square

An Ohio grand jury indicted the former chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and two former FirstEnergy Corp. executives for their role in the House Bill 6 scandal.

Attorney General Dave Yost announced the indictments by a Summit County grand jury Monday.

“This indictment is about more than one piece of legislation,” Yost said. “It is about the hostile capture of a significant portion of Ohio's state government by deception, betrayal and dishonesty. Shout it from the public square to the boardroom, from Wall Street to Broad and High: Those who perversely seek to turn the government to their own private ends will face the destruction of everything they worked for.”

Former PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo, former FirstEnergy CEO Charles Jones and former FirstEnergy Senior Vice President of External Affairs Michael Dowling were indicted on a combined 27 felony counts.

Randazzo also controlled two companies – the Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio and IEU-Ohio Administration Co. Both were named in the indictment, with prosecutors saying they are shell companies created to further Randazzo’s criminal activities, the indictment said.

Randazzo's 22 felony counts are:

• Eight counts of money laundering.

• Six counts of tampering with records.

• Three counts of telecommunications fraud.

• Two counts of aggravated theft.

• One count each of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, grand theft, and bribery.

Jones faces 10 felony counts, including engaging in corrupt activity, theft of $1.5 million or more, bribery, telecommunications fraud and money laundering.

Dowling was indicted on 12 felony counts, including engaging in corrupt activity, theft of $1.5 million or more, bribery, telecommunications fraud, money laundering and tampering with records.

The billion-dollar bailout of Ohio’s nuclear energy companies from House Bill 6 resulted in the largest corruption scandal in state history. Former House Speaker Larry Householder was sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for his involvement. Former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges is also in prison for his involvement.

Householder lost his speakership and was expelled from the House in June 2021.

As previously reported by The Center Square, FirstEnergy agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in their investigation, admitting it conspired with public officials, others and entities to pay millions of dollars to public officials in exchange for specific official action to help FirstEnergy.

Householder and four co-conspirators were charged in 2020. Also charged were Borges, lobbyist Neil Clark, the Oxley Group co-founder Juan Cespedes and strategist John Longstreth.

HB6 created a new Ohio Clean Air Program to support nuclear energy plants and some solar power facilities. Electricity consumers were to fund the program with the surcharge that ran through 2027.

The fee, which was scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2021, was stopped by the Ohio Supreme Court in late December 2020. Yost also reached a deal with FirstEnergy to stop what would have been a $120 million windfall for the company this year based on another part of the legislation.



SAMPLE BALLOTS COURTESY OF THE GEAUGA BOARD OF ELECTIONS

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Sample ballots may be viewed and/or printed by following this link to the Geauga Board of Elections.

Click on “Find Ballots,” select your “Precinct Name,” and Party (D or R) then click on “View Ballot.” The next screen will display the ballot for your precinct. This screen is a PDF file which allows you to print a copy to use as a “crib sheet” when you go to your voting location.



FEDERAL INTEREST COSTS TO HIT RECORD IN TWO YEARS, SAYS CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE

Wednesday, February 7, 2024
Brett Rowland | The Center Square

The federal government is on track to spend $1.6 trillion more than it brings in this fiscal year with new projections published Wednesday showing federal spending is projected to remain unsustainable in the decades to come.

The Congressional Budget published its Budget and Economic Outlook on Wednesday. The new projections show Congress has made limited progress on tackling deficits and debt. The projections show troubling financial trends will continue, according to experts.

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said alarm bells should be ringing for lawmakers.

"Our debt is rising out of control, and it's time for Congress to wake up," she said. "The outlook has improved some thanks to the bipartisan Fiscal Responsibility Act, but our fiscal situation remains precarious. The national debt will reach a new record as a share of the economy in four years, and interest costs will hit a record in just two years."

U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who is not seeking another term in the legislature, said the risk is "economic and geopolitical collapse."

"The U.S. economy is becoming critically fragile as we continue to ignore our public debt crisis," he wrote on X. "Without action, we risk economic and geopolitical collapse."

By 2034, the CBO projects debt held by the public will hit $48.3 trillion, the budget deficit will increase to $2.6 trillion, interest on the nation's debt will jump to more than $1.6 trillion and the Highway, Social Security and The Old-Age and Survivors Insurance trust would be depleted, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

"I've seen fights on the Floor that, in the time that the fight on the Floor took, the interest clocked on U.S. borrowing used up more money than the debate was fighting to save," said U.S. Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., in one of his now-common Floor speeches concerning the rate of federal borrowing and spending.

Michael Peterson, CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, called the projections a clear warning.

"Today's CBO projections are the latest loud and clear warning about America's unsustainable national debt. There has never been a more urgent time for a bipartisan fiscal commission to recommend solutions to put us on a stronger path," he said in a statement. "Over the next 10 years, we're on track to borrow more than $20 trillion, driven by well-known structural factors including the aging of the population, rising healthcare costs, mounting interest costs and a tax system that doesn't fund the promises we've made."

The federal debt will continue to climb compared to the nation's gross domestic product or GDP, a metric of economic output, according to the CBO projections.

Debt held by the public rises each year in relation to the size of the economy, reaching 116% of GDP in 2034 – an amount greater than at any point in the nation's history. From 2024 to 2034, increases in mandatory spending and interest costs outpace declines in discretionary spending and growth in revenues and the economy, driving up debt. That trend pushes federal debt to 172% of GDP in 2054.

"Interest costs have more than doubled in just the past three years, rising to more than $2 billion per day this year," Peterson said. "And by next year, we'll spend more on interest than on defense and nearly all other national priorities."

The CBO projected that annual interest payments will reach $1.6 trillion by 2034 and will continue to grow from there. By comparison, interest costs on the country's debt were $879 billion in fiscal year 2023.

"The deficits that CBO projects are large by historical standards. Over the past 50 years, the annual deficit has averaged 3.7 percent of GDP," according to the report. "In CBO's projections, deficits equal or exceed 5.2 percent of GDP in every year from 2024 to 2034. Since at least 1930, deficits have not remained that large for more than five years in a row."



GOVERNMENT PROPERTY TAX RESTRICTIONS DEBATED IN OHIO HOUSE COMMITTEE

Thursday, February 8, 2024
J.D. Davidson | The Center Square

Taxpayers could see more transparency in property tax bills, and local governments could be limited in placing levies on the ballot, according to a bill currently being debated in the Ohio House of Representatives.

House Bill 344 has put most of the state’s taxing entities and business groups against each other in committee testimony, but a Columbus-based policy group thinks the bill and other tools under consideration are wins for taxpayers.

Greg Lawson, research fellow at The Buckeye Institute, told the House Ways and Means Committee during the bill’s fourth hearing the legislation could help ease taxpayer aggravations by removing local government’s ability to place replacement levies on ballots and encourage more plain language on potential tax hikes.

“Although the bill will not resolve the most critical issues driving recent tax increases, including the size, scope, and structure of local governments, it does lay a foundation for building broader reforms while protecting local taxpayers in the shorter term,” Lawson testified.

Taxing entities, however, don’t want to give up the ability to put replacement levies on the ballot, saying flexibility is important for local government.

Senior Policy Analyst Jon Honeck told the committee the County Commissioners Association (CCAO) of Ohio "is opposed to HB344 because we believe it is important to preserve the flexibility of local governments to enact replacement levies with voter approval. Replacement levies are used to bring the effective rate of a levy back to its original voted level. They are typically used when a levy is about to expire after its five or 10-year term. In this way, the county agency receives increased revenue as a result of valuation growth in order to keep up with inflation and increased service needs.”

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce supports the bill and calls it one step toward providing more tax clarity for Ohioans.

“The system only favors those with a keen interest in the topic or who spend a career in the field,” testified Tony Long of the Ohio Chamber. "Hopefully, HB344 is just the beginning of a process to make the property tax structure more understandable and clear for all Ohioans."

At the same time, the bill would stop allowing taxing entities from challenging property valuations.

Lawson said the Council on State Taxation notes that Ohio is one of only a few states allowing property owners and government to challenge the value.

“Local governments challenging property valuations unfairly burdens taxpayers – even if unsuccessful – and makes property transactions needlessly more expensive for Ohio businesses,” Lawson said.



BIDEN’S NATURAL GAS EXPORT FREEZE UNDER FIRE

Wednesday, February 7, 2024
Casey Harper | The Center Square

The Biden administration's decision to freeze the approval of new export sites for liquefied natural gas (LNG) is facing a growing contingent of critics.

A coalition of about 150 House Republicans sent a letter to Biden over the weekend, blasting the decision, and arguing that both Democratic and Republican administrations have backed the gas exports, which bring tens of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy.

House Energy and Commerce Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a leader on the letter, announced a hearing Tuesday on the issue, saying Biden’s freeze “jeopardizes American energy security, jobs, and the economy.”

“This latest attack on energy production is a political decision to appease radical climate activists at the expense of our energy security and the security of our allies,” she said in a joint statement with Energy, Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee Chair Jeff Duncan. “If President Biden were serious about environmental stewardship, he would unleash the production and export of clean, affordable, and reliable American natural gas – which has allowed us to reduce emissions more than any other nation.”

A handful of House Democrats also have publicly raised concerns with the freeze.

Daniel Turner, executive director of Power the Future, a pro-energy workers advocacy group, compared this decision to Biden’s draining of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which helped bring gas prices down but left many critics saying the U.S. was vulnerable because the reserves had gone so low.

“Biden will do anything, regardless of national security or economic consequences, to help his political fortunes. And looking at his poll numbers and favorability, one can only conclude Biden’s actions will get more drastic the closer we get to November,” Turner told The Center Square. “Biden assured us ‘adults are in charge’ and yet he made this decision at the prodding of a 25-year-old TikTok climate influencer. Will stand up comedians and late night TV hosts be consulted next? This level of unserious and childish policy making has made America weak and poor.”

Biden’s administration has said it wants to consider the environmental and climate change impact of the increased export sites. The U.S. is currently the top exporter of liquefied natural gas, and exports are expected to double by 2030, according to the White House.

“We also must adequately guard against risks to the health of our communities, especially frontline communities in the United States who disproportionately shoulder the burden of pollution from new export facilities,” the White House said in a statement. “The pause, which is subject to exception for unanticipated and immediate national security emergencies, will provide the time to integrate these critical considerations.”

Turner argued the decision has political motives for Biden, who faces a tough reelection bid this year, likely against his 2020 opponent, former President Donald Trump.

“Biden’s campaign is separate for the green billionaire class to write re-election checks,” Turner added. “The decision to punish LNG is not based on science or on markets: it’s a pure political decision to appease Bloomberg, Steyer, and Soros so they’ll cough up millions. It’s why this decision was made now. All that matters is the election from here on out. America will take a backseat to his quest to keep the White House.”



DOG RESCUED FROM SHIPPING CONTAINER IN TEXAS AFTER BEING TRAPPED FOR MORE THAN A WEEK

Wednesday February 7, 2024
By Rebecca Cohen and Courtney Brogle

One lucky pup's life was likely saved last week when a group of Coast Guard inspectors found her trapped in a shipping container at a Texas port.

The dog, who has since been named Connie the Container Dog, was trapped in a shipping container over a week before marine science technicians Bryan Wainscott, Lucas Loe, Ryan McMahon and Jose Reyes found her Wednesday at Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston, Coast Guard Heartland said on Facebook.

Connie the dog after she was found Wednesday in a shipping container. Petty Officer 1st Class Lucas Loe/U.S. Coast Guard via AP

The marine inspectors were randomly selecting containers to be inspected when they heard barking and scratching from one of the containers in a stack, USCG Heartland said.

The container was stacked about 25 feet in the air and had to be lowered by crane.

"When they lowered the container and opened the door, a dog popped out!" according to USCG Heartland.

USCG Heartland said the "sweet girl" was "tired, hungry, and very happy to see her rescuers."

Video posted to Facebook by USCG Heartland showed Connie wagging her tail, sniffing around and drinking water given to her when she was finally freed.

Coast Guard officials determined Connie had been trapped for at least eight days with no food or water. She was dirty and skinny when she was freed.

Officials said they aren't sure where the container came from, but it was filled with junked vehicles, most likely on their way to be sold for parts overseas. Based on that, Chief Petty Officer Corinne Zilnicki said, Connie was most likely in a car at a junkyard when she was accidentally trapped in the container.

If that was the case, McMahon said, it would have most likely been another week before Connie got where she was going by cargo ship, meaning she would have been without food for two weeks. The marine inspectors took Connie to the Pasadena Animal Shelter for care, the shelter said on Facebook. Connie the dog, who was found inside a shipping container Wednesday. Petty Officer 1st Class Lucas Lo / AP

Connie was then transferred to Forever Changed Animal Rescue, or FCAR, on Friday, the rescue agency said on Facebook, after its founder and veterinarian, Dr. Andrea Deoudes, saw Connie's story while scrolling Facebook.

Soon after, the rescue agency said its Texas coordinator was sure it would be able to find her "the amazing home that she is so deserving of."

"In just a few short hours, we experienced the joyful moment that Pasadena Animal Shelter chose us to become the rescue that gives Connie her new shot at life," the agency said on Facebook. "Without hesitation and not knowing Connie’s health, we knew that our medical fund would be well spent on her."

Connie weighs 30 pounds, which is slightly underweight, FCAR said. She tested positive for heartworm, which FCAR said it was going to start treating ASAP. The rescue agency said it would also do a full examination.

It added that she is "incredibly sweet but very shy and scared of her new surroundings as to be expected."

"We can’t thank all of the amazing people involved in this rescue and saving Connie’s life," FCAR said.

The rescue agency's Facebook post is filled with comments of users expressing interest in adopting or fostering Connie. It wasn't clear whether she has found her forever home.



2024 NOPEC GRANT TO REPAIR/REPLACE DEFECTIVE SERVICE GARAGE HEATERS

Published Tuesday, February 6, 2024

At the January 22, 2024, Trustee meeting Trustee Cavanagh announced the need to correct the problem of four defective infrared heaters in the Auburn Service Garage. These massive tubes in the ceiling span the length of the Road Department Service Garage. In fact, one of the four massive units has been totally disabled for about a year, while the other three trigger exhaust fans.

Cavanagh noted that he had become aware of the seriousness of the problem only two weeks before.

Although one cost estimate was provided, he was requesting several more. The estimated repair/replacement cost was $4500 per unit. Therefore, if two units were replaced/repaired in 2024, he anticipated a cost of $9000 with an additional $9000 to resolve the defects with the remaining two units in 2025.

The NOPEC 2024 Energized Community Grant, if Auburn received it, could potentially be used to pay for repair/replacement of the defective heaters.

Both Trustees Troyan and McCune favored biting the bullet to fix or replace defective ceiling units all at once, pending receipt of several bids.

By February 5, Trustees had several cost estimates and a $13,761.00 NOPEC 2024 Energized Community Grant to apply to repair/replacement of the units. Again, the discussion of partial versus total repair/replacement surfaced.

Troyan noted, “If you replace two [units], you might as well take care of the remaining ones.”

McCune again offered his agreement with Troyan’s judgment and asked Road Superintendent Emerick Gordon to secure additional cost estimates by the February 19, 2024, regular meeting.

Any further action was tabled until February 19.



AUDITOR ORDERS METZENBAUM CENTER TO PAY AT LEAST $771,000 FOR 2019-2023

Published Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The head of the Geauga Department of Disabilities, Don Rice, showed up with about 10-15 supporters to present the turn of events since September 2023. Over the years, DD has found itself with empty/ vacant spaces, used at various times within the last ten years by the Department of Aging and the Sheriff. Recently, though, two vacant houses, offered to Departments of Aging, Job and Family Services, and Mental Health have not received any takers. In fact, after a 15-minute explanation, Rice offered the two empty houses back to the Board of Commissioners, the official owners. Full video of Don Rice below.

 

Emerald Woods, a non-profit venture rented the two houses from 2019-2023, paying Metzenbaum Center $48,000. Emerald Woods moved out, largely because of inability to keep professional help during the Covid epidemic. The former director of Emerald Woods and her daughter were present during the packed meeting, apparently to bolster support for Don Rice, who attested he did not know whether the delinquent bill was caused by the local Auditor or the State Auditor.

Don Rice cited a September Chester Township Trustee meeting that brought to a focal point the issue of Metzenbaum’s charging rent for use of its buildings or spaces. The issue came to a head when Emerald Woods totally vacated its space by December 31, 2023.

Rice he has received no communication whatsoever from the County Auditor’s Office, but he did cite a September Chester Township Trustee meeting. During this meeting, according to Don Rice, “the comment was made that if you’re renting it, you have to pay taxes.” Commissioner Dvorak expressly referenced an outcry from the Chester Fiscal Officer at a public meeting: “The [Chester] Fiscal Officer was boisterous about County ownership of the property and paying no taxes.”

The outstanding unpaid property tax bill for the period of 2019-2023, when Emerald Woods was renting the property, was identified as $771,000. Rice also identified $411,000 in penalties, creating the possibility that the total amount owed by the Board of County Commissioners could be $1,182,000.

Commissioners publicly stated, “We will look into this.” During this election year, the current Board of Commissioners have plenty of issues to look over and solve because as Mr. Spidalieri noted, “a lot of people are upset.”

Especially if Geauga taxpayers wind up paying the bill. How many of you can afford a property tax bill of $1,118,000?

As of the latest Geauga County population census available July 1, 2022, there were 95,469 residents. If that number is rounded down to 95,460, each, each man, woman, and child, is must pay the county an additional $12.38

A WHOLE lot of Geauga residents are upset.

Get out and vote on March 19, 2024, in the Geauga Primary Election.



3 ½ HOURS TO END CHASE: “WE BURIED GERRY”

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

In an updated 35-item agenda that ended in a 3 ½ hour executive session that included all three Commissioners, County Administrator Gerry Morgan, and Co-County Administrator Linda Burhenne at 10:45 am “for the purpose of considering the purchase of property for public purposes and the sale of property at competitive bidding , pursuant to O.R.C. 121/22(G)(2),” those in attendance awaited an outcome. In the meantime, the 50+ attendees dwindled down to about 20 as Prosecutor Jim Flaiz and Chief Assistant Prosecutor Laura La Chapelle also disappeared from seats at the back to participate in the Executive Session.

When Gerry Morgan was not immediately present upon the return to regular session about 1:15 pm, an attendee asked, “Where’s Gerry [Morgan]?” Tim Lennon, quite audibly answered the question: “We buried him.” Gales of laughter flooded the room. See video below. Shortly thereafter, another attendee opined, “He was buried a long time ago.” More gales of laughter again from the 8 or so surviving attendees.

 

For the record, the Commissioners began the meeting at 9:30 am.

The first Commissioner to respond was Ralph Spidalieri about 1:20 pm, noting his desire to accomplish “the best moving forward,” referencing the problematic negotiations regarding completion of a lease agreement with Jelepis the Property Managers for the Chase Building. Spidalieri explained further that the actions taken in Executive Session could be “saving hundreds of thousands and potentially millions of dollars.” See video below. By this time, his primary opponent had left the meeting and the two remaining primary challengers for Tim Lennon’s seat had also vacated the room.

 

Jim Dvorak reported that the law library and the Probation Department would be moved out of the basement of the Courthouse on or before February 1. The law library will be moved to the basement of the Annex, and the Probation Department will be temporarily housed on the third floor of the Opera House until the completion of the Courthouse renovation will permit things to be back to normal.

Dvorak further noted after return from Executive Session that a 73-page inspection report of the Chase Building completed about 60 days earlier just got sent to him on Friday, January 26. See video below. The implication was that Gerry Morgan, in possession of the inspection report, had not forwarded it in timely fashion to Commissioners and/or the Prosecutor’s Office.

 

At the conclusion of the meeting, Flaiz was back in his seat at the rear of the Commissioners’ Room to note that he was withdrawing his Agenda Item Number 35 to ”waive attorney-client privilege relating to all communications between the Board of County Commissioners and the Prosecutor’s Office and any third parties regarding the purchase and/or lease of 100 Center Street,” otherwise known as the Chase Building.”

When Gerry Morgan, himself an attorney, noted that the contract regarding the Chase Building needed correction, Flaiz was quick to note that he would write the legal language to cancel any legal or implied business relationship before the day was over. “I’ll sort it out,” he conclude

After the meeting adjourned at 1:37 pm, Flaiz recalled some signs which should have helped tip the Commissioners off earlier: signs of asbestos as well as areas of removed dry wall on the third floor.

In a post- meeting conversation with this writer, Jim Dvorak noted that Gerry Morgan had never sent the results of two outside appraisal/inspection reports to Jim Flaiz so that the Prosecutor’s Office could deal with the problem appropriately and move in a different direction. Finally, he noted that the Commissioners’ move on January 23 to hire an outside Cleveland legal firm to resolve the Chase snafu would be resolved by paying off any outside actions completed so far or in the process of being undertaken.

Conclusion: Dysfunction, lack of communication, confusion, and lack of efficient use of time and energy appears rampant in our local government.

Remember to participate in the March 19 Primary Elections.



LAWMAKERS BLAST LACK OF TRANSPARENCY AT HHS OVER HANDLING OF COVID

Saturday, January 27, 2024
Casey Harper | The Center Square

A group of lawmakers is calling out U.S. Health and Human Services, arguing the federal agency is bucking Congressional oversight, especially when it comes to the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Chair, Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, said Friday he would hold a hearing Wednesday on that very topic.

“HHS has spent the last year intentionally avoiding lawful Congressional oversight,” Wenstrup said in a statement.

Wenstrup’s committee has been investigating whether taxpayer dollars played a role in the spread or even creation of COVID-19. As The Center Square previously reported, EcoHealth Alliance is a group that received federal funding to research coronaviruses and bats via the lab in Wuhan, China, that later became the center of international scrutiny for its alleged role in the pandemic.

The contract with that lab has been severed, but lawmakers have been trying for years to get to the bottom of how the pandemic started and whether this funding played a part.

Congress has also been demanding answers for how COVID vaccine and other guidance was created and updated.

Wenstrup said that HHS has been slow to answer, provided redacted information, and ignored or “provided suspect excuses” when asked to provide documents and communications, a standard procedure for Congressional oversight committees.

Wenstrup, who has been backed by other leading Republican Committee chairs, also asked for communications between federal employees and EcoHealth Alliance as well as a range of other related requests.

“When we asked for important testimony, HHS seemed to purposefully mislead Select Subcommittee investigators,” Wenstrup said. “This pattern of avoiding accountability to the American people cannot, and should not, be tolerated any longer.”

The committee is asking for communications for top COVID officials within the government, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, who led the federal COVID response for the White House.

“The Department must be held responsible for its parade of delays, excuses, and obfuscation,” he added. “If HHS continues to obscure the Select Subcommittee’s investigation, we will be forced to evaluate the use of the compulsory process.”

The hearing is expected to feature testimony from HHS Assistant Secretary for Legislation Melanie Egorin.

HHS did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.



GEAUGA COMMISSIONERS ARE PAYING ANOTHER OUTSIDE LEGAL FIRM TO COVER ANOTHER OOPS

Wednesday, January 23, 2024

On Thursday, January 18, Commissioner Lennon was absent , leaving Dvorak and Spidalieri, to approve the hiring of Outside Counsel “Meyers, Romam. Friedberg and Lewis for the Year 2024,” authorizing a fee per hour and an annual total of $50,0000. That was January 18. Like what kind of activity were Dvorak and Spidalieri expecting?

On Tuesday, January 22, 2024, all three Commissioners were present. Readers will remember that Commissioner Lennon will not be competing for another four-year term as Commissioner, leaving two Commissioner candidates seeking victory in the March 19 Geauga Republican Primary contest. Candidate Carolyn Brakey is opposing former defeated Commissioner Walter Claypool, who is still a member of the Geauga County Planning Commission; Spidalieri finds himself opposed by Geauga County Republican Central Committee chairperson, Nancy McArthur, who stated her interest earlier in January of appearing before the current Commissioners to ask relevant questions now that she is in campaign mode with less than two months until the final showdown.

At the end of an eight-item agenda, a relatively peaceful meeting broke down into another crisis. This time the issue is delays over another construction issue, this time the timely improvement and expansion of the Courthouse. Stakeholders (see December 5, January 18) have already signed off so that the Courthouse upgrades can progress in timely fashion, eliciting a concern from Stakeholder Scott Hildenbrand about his concern that Stakeholders would have to come in to sign off anytime there was an upgrade, correction, etc. Gerry Morgan assured them that the second time (January 18) would be “the last time.”

This time Spidalieri engaged Dvorak in a verbal exchange after Dvorak cited the need for both the Law Library and the Probation Department to be transferred out of the Courthouse basement so that the improvements on the Courthouse could proceed as soon as possible to prevent unnecessary delays, legal expenses, and limbo.

Dvorak cited that if another complication arose that Co-County Administrator “will look into moving both[the Law Library and the Probation Department” into temporary headquarters in the Opera House because “at least it is our own building.”

Spidalieri, citing his understanding that a purchase order for the Chase Building had been in effect since early November, asked Dvorak,” “ Do you know something I don’t know?”

Dvorak answered, “I don’t know.”

Ms. Burhenne filled in what she knew, explaining that she and County Administrator Gerry Morgan had been working on the “ very challenging” issue of a lease edited by the Prosecutor’s Office since the beginning of December. She further noted that the Outside Counsel of Meyers, Roman and their “experienced real-estate attorney” would be utilized to create clarity out of the latest quagmire. She added that the first problem is straightening out the lease arrangement because the owners of the Chase Building were under constraints of repairing damage under the window before the Commissioners could/would lease the building on a temporary basis prior to purchasing the building outright.

 

Chasing the Chase building: “Who’s on first?”

Dvorak, with two more years before he considers a re-election bid, succinctly dropped the understatement of the meeting. “Things are not going the way we planned.” Right on. . . not for a long time.

Spidalieri responded, “We are putting good money to waste for a temporary fix. . .We don’t have a [legal] lease or a purchase agreement.”

Dvorak cited a letter to the owners/business managers of the Chase Building and to Meyers/Roman.

Lennon noted his frustration that there was some intentional negligence in the lack of responsible action and the apparent lack of communication.

County Administrator Morgan, noted to this writer/editor that the Owners/ Business Managers were known as Jillatis and Kussuth.

Best of all, 2024 has just begun.



ANOTHER OHIO CVS HAS BEEN CITED FOR SAFETY ISSUES

January 24, 2024
Marty Schladen | Ohio Capital Journal

The Ohio Board of Pharmacy has cited yet another CVS store in the state for safety issues that could be related to understaffing.

The citation, issued on Tuesday, said that Store No. 3467 in Dayton last year waited two months to file a report with the board notifying it of the loss of 785 tablets of Alprazolam, a controlled substance also known as Xanax, and another 645 doses of Buprenorphine, a synthetic opioid also known as Suboxone that is used to treat pain as well as opioid-use disorder.

The citation also said that last May — the same period when store officials believed the controlled substances were being stolen — a loss-prevention specialist interviewed a technician trainee in the pharmacy who admitted to being addicted to illicit fentanyl. She also confessed to coming to work under its influence.

“CVS Pharmacy #3467 did not report this information to the Board,” the report released Tuesday said.

CVS said it would address any problems at the store.

“We work with the Board of Pharmacy to resolve any allegation raised from inspections at CVS Pharmacy locations and have policies and procedures in place to support prescription safety and security,” a spokeswoman, Amy Thibault, said in an email.

The pharmacy board has the power to fine the CVS stores, or even suspend or revoke their licenses. So far, it has only held hearings into one — Store No. 2063 in Canton — in a process that began in November and is expected to conclude early next month.

Tuesday’s citation is at least the 15th issued against an Ohio CVS since 2020 for safety issues that could be due to understaffing.

Corners are cut to dispense prescriptions,” a staffer at CVS Store No. 10246 in Toledo told inspectors in 2022.

Inspectors also have found expired or adulterated drugs on CVS shelves, unsanitary conditions, improperly filled prescriptions and improper instructions for patients. Perhaps worse, they found that some CVS pharmacies were so swamped that delays in filling prescriptions extended to weeks and even a month in one instance.

During a November hearing into problems at the Canton CVS, a pharmacy technician described what happened after she helped close that pharmacy in late 2021. As she went to her car, she was surrounded by a group of customers who were angry over having to endure long waits without getting their prescriptions.

“One gentleman was trying to get antibiotics for his son and he was very, very upset,” the technician, Haille Stanick, testified.

During the hearings, an attorney for CVS emphasized that the problems found at the Canton store occurred at the height of the pandemic, when pharmacies had to contend with extra demand for vaccines at the same time that many employees were reluctant to face the public in a healthcare setting.

However, CVS employees have told the Capital Journal that CVS managers have refused to increase staff hours even when employees are available and that they’re forced to undertake unnecessary tasks aimed at generating extra revenue when they’re behind in filling prescriptions.

Nor do CVS’s problems seem to be isolated to the stores that have been cited by the board of pharmacy.

After the Capital Journal on Tuesday published a story about developments in the hearings regarding the Canton store, four readers in Ohio responded with emails complaining of problems in their areas. Three more from other states — New York, Massachusetts and California — also complained of CVS understaffing.

Thibault, the CVS spokeswoman, said the problem is industry-wide.

“Regarding staffing, it’s well-known that there’s an industry-wide shortage of health care providers, including pharmacists, and we’re committed to ensuring there are appropriate levels of staffing and resources at our pharmacies,” she said. “In response to feedback from our pharmacy teams, we’re making targeted investments to address their key concerns, including enabling teams to schedule additional support as needed, enhancing pharmacist and technician recruitment and hiring and strengthening pharmacy technician training. These changes began in November and rollout throughout 2024.”



JOB AND FAMILY SERVICES GETS APPROVAL FOR IN-HOUSE TREATMENT FOR 14 YOUTH

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

At the January 18, 2024, Geauga Commissioner meeting, Job-and-Family Services Director appeared before Commissioners Dvorak and Spidalieri asking for approval of Agenda Item Number 18 “to grant permission to advertise for Statements of Interest and Qualifications for Professional Design and Construction Administration” for completion of two wings with a maximum of 7 individual rooms each [to serve 14 youth].

Director Swenson indicated $1 million in State grants are in place so that two wings to provide individual treatment for the best outcome can help keep patients in-county and close to their families.

With passage of 2-0, Director Swenson expressed his optimism for great outcomes.



BALLOT PROPOSAL SEEKING TO ELIMINATE MICHIGAN'S PROPERTY TAX

Monday, January 2, 2024
Beth LeBlanc | The Detroit News

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers has approved the summary for a ballot proposal that would enact sweeping changes to Michigan’s tax structure, including the elimination of the state property tax.

But canvassers stopped short of giving the final approval of form that would have cleared the way for the group to begin collecting signatures.

The constitutional amendment, called AxMITax, would eliminate Michigan’s property tax, restrict the ability of local governments and the Legislature to increase taxes through different means, and shift more sales tax revenue away from the state and push it toward local governments.

Local governments then would be required to fund public safety, law enforcement, emergency response, courts and infrastructure under the proposal.

The plan would require 60% of voters to approve any local tax and a two-thirds majority in the Legislature to approve any state tax by more than 0.1% over five years.

On its website, AxMITax has argued property taxes are an "inherently unfair and unjust" system whose revenue has been diverted in recent years toward niche projects benefiting few. In making its case, the group gave specific reference to recent state tax breaks and incentives offered to corporations.

"There’s no doubt that this would be huge," Paul McCord, an attorney for AxMITax, said of the proposal. "There is no state in the country that does not have a property tax.”

While the group's 100-word summary gained approval Friday, the Board of State Canvassers held off on approvals because of issues with the form of the petition. It was the latest in a series of meetings where the group has encountered delays because of technical problems in the language or form of the proposal.

Technically, AxMITax could begin collecting signatures ahead of gaining approval of its petition form, but the group's officials would do so at the risk of having the form rejected after collecting signatures. Most groups wait until after they obtain form approval to begin collecting signatures.

AxMITax will have 180 days from the day it starts gathering signatures to collect 446,198 valid signatures in support of getting the proposal on the ballot. If the group wants to get the proposal on the November ballot, it will have to have its signatures in by July 27.

The approval of the language for the proposed constitutional amendment came after hours of debate Friday over the reach of the petition and how much of the fallout from the initiative should be included in the 100-word summary. Most people signing a petition are shown the summary instead of the full text of the petition when asked to sign a petition or when eventually voting on the issue at the ballot box.

Board Chair Mary Ellen Gurewitz, a Democrat, described the effects of the proposal as "cataclysmic" should the plan make the ballot and win approval from voters.

The bipartisan Board of State Canvassers has a limited, ministerial task in approving the form and summary of a proposal, largely ensuring the summary is an accurate representation of the purpose and effect of the proposal regardless of where they stand on the policy.

In addition to the wholesale repeal of property tax, the proposal shifts a large chunk of sales tax revenue from the state's general fund to local government. The proposal would change the sales tax distribution from the current rate of 15% to municipalities and instead send 20% to municipalities and 10% to counties. Another provision would require 10% of marijuana, income, alcohol and tobacco taxes to go toward municipalities.

Sponsors of the petition initiative said the plan would also eliminate the personal property tax, but opponents argued the language considered Friday — which was amended from an earlier proposal — failed to do so. The real property tax is the tax assessed on land and buildings affixed to the land, while a personal property tax is on items of value not affixed to the land, such as equipment or tools in a manufacturing facility.

Opponents also argued the language would eliminate constitutional provisions requiring uniformity of taxation, but McCord argued if both the real and personal property taxes are eliminated then the uniformity provision isn't needed.

McCord argued that opposition groups were going too far afield bringing up policy ramifications of the proposal when the narrow role of the canvassers limited their decision to the accuracy of the language before them. The policy effects of other petitions before the board were not given the same level of scrutiny, he said.

"Disagreement over the policy is not for us in this room today to decide," McCord said.

But opposition groups lining up against the proposal, such as Citizens to Protect Public Safety and Schools, argued the summary needed more information on the impact the legislation would have on bodies that usually benefit from property taxes.

"School districts get nothing, zero," said Steve Liedel, an attorney for the group. "Community colleges get nothing. Police and fire authorities get nothing. Public transportation authorities, library districts, intermediate school districts, park and recreation districts or authorities: nothing, nada, zero, zilch.

"Their property tax revenue is eliminated and no replacement funding is provided in the proposal. And that should be very clear to voters in any summary of the purpose of this proposal."

The summary agreed on Friday reads:

"Constitutional amendment to: prohibit real property taxes, which currently are the primary funding source for schools, community colleges, parks, and other local government units; shift 10% of state sales, income, and other tax revenue from the state to counties, cities, townships and villages but not to schools, community colleges, parks or other local government units; eliminate property tax exemption for religious and educational organization; require 60% of voters to approve any local taxes; require 2/3 vote of Legislature for any non-minimal tax increase; require implementing legislation."



SPIDALIERI: WAKING UP TO MARCH 19 VOTE OF CONFIDENCE

Friday, January 19, 2024

Noting the presence of two Commissioners, Gerry Morgan came back more exuberantly after surviving a 2-1 vote to maintain his leverage as County Administrator. He demonstrated an uncharacteristically audible presentation of his duties during the time period January 9-17.

The last regular get-together as well as the vote of confidence for Morgan occurred at the Organizational Meeting of Monday, January 8, 2024.

When Adrian Gorton presented Agenda Item Number 7, “Agreement with Cable Communications Incorporated to install interior and exterior cabling as well as cameras, data cabinets, and an access control system,” from January 18 to July 18, 2024 at the Chase Building for a maximum of $71,169,55.00, he seemed surprised at Commissioner Spidalieri’s glares and voiced displeasure at “putting money into the building before we [County Commissioners] have it.”

Gorton rationalized that the networking and hardware could be used in other locations other than the actual Chase Building, just for the purpose of having it around. Spidalieri, who is in active campaign mode for a March 19 primary contest against many-times unsuccessful county office seeker and long-time Republican Party Chairperson Nancy McArthur, would not buy in to Gorton’s marketing

Spidalieri asserted, “No, I’m not doing it.”

“Okay.” End of the line for Gorton.

In a barely audible voice, Commissioner Clerk Christine Blair noted that Agenda Item Number 7 was dead for lack of a second to Commissioner Dvorak’s motion to approve.

The Chase Building, has been the subject of recent purchase negotiations to provide locations for certain Geauga County employees and departments during Courthouse upgrades and improvements most recently identified so far at a cost of approaching $1 million.

From the back of the room Carolyn Brakey continued taking notes without oral comment in anticipation of her Primary contest against Walter Skip Claypool, once upon a time soundly defeated by current Commissioner Jim Dvorak.

Make sure that you learn as much as you can about candidates and issues as the March 19th Geauga County Primary Contest comes steaming in. If you snooze, Geauga Voters and Taxpayers all will lose more ground.



INFINITY CONTRACT FOR COURTHOUSE UPGRADES REQUIRES CAREFUL SUPERVISION OF “OVERSIGHTS”/ERRORS

Friday, January 19, 2024

With the absence of Tim Lennon and the obvious differences between Spidalieri and Dvorak, there was bound to be some excitement. Infinity Construction Company, Inc’s cost breakdown for its improvement and enlargement of the Geauga County Courthouse appeared to generate some interest, especially since the initial breakdown cost of $925,111 as outlined on November 17, 2023, on page 6 of the 90+ page agreement evolved into a cost a breakdown cost of $931,001 on page 7 November 20, 2023, for the same goods and services. Both breakdowns occurred in the same contract requested and received by this writer on December 5, 2023.

On December 5, 2023, at 9:45 am., the Stakeholders, also identified as The Statutory Group, met in the Commissioners’ Meeting Room (B303) to vote approval on all Infinity “bills, representations, specifications of work . . .and of the cost thereof in detail and in the aggregate, relating to GMP Amendment No. 1 to the contract with Infinity Construction Company, Incorporated.”

Stakeholders, or Members of The Statutory Group of signers are the three current Commissioners (Dvorak, Lennon, Spidalieri), the Sheriff (Scott Hildenbrand), a Judge of the Common Pleas Court (represented by David M, Ondrey), and Clerk of Courts (Sheila Bevington). An additional member of was not present so six out of seven; there were six unanimous votes of acceptance.

At the January 25, 2024, Commissioners’ Meeting, The Statutory Group, minus Lennon and Grendell, met “at approximately 10:15-10:30 am. . . .to review and, if appropriate, approve by a majority. . .GMP Amendment No. 1 and GMP No.2 for the contract with Infinity Construction Company, Incorporated.”

Gerry Morgan the math mistake between the GMP dated November 17, 2023, and November 20, 2023.

It seems as though it will be necessary to keep track of unexplained individual and cumulative computational errors and/or oversights in cost for this latest county upgrade, especially since the terminology of GMP was never clarified. This writer assumes that GMP, stands for Guaranteed Maximum Price, especially when identified ina fat contract provided by Infinity Construction Company.

Is it possible for Commissioners to keep track of the huge amounts of taxpayer money lost to clerical error and short memories? Is there any currently elected county official keeping track?

This is a breaking story that we will be following and updating.. Remember to use this information to help you cast your primary vote wisely on March 19.



IRAN CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR STRIKES NEAR US CONSULATE IN NORTHERN IRAQ, MILLIONAIRE BUSINESSMAN KILLED IN ATTACK

Monday, January15, 2024
By Allie Griffin | New York Post

Editors Note: Just another story not covered by national news. A US Consulate is US territory. Moving us one step closer to WWIII.

Iran has claimed responsibility for missile strikes that exploded near the US consulate in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region late Monday night.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said they targeted “spy headquarters and the gathering of anti-Iranian terrorist groups” near Erbil, the capital and most populated city in Kurdistan.

Four civilians were killed and six more were wounded in the attack that saw 10 missiles raining down in the area near the US consulate, the security council of the Kurdish regional government said.

The dead include prominent local businessman Pershraw Dizayi and his family members, former deputy speaker of Iraqi Kurdistan’s parliament, Hemin Hawrami, said on X.

A rocket struck the home of the multimillionaire, who has a large portfolio of real estate and security services companies and was close to the Kurdish ruler.

Another rocket hit the house of a senior Kurdish intelligence official and a third struck a Kurdish intelligence center, Iraqi security sources told Reuters.

Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani called the rocket strikes a “crime against the Kurdish people.”

No US facilities were struck or damaged, a US official told the Associated Press.

Neither the new US consulate building nor the US troop base in Erbil International Airport appeared to be targeted.

But an anonymous official with an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia told the AP that 10 missiles launched by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards fell in the affluent area near the large new consulate.

A US defense official who spoke to the outlet on the condition of anonymity to discuss not yet public details said the US had tracked the missiles and initial indications found they were “reckless and imprecise.”

Iran said it struck the headquarters of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency in a statement claiming responsibility for the strikes.

“In response to the recent atrocities of the Zionist regime, causing the killing of commanders of the Guards and the Axis of Resistance … one of the main Mossad espionage headquarters in Iraq’s Kurdistan region was destroyed with ballistic missiles,” the Guards said in a statement.

In a separate, but concurrent attack, the Guards said they also struck “terrorist operations” including Islamic State targets in Syria “and destroyed them by firing a number of ballistic missiles.”

Iran had vowed to avenge the killing of three Guards members who were serving as military advisors in Syria last month.

“We assure our nation that the Guards’ offensive operations will continue until avenging the last drops of martyrs’ blood,” the Guards’ statement said.

Iran’s missile attacks come amid increasing concerns that the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza could spill over into other parts of the region as tensions grow between each side’s allies.



FDA LAUNCHES FRESH BID TO TOSS OUT HIGH-PROFILE IVERMECTIN CASE

Monday, January 15, 2024
Zachary Stieber

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking to persuade a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging its repeated advisories against using ivermectin to treat COVID-19.

The FDA in a sealed motion asked the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to dismiss the suit, which was brought by three doctors who allege the FDA’s warnings were illegal.

The late 2023 motion was sealed because exhibits the government cited “include confidential information” from a separate legal proceeding, according to a government brief.

Government lawyers said they would file redacted versions of the motion for public perusal but still have not done so.

Attorneys for the doctors said on Jan. 12 that the court should reject the government’s fresh bid to throw out the case.

“The FDA exceeded its authority by repeatedly issuing public directives not to use ivermectin for COVID-19, even though the drug remains fully approved for human use,” they wrote.

One of the directives said: “You are not a horse. Stop it with the #Ivermectin. It’s not authorized for treating #COVID.”

The government motion came after an appeals court found the FDA likely overstepped its authority with the warnings.

“FDA can inform, but it has identified no authority allowing it to recommend consumers ’stop' taking medicine,” U.S. Circuit Judge Don Willett, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, wrote in the ruling.

The appeals court remanded the case back to U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown, who said in 2022 that the doctors failed to prove their allegations.

The FDA in the sealed motion asked Judge Brown, another appointee of President Trump, to dismiss the case.

According to lawyers for the doctors, the FDA’s motion includes arguments that claim the plaintiffs have not suffered injuries that are traceable to the FDA, and that cannot be remedied by a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs.

“The FDA is wrong,” the lawyers said. “Plaintiffs have suffered interference with their practice of medicine and the doctor-patient relationship, economic harm, reputational harm, and increased exposure to malpractice liability, and have been subject to disciplinary proceedings and forced resignations, all of which clearly trace to the FDA’s campaign against ivermectin and would be remedied by equitable relief.”

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act enables the FDA to authorize or approve drugs for a specific use but doctors are free to prescribe cleared drugs for other purposes, in what’s known as “off-label” prescribing. The law does not grant authority to the FDA to regulate off-label use.

The plaintiffs include Dr. Robert Apter, who was investigated by medical boards in two states for prescribing ivermectin to treat COVID-19. The referrals to the boards include some of the FDA’s warnings against using the drug as a COVID-19 treatment.

The FDA’s position in seeking a dismissal stems in part from the negative actions against the plaintiffs being taken by third parties such as pharmacies, according to a description of the sealed motion. It was quoted as saying that the referrals “are not fairly traceable” to the FDA’s statements.

An exhibit included by the FDA, however, showed one of the referrals came from a pharmacist who cited FDA documents as a reason for “increased scrutiny” with regard to ivermectin prescriptions. The pharmacist wrote that Dr. Apter would not provide a “valid medical reason” for the ivermectin prescription and was thus engaging in “inappropriate prescribing.”

“The FDA is the common thread through all of [the] plaintiffs’ injuries, which began only after the FDA embarked on its campaign to stop the use of ivermectin for COVID-19 and which often involve explicit invocation of the FDA’s directives and recommendations,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers said.

They are seeking an order that would force the FDA to rescind or amend its warnings. That would remove the justification of the parties that have taken negative actions against the plaintiffs, the lawyers added.



FIRSTENERGY LOBBYIST BORGES ASKS APPEALS COURT TO REVERSE FIVE-YEAR SENTENCE

January 8, 2024
David Petkiewicz | cleveland.com

The judge presiding over a trial related to the corrupt passing of House Bill 6 made a series of errors in decisions, according to arguments submitted Monday by a lobbyist seeking to terminate his five-year sentence.

Matt Borges was convicted of engaging in a racketeering conspiracy in March 2023 at a trial alongside ex-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder. Borges wrote a $15,000 check to the opposition – a political operative working on the campaign to repeal the bailout legislation. He was seeking inside information about the progress of the campaign in gathering tens of thousands of voters’ signatures to place a possible repeal on a statewide ballot, trial evidence including texts and surreptitious recordings showed.

Borges, in a conversation recorded by political operative-turned-FBI-informant Tyler Fehrman, told Fehrman that if he told people about their arrangement, Borges would “blow your house up.” While Fehrman shrugged it off in the recording, he told jurors he understood the comment as a threat.

FirstEnergy Solutions lobbyist Juan Cespedes, who facilitated the company’s bribes to engineer passage of a ratepayer funded $1 billion bailout of its nuclear plants, said Borges helped him engage in other “black ops” like hiring private investigators to trail campaign staffers.

In his arguments to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday, Borges argued prosecutors failed to produce evidence to satisfy his constitutional right of due process under the law. He also argued the trial judge erred in his instructions to jurors, evidentiary rulings, and other decisions.

“This flimsy theory of guilt exposed Borges to the kind of uncertainty in our laws that the Constitution does not tolerate,” his attorney, Dennis Belli, wrote. “He is serving a lengthy prison term as a consequence of the government’s abuse of its charging and prosecuting authority.”

Borges asked the judges to either issue a finding that the evidence against him was “legally insufficient” to support a racketeering conviction, or to reverse the conviction due to procedural errors and remand his case for a new trial.

Attorneys for the federal government have the opportunity to respond to Borges’ request before a panel of judges rules on the appeal.

Law enforcement arrested Borges, Householder and three other men in 2020 in connection with their roles orchestrating the passage of House Bill 6. Prosecutors alleged they all helped facilitate payment of about $60 million from FirstEnergy into a nonprofit secretly controlled by Householder. That nonprofit supported pro-Householder candidates financially, took out ads, hired consultants, ran polls and more, all in the service of passing HB6. The nonprofit also paid those insiders, including Householder, hundreds of thousands.

At Borges’ sentencing, U.S. District Judge Timothy Black tore into Borges, saying that while he only joined the operation in its later stages, he did so with his “eyes wide open.”

“Larry Householder was a crook, and you knew it,” Black said. “You didn’t care that you were helping the Ohio Speaker of the House undermine the very foundation of democracy … You saw everyone getting rich and thought, why not me?”

Black sentenced Borges to five years. A Board of Prisons database shows he’s currently incarcerated at FCI Milan, a federal prison in Southeast Michigan.

At trial, he confirmed that he rejected a plea offer from the government that would have called for six months in prison in exchange for a guilty plea and substantial assistance.

Householder is serving a 20-year sentence as well. He is scheduled to file his own appeal this month. Cespedes and Jeff Longstreth, a political operative who pleaded guilty in connection to the scheme, have not yet been sentenced. Neil Clark, a lobbyist indicted alongside them, died by suicide before his trial.

Late last year, officials also indicted Sam Randazzo, the state’s former top utility regulator, for accepting a $4.3 million bribe from FirstEnergy partly in connection with the passage of HB6. He has pleaded not guilty. A trial date has not been set.



METZENBAUM CENTER’s MULTIYEAR “OOPS” RESULTS IN LOSS OF TAX EXEMPT STATUS EXPOSED AT DECEMBER 28, 2023, GEAUGA BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS’

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Item 23 on the updated December 28 Geauga Commissioner Meeting with only Commissioners Spidalieri and Lennon present brought some questions from this writer to County Administrator Gerry Morgan.

#23 read as follows: “The Commissioners’ Office is requesting the Board approve and authorize the President of the Board to execute the Ohio Department of Taxation Application for Real Property Tax Exemption and Remission for Permanent Parcel No 11-714406, located at 8200 Cedar Road, Chesterland, Ohio [44026].”

Anyone who has resided in Geauga County for awhile will recognize 8200 Cedar Road as a meeting place for Geauga Republican Central Committee and its Chairperson Nancy McArthur. Many others will associate the same address with The Geauga County Tea Party and Skip Claypool.

The same address has historically been the home of Geauga County Board of Developmental Disabilities (GCBDD) [aka Metzenbaum]. GCBDD has enjoyed 501C3 a federal tax-exemption. As a part of Geauga County government, enjoyed exemption from county real-estate taxes paid to the County Treasurer twice a year.

At the December 28 meeting, this writer asked Gerry Morgan for clarification about the reasons for the Metzenbaum Center to renew its expired status as “tax-exempt” and the circumstances under which a “new” application to the State Auditor would provide another certification of tax-exemption.

Mr. Morgan indicated that the Metzenbaum Center lost its tax-exempt status when multiple leases to partisan, civic, and mental health entities muddied the water for Don Rice and the Geauga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, organization.

Chester Township Trustees and its Fiscal Officer became aware of the apparent discrepancy earlier this year when it became apparent that the Metzenbaum Center has not been eligible for “tax exempt” status since 2019, a five-year default on eligibility for special exemption by the Ohio State Auditor, especially when State Auditor revised land values have been responsible for run-away property values due to sexennial inside-millage windfalls that will show up when Geauga taxpayers receive their property tax bills shortly.

Although Mr. Morgan did not explain to this writer that once tax-exempt status of a property is allowed to lapse, there may be a substantial period of time, perhaps as much as three years, before the tax-exemption can be restored to the Geauga County Board of Developmental Disabilities (GCBDD). It appears to this writer that Morgan’s public response to this writer was minimal and evasive.

The information that he failed to even broach is that until the Metzenbaum property can even qualify as a 50lC3 tax exempt operation, the current Board of County Commissioners and its current members have failed to do their due duty and research. Mr. Morgan failed to identify that the $4000 rental fee paid to either GCBDD or the Board of County Commissioners is no longer gravy for the Commissioners and in fact a negative source of income as of January 1, 2024.

Independent research by the Auditor’s Office prior to Mr. Morgan’s vague and unsatisfying response to this writer reveals that knowledge of the GCBDD’s apparent lack of forthright behavior and communication to the public over the issue of whose money it is anyway [obviously Geauga County Taxpayers yet again}, raises the real issue of Commissioners needing to pay back taxes of more than $1 million dollars.

Auburn Township elected government officers found themselves being notified of a similar oops caught on video.

It is interesting how video recording of public meetings preserves the evidence for Geauga taxpayers forever.

It is critically important that public officials do not resort to evasive answers or inaudible voices when there is fire under their feet. It is also critically important that GEAUGA VOTERS, aka the TAXPAYERS, keep track of so-called moving goalposts. Geauga voters have the opportunity to resolve Geauga County problems on November 9.

Since this is a breaking story, we will be keeping you informed, along with League of Women Voters observers and local newspapers.

In the meantime, the next PUBLIC Geauga County Commissioners Meeting [the Organizational Meeting] will take place on MONDAY, JANUARY 8, 2024 AT 9:30 AM. Our PRIVATE recording equipment will be there “to keep the goal posts from wandering off by intention or negligence!”

Also open to the PUBLIC are the Organizational Meeting of the Board of Revision at 11 am and the Automated Data Processing [ADP] Organizational Meeting at 1 pm. in the Auditor’s Appraisal Conference Room on Chardon Square.

For additional information regarding the need for GCBDD need to reapply for the tax-exemption see this article published in the January 4th edition of Geauga Times Courier by Anastasia Nicholas.


LAST-MINUTE DECISION TO FARM OUT ARCHIVES TO ADP COMMISSION THICKENS THE HOLIDAY EGG-NOG

Wednesday, January 3, 2024; updated 5 pm January 3, 2024

The 40 minute Geauga County Commissioners Meeting was supposed to be a simple farewell to 2023 and a wish for a simpler, happier New Year. . . Forget that wish with your last holiday egg-nog as you anticipate paying your real-estate taxes this brand new tax year.

The December 28 dilemma centered around the need to reassign responsibility for paying contracts, distributing paychecks, and maintaining health benefits to Automated Data Processing (ADP), approved by the majority of Lennon/Spidalieri.

Resolution #23-2123 [aka #23-213], as the first of four items before the Special Session adjourned at 11:30 a.m., brought healthy discussion, with about twenty in attendance physically or online. In spite of some audio problems, Prosecutor Jim Flaiz, as usual, transmitted his ideas clearly as he provided a timeline and analysis of the Ohio Revised Code in reference to the current Archives dilemma. Mr. Flaiz noted his own concern about the fact that the abrupt discussion and apparent solution on December 28 during the backdrop of Christmas and concern about county-employee job security for 2024 may have caused some county employees unnecessary anxiety. See video clip of ADP meeting of January 3, 2024.

County Budget Officer, Adrian Gorton, was present to explain how the last payroll of 2023 was not negatively impacted, but Auditor Charles Walder explained his own concerns about automatically transferring over contract liabilities and responsibilities carte blanche to ADP before ADP legal is able to sort through any unanticipated debts.

He requested that Adrian Gorton use the same accounting methodology as ADP or, in the alternative, present a corrected resolution to be resolved no later than the Commissioners Meeting of January 4, 2023, which begins at 9:30 am at 12611 Ravenwood Drive, Suite 350. Mr. Flaiz noted in the absence of correction of the problem by Thursday, January 4, “there will ne a necessary records meeting on Monday, January 8.”

Further, Flaiz expressed confusion about perception that the Commissioners, per the December 28 meeting,engaged in miscommunication. As far as the quality of the Archives staff, Flaiz opined that the employees were among the very best that Geauga County had to offer.

In response to Gorton’s opinion that ADP oversight of Archives would be a mere transition, Walder said there was no way to transfer existing encumbrances impacting Archives without risking Then-and-Now liabilities. After verification from others present, Walder noted the availability of about $4100 to cover any unforeseen contractual liabilities. Walder concluded that any shortages should be corrected by Friday, January 12.

Flaiz says that Archives employees need first to resign from the Board of County Commissioners so that they can officially come under the hiring authority of the ADP.

Adjournment came at 11:42 am.

This appears to be a breaking story. Stay tuned.



MORE THAN 650,000 INFANT FORMULA CANS RECALLED ACROSS US OVER DEADLY BACTERIA

Tuesday, January 2, 2024
By Jack Phillips

More than 650,000 cans of baby formula are being recalled across the United States over potential bacterial contamination, the firm confirmed.

Cans of Nutramigen Hypoallergenic Infant Formula Powder, a formula that is given to babies with an allergy to dairy, are being voluntarily recalled, said Reckitt and Mead Johnson Nutrition in a statement Saturday.

The reason for the recall is because the product is potentially contaminated with Cronobacter sakazakii, which can sometimes cause life-threatening infections such as meningitis or sepsis.

The recalled Nutramigen in 12.6- and 19.8-ounce cans were made in June 2023 and distributed in June, July, and August of that year, according to the firm. It’s believed that the special infant formula was already consumed.

“Based on the limited availability of the remaining stock of this special infant formula, it is believed that much, if not all, of the products recalled in the United States have been consumed. There are no reports of illnesses or adverse events to date. The products were distributed through retail stores nationwide. The batches in question can be identified by the batch code on the bottom of the can,” the company said.

In a statement to ABC News, the company said that some over 650,000 cans of Nutramigen were impacted under the recall.

“When we were alerted in December to a potential for cross-contamination in product samples outside the U.S., both Reckitt/Mead Johnson and the US FDA tested samples from the batch in question and all tests came back negative,” a Reckitt and Mead Johnson Nutrition spokesperson told the outlet.

But, according to the firm, the company “understands the incredible responsibility we have in providing what is often the sole nutrition for infants, and there can be no short cuts for this vulnerable population—therefore, we chose to recall select batches of Nutramigen out of an abundance of caution.”

“Parents should be reassured that they can continue to feed their infants with Reckitt/Mead Johnson Nutrition products, including other Nutramigen powder formula batches, with confidence,” the spokesperson added.

The impacted product codes, can sizes, and UPC codes can be accessed via the company website.

Consumers who bought the Nutramigen should check the bottom of the can to identify whether their product’s batch number is affected by the recall, and products with the affected batch codes shouldn’t be consumed or used, the statement said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not issued a statement on the matter. A recall notice for the baby formula products was not posted on the agency’s website.

Reckitt and Mead Johnson Nutrition said in the statement that the company has not received any reports of illnesses linked to the product.

Cronobacter sakazakii is often found in powdered milk as well as other dry goods such as baby formula and herbal tea, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bacteria has been blamed in other recalls, including a major recall incident several years ago that forced Abbott Laboratories to shut down its plant in Michigan last year.

Cronobacter sakazakii infections, the CDC says, are generally considered rare. However, they can be deadly for young infants, the agency warns.

Generally, infants younger than two months old and those with weakened immune systems are most at risk of developing the infection. It causes severe disease among adults who are age aged 65 and older and those with compromised immune systems due to conditions such as HIV, cancer, or organ transplants, the CDC says.

The bacteria can cause severe bloodstream infections, known as sepsis, or meningitis, which is the inflammation of the membranes that sheath the brain and spine.

In babies, Cronobacter sakazakii infections can potentially cause fever, lethargy, difficulty feeding, and seizures.