He was a Warren guy

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91753c76-059e-49d4-a37b-38fc42e586fbRoger Ailes died today. He was 77 and probably the most famous person ever, to have grown up in Warren.

I met him in 1988 after reading a story about him in the Wall Street Journal. He was already moderately famous, having been a top political consultant to Presidents Nixon, Reagan and GHW Bush.

But until I read the Journal article, I had no idea he was from Warren. The opening story of the Journal piece was how Roger threw a guy into the lobby fountain in a Hyatt Hotel when an argument they were having took a heated turn. He was a Warren guy.

At the time I was the marketing director at Fortune magazine, and I wanted to get him to speak at a conference we were planning for later in the year in Palm Springs. I called him a couple of times but got no call back.

So I called then-Mayor Dan Sferra and asked, “who knows this guy?”

Pappy,” he replied, referring to former Warren cop and then Safety Service Director Steve Papalas. I called Pappy and asked, “how do I get this guy to call me back?” Pappy told me how, and I called Ailes’ office again. I ask his secretary to take down my message verbatim, and she agrees. The message:

“If you don’t call me back immediately, Pappy is going to come to New York and kick your fat ass all the way down Fifth Avenue.”

Five minutes later my phone rang and a laughing Ailes asked, “How do you know Pappy?”

Ailes spoke at the Fortune event, and a casual friendship between us ensued. His office and mine were not far apart and we got together occasionally, in unfashionable places, for a burger at lunch or a shot and beer after hours. It turned out we were also neighbors with a fondness for the same local Mexican restaurant.

We talked about the business we were both in, but the conversation always drifted to Warren; people we knew, old stories, places we loved. We was a Warren guy.

In 1996, when Fox News was founded, he offered me a job as marketing director there. I declined, not so much because I knew my politics wouldn’t be a good fit, but because I thought they had no chance of success. CNN was so dominant that MSNBC was lucky to get a 5-10% share. The world did not seem to want, or need, a third 24-hour news channel. Shows you what I know.

We kept in touch a couple more years, but with Fox’s spectacular success Roger became harder to see informally. He was now living in the world of bodyguards and paparazzi. He also moved to a better neighborhood. We drifted apart.

But in 2003 I needed a pretty big business favor from him, and got it in a heartbeat, without any questions. When I moved back to Warren he supported the Garden District (where he grew up) and has been a generous contributor to many local causes; always without fanfare.

We were worlds apart in politics, but I can say that about a lot of people I like. Politics isn’t usually the deciding factor for how we choose our friends. We look for something more real, more personal, more enduring, and Roger was a Warren guy.

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If you are interested in knowing more about Ailes, who was one of the most successful media executives, ever, I recommend Gabe Sherman’s “The Loudest Voice In The Room: How The Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News – And Divided A Country.” Roger hated that book and fought hard to stop its publication. But it has some really interesting stuff in it about his early years in Warren, Ohio U., and in Cleveland working for Mike Douglas. In my view, it is pretty balanced. Credit is given where due, but it is not a love note.

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Here they go again

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There was a lazy, disorganized, and ultimately unsuccessful, effort made last year to replace Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership as the administrative arm of the Trumbull County Land Bank. The idea then was that the TC Engineers could “do the job cheaper.” The motivation wasn’t to save any entity money; it was for the Engineer to get control of the “administrative” fees that come with the demolition grants. It’s very questionable that they could tear down houses less expensively, since TNP has won national recognition for their efficiency, but there was no conversation about the other end of the money funnel. TNP wrote the grant applications that have brought more than $10 million to Trumbull County for residential demolitions. Without winning those grants there would be no administrative fees to fight over. Now it looks like the Engineer and his cronies int the county government are taking another run at the money. The Tribune is on to them, as are a lot of people who follow the effort to fight blight. But this will take constant vigilance. See the Tribune editorial from last Sunday, reprinted below with their permission.

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Motivation questioned for COG proposal

MAY 14, 2017

But questions posed by Trumbull County officials to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine about the formation of a Trumbull County Council of Governments entity, or a COG, focused not only on the legalities of using the collaboration to demolish buildings in various subdivisions, but also on creating “Council of Governments” staff and allocating public funds to operate.

The questions were posed by Prosecutor Dennis Watkins after Trumbull County commissioners and Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith began exploring ways to work with other local townships and municipalities, in what they said was an attempt to fight blight.

Collaboration and regionalized efforts are something that we have long advocated, and if that’s what it’s all about, then we would give our full support.

But the idea of creating a new governmental entity with the ability to create positions, employ workers and allocate funds to operate — perhaps via new taxes or fees assessed in the county — raises serious questions about how this effort will save money. Rather, we fear it might instead create new bureaucracy.

We further question the motivation when the ongoing task of blight removal and demolition of vacant homes in Trumbull County has been being handled successfully and efficiently through the Trumbull County Landbank and its contracted management agency, Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership.

The landbank, established largely due to foresight of Trumbull County Treasurer Sam Lamancusa, includes properties that have fallen into serious disrepair and that remain in arrears on property tax payments.

We reported just this week, in fact, that Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, or TNP, demolished its milestone 300th home using grant funding. While most of these demolitions have occurred in the city of Warren, the landbank is pushing into other areas for blight removal, specifically now targeting 10 other areas in the county.

TNP has accomplished these demolition projects at a cost of about $8,000 per property (including cleanup and regrading) — which comes in about $1,000 less than the $9,000 statewide average for similar blight removal projects.

Additionally, it works to save and rehabilitate salvageable properties and has done this successfully with about 200 homes.

While it’s true some homes may fall into disrepair outside the auspices of the Trumbull County Landbank, the number of those properties pales in comparison.

Legal advice sought by Trumbull officials from DeWine’s office also dealt with issues like creating, hiring and maintaining COG employees, as well as questions about the legality of purchasing, leasing and otherwise providing facilities for this would-be entity. These questions raise suspicions about the motivation behind the effort that could lead to new fees or taxes for funding purposes.

The purpose of any collaborative effort should always be to find new efficiencies, after all, not new ways to hire workers and spend money.

We hope the county’s plan to create a COG is an attempt to increase efficiencies in government and not an attempt to grow the power or control of any one department or public official.

We are pleased to see our elected officials have scheduled two public hearings in order to discuss the proposal with their constituents.

We urge strong attendance at this meeting, which will be an important opportunity for residents to ask questions and voice opinions on the possible Council of Governments creation.

The hearings are scheduled for 11 a.m. May 23 and 6:30 p.m. May 24 in the Trumbull County Commissioners hearing room, fifth floor of the county administration building, 160 High St. NW, Warren.

editorial@tribtoday.com

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Commercial blight

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st_joes_web_still-e1404942948989Blighted properties continue to be one of the biggest problems in Warren, and a significant roadblock to economic progress. Thanks to the Land Bank and TNP, we have made a lot of progress demolishing and rehabilitating residential properties, but much less has been done to deal with our many vacant commercial structures, most of which need to be demolished.

Unfortunately, funding for commercial demolitions is much harder to come by, and the costs are astronomical. We have heard estimates as high as $8-10 million just to take down the former St. Joseph Hospital (above) on Tod Avenue, for example.

An amendment was recently proposed to the Ohio state budget bill that would create and fund a program designed to assess, demolish, and, in some circumstances, remediate the problems associated with commercial and industrial blight.

The amendment would create a $50 million fund to be administered by the Director of the Department of Development Services. The Trumbull County Land Banks would be able to apply for use of these funds. While $50 million, statewide, is just a down payment on the problem, this proposal would represent an important chance for Trumbull County to begin to deal with this issue.

If you agree, you might let state rep Mike O’Brien (614-466-5358), and State Senator Sean O’Brien (614-466-7182) know how you feel and ask them to support the amendment.

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A question for you

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Have-You-Ever-Icebreaker-Questions-e1420590224582When we started the series on the demographic statistics that define Warren, we made the following statement:

“…finding a way to restore growth to Warren is not just our biggest problem, we must treat it as our only problem. We must find a path to growth if Warren is to have a future any of us would wish for. And there isn’t much time because, contrary to what many people believe, the pace of decline in Warren is actually increasing.”

My question to you is: “Has the case been convincingly made?

If you want to review the charts you can click the tab “Economic Development” at the top of the Warren Expressed home page. Each of the eight articles in the series is listed there, including this one.

I’m very interested to know what you think. Your opinions will help shape future actions. Do you think the problem of the city shrinking is as important as I do, and if not, why not?

Perhaps most importantly, what do you think we should do about the situation?

Unfortunately we can’t take comments here due to technical reasons. Please either comment on the Warren Expressed Facebook page, or send your opinions to me at info@warrenexpressed.org and I will publish them in a future blog post. Let me know if you want me to use, or withhold, your name.

We are going to need the input of everyone in the community if we are ever going to solve our problems. Don’t hold back.

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A broke city government

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city GF.001We resume the discussion of Warren’s economic health with a quick look at the city’s finances. This chart shows the revenue for the General Fund, from which police, fire, and street repairs must be paid, as well as almost everything else except water, waste water and sanitation.

As you can see it has been a pretty steep downward slope in the wrong direction for more than 10 years. We all have our own ideas about how the city spends its money, but it is clear that whoever is in charge is forced to make new hard calls every year on what stays and what goes.

The recent income tax increase was necessary just to keep municipal services where they are, which is still below the level many people would like to see. And the tax increase is only a 5 year stop gap. We will face new challenges, and probably before the tax expires in 2022.

In fact, if the current Trump budget is approved Warren will lose about $1.5 million annually in CDBG funds beginning next year. This money pays for the Community Development staff, many street repairs, and helps fund a couple dozen local non-profit groups that perform community services. (For more on how these cuts will affect Warren, see this article from the New York Times.)

The Trump budget probably also means no more Federal dollars for tearing down vacant and derelict houses either. While those funds do not generally flow through the city budget they do pay for work necessary to keep Warren from falling into a deeper pit of blight.

Stopping the bleeding in the city budget is a little like what Wall Streeters refer to as “catching a falling knife.” It’s not easy to do.

The point is that while it is sometimes fun, and certainly a popular local sport I’m guilty of playing myself sometimes, it is a pointless exercise to ceaselessly hammer the city for it’s lack of economic development activity. Are there things they could and should be doing? Absolutely. Are they the whole solution to the problem? Certainly not. It will take the effort of the entire community to dig out of our present hole.

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