GIBRALTAR ISLAND, Ohio — Four years ago, Lake Erie algae wreaked havoc on the Toledo water system, affecting 400,000 residents in Ohio and Southeast Michigan. Known as harmful algal blooms, the deep green ooze grows by the mile each year, fed by phosphorus-rich runoff from farm fields. Though not always toxic, the eyesores gunk up beaches, choke marine life, and became far more serious in August 2014. That’s when Toledo’s water system sucked up cyanobacteria (known as blue-green algae, though it’s technically not algae) and contaminated drinking water with microcystin, a toxin that can cause liver and kidney damage. The scare prompted residents to rely on bottled water for three days and cost about $65 million, mostly in lost tax revenue and tourism.
Columbus— A new complaint before the Ohio Elections Commission alleges that the Ohio Attorney General’s practice of hiring debt subcontractors violates state law. J. Whitfield Larrabee, a left-leaning activist, filed the complaint Thursday, citing a recent article by the Ohio Center for Investigative Journalism as exhibit A. The article noted that under current Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, and his Democratic predecessor Richard Cordray, large campaign contributors were much more likely to get large collections contracts. Both DeWine and Cordray are currently running for governor. Larrabee alleged, in his 27-page brief, that “DeWine’s scheme to economically coerce contractors to make campaign contributions amounts to extortion, fraud and racketeering in violation of Ohio and federal law.”
DeWine’s campaign spokesman, Joshua Eck, said in response: “This is nothing more than political grandstanding by a Massachusetts liberal. This complaint is frivolous and will go nowhere.”
Larrabee practices employment and health law from his suburban Boston office.
Ohio ratepayers have paid FirstEnergy’s utilities roughly a quarter of a billion dollars since January 2017 under a distribution modernization rider. Now, critics say FirstEnergy is stalling on saying just what it’s doing with that money, which regulators approved without any requirements that it pay for specific projects. The mandate for consumers to pay the rider is currently on appeal before the Supreme Court of Ohio. Meanwhile, FirstEnergy’s utilities have been collecting the $168 million per year, and regulators could renew the charge for another two years after 2019. “To date, FirstEnergy has stymied the efforts of the state-designated advocate of its consumers to discover information about its subsidy charges,” Ohio Consumers’ Counsel Bruce Weston and assistant counsel Zachary Woltz said in a July 13 brief.
Federal regulators are watching the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants in Ohio more closely after problems with backup systems surfaced at both sites within the last year. Speaking at a meeting about the Davis-Besse plant last month, Nuclear Regulatory Commission representatives seemed satisfied that appropriate measures had been taken and said oversight would continue while FirstEnergy’s generation subsidiaries are in bankruptcy. However, some critics worry about the plants’ ongoing attitudes towards safety. “The years-long uncertainty and financial pressure on reactor operations have already had a powerful impact, and the bankruptcy proceeding has only amplified that,” said Tim Judson, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), a Maryland-based anti-nuclear group. Other watchdog groups agreed that safety issues should not be dismissed lightly but had more confidence in regulators to manage the risks.
An Eye On Ohio review of public records for the past 10 years, however, found a strong correlation between the amount of campaign contributions and the revenue received by law firms doing collection work for the attorney general’s office.
The most dangerous time for Cincinnati heroin addicts is not a typical party time: 3 p.m. on Wednesdays. For Columbus, it’s 6 p.m. on Thursdays, and in Akron, 7 p.m. on Tuesdays. In a few Ohio cities, online interactive databases now let anyone with a browser track the strange course of opiates, sometimes even daily, as a few jurisdictions have experimented with a new weapon in the arsenal aimed at addiction: public release of overdose data. Emergency services personnel long have used the information to reduce response times by pinpointing the areas of greatest need, but now the community can see where new hotspots are popping up. This has allowed authorities to alert the public and aid workers to more quickly target troubled areas.
Licking Valley Schools Superintendent David Hile shuddered when he saw the Facebook image of the boy with a menacing stare and a gleaming assault rifle. It was the same boy who, after threatening students, had been expelled from school for 80 days, the maximum time allowed under state law. And now, two days before the boy’s anticipated return, Hile felt powerless to stop the boy he saw as a clear threat despite all the red flags. Last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, left 17 dead and questions about how a killer was able to fly under the radar with such a long history of intimidation. There were numerous citizens who called in warnings about Nikolas Cruz, he had had run-ins with police over incidents when his anger exploded, he had intimidated, bullied and threatened students at the school.
We are excited to announce that the Ohio Center for Investigative Journalism will begin regularly publishing again. In January, Eye On Ohio hired Lucia Walinchus as its new Executive Director. Walinchus moved to Ohio from Oklahoma where she freelanced for the New York Times, the Journal Record, and a sister INN publication, Oklahoma Watch. Walinchus brings a wealth of business and media law knowledge as well. She previously worked as a lawyer, and still holds active licenses in Oklahoma, Virginia and New York.
Corporate lobbyists, trade groups and advocacy organizations have in recent years increasingly turned their attention to state legislatures, rather than the gridlocked federal government, to promote their agendas. In many states, the number of registered lobbyists in the statehouses far outnumber those making the laws. Nationally, special interests outnumber lawmakers by a ratio of six to one. In Ohio, there are 13 registered lobbyists for every state legislator, according to a study just published by the Center for Public Integrity in conjunction with the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Ohio ranks eighth in the lobbyist-to-legislator ratio.