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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Celebrating coffee with friends in new space

Wherever I go, I pick one up.

As you can imagine, my collection is vast.

Pretty soon I’m going to need a few new cupboards to hold my collection of travel coffee mugs.
I’m not big on T-shirts, so my souvenir of choice these days is a mug.

When I went to Philadelphia for a weekend after the Fourth of July, I got two. I was only there for two days.

In mid-June, when I went to Washington to cover Mentor resident Mike Rae’s participation in the Police Unity Tour bike race, I got two. That was a better performance, because I was there for five days that time.

The mugs come in handy because I suck down gallons of coffee during the day. Any day. Every day.

These days, though, it’s all decaf. When someone new joins the newsroom, I warn them that the pot sitting in the office next to mine is filled with decaf — not because I don’t want them to take any, but because I don’t want them relying on it to stay awake.

There’s another pot two doors down that’s filled with high-test.

And, now that I think of it, there’s entirely too much caffeine in this newsroom.

Especially since we got a Keurig.

The single-cup coffeemakers are growing in popularity as word spreads about their ease of production and relative lack of cleanup.

I’ve looked them over many times in the past year or so, but each time I came close to pulling the trigger I have put them back on the shelf after remembering my coffee mugs average about 16 ounces.

The Keurig we have here in the office is able to produce coffee in three sizes — 6 ounces, 8 ounces and 10 ounces.


To fill my mug, I’d need two cups — a second one to hold the extra four ounces that won’t fit into my travel mug.

Regardless of my relative lack of excitement for the fancy new gadget in our midst, I must admit I’m thrilled about the reason it’s here in the first place.

You might have noticed that in the past few months The News-Herald has been hosting a lot of events here in our office.

Sports discussions with beat writers came first.

Then, this past week, we hosted the candidates on the November ballot for an open house.

Those on hand got to check out our new living room in the newsroom, complete with wall-mounted big screen TV, as we discussed politics and caught up with those we’ve been covering, in some cases, for many years.

We also got to make friends with some new faces on the ballot. And, finally meet some familiar names. Such is the case with Denise M. Kaminski, Geauga County’s clerk of courts.

I got to discuss the latest technology with Lake County Prosecutor Charles E. Coulson and Jason Wuliger, Republican candidate for Lake County recorder — when I go shopping for my next gadget, I’m asking them along for the trip.

A little while later, Wuliger’s challenger, Democrat Ann Radcliffe, and I got to discuss the horrible chairs we’re forced into at Lakeland Community College during our annual candidate interview sessions.

We completed this year’s discussions about two weeks ago, and they’ll be airing beginning in late September.

He might not realize it, but many of our younger staff members stopped in their tracks when Republican Bob Patterson walked in. The candidate for Lake County treasurer bears an almost shocking resemblance to former News-Herald reporter and editor David W. Jones.

In fact, because of the political nature of the event, many of them figured it was Dave when he walked in, since he spent so much of his time focused on politics.

I got the chance to ask Geauga County Probate/Juvenile Court Judge Tim Grendell if he’s glad the case involving accused Chardon school shooter T.J. Lane has left his courtroom.

When he said it was a relief, I couldn’t help but look across the room at Geauga County Common Pleas Judge Forrest W. Burt, even though he doesn’t have Lane’s case now that it’s in adult court. Fellow Judge David L. Fuhry is handling the case.

When I mentioned new friends, I can’t leave out Emilee Teresczuk, candidate for Lake County clerk of courts; or John Hamercheck, candidate for Lake County commissioner; or Jim Dvorak, candidate for Geauga County commissioner.

We’re looking forward to more visitors here in our new living room, and expect more surprises down the line as we debut more ways we’re going to share our space with the public.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, July 20, 2012

Time to honor the queens of excellent service

I’ve never had one.

As much as I shop, you’d think I would have about 20.

Alas, I haven’t ever gotten close to that dream of a sales clerk who picks up a phone to give me a call when something arrives that she knows I’d be dying to add to my wardrobe.

I’m coming close with some of the clothing stores I frequent. Staff periodically make a call and leave a message about upcoming sales that I shouldn’t miss.

When they call, I make a point of showing up.

I figure, even if I only pick up something small, it’s my thanks for them remembering me and honoring my loyalty with a heads-up about a sale that otherwise might have gone under the radar.

I often think about good service when I’m out shopping.

Sometimes it’s a clerk who’s really nice.

Other times, it’s someone who points out that I picked up an item that’s damaged.

Once, a store staff member carried to my car a super-heavy item I’d purchased because he realized I’d be struggling with it.

The people I just mentioned are reasons I enjoy shopping as much as I do.

A good interaction makes a purchase seem worthwhile. When you get attitude or a less-than-joyful experience, it makes me wonder if I should have bothered.

Good experiences like the ones I’ve described aren’t restricted to the shopping mall.

Bank staff get a lot of credit — and deservedly so — when they step in to stop their customers from falling victim to scams.

Postal employees have saved countless lives when they’ve stumbled upon people in medical emergencies in their homes.

The truth is, we’re surrounded by people doing good deeds simply because they can.

No one requires it. No one expects it. They just do it because it’s the right thing to do.

And, it’s time to honor some of them.

As luck would have it, we can help!

We’re looking for nominees for the annual Commerce Queen ceremony at the Lake County Fair.
In this year’s 38th crowning of this special lady, we’re counting on you to help us find those who most deserve this special honor.

Unlike most pageants, this one isn’t a beauty contest.

Instead, it’s a chance to celebrate those in the area who work hard, deliver good service, care about their performance and their customers.

It’s long been among my favorite community events, because it pays tribute to those who just go out and do their jobs, and do them so well that people notice that they’ve been treated well and are satisfied.

I know you’ve had these experiences.

And, because you did, I know you’ve wondered how you can let them know how much you appreciated it.

Here’s how.

Nominate that female worker for The News-Herald’s Commerce Queen contest.

We’re taking nominations on our website, Click the pink “Commerce Queen” button on the homepage, and follow the directions to nominate the women you think deserve this honor.

The key for nomination is we need you to supply her full name, and where she works.

If you don’t know her full name, we hope you’ll call on all those skills you learned watching detective shows on TV and work covertly to discover it. Perhaps a call to a supervisor or a store manager would do the trick.

We’re accepting nominations through noon July 30, so you have plenty of time to recall all those who’ve impressed you over the past year and enter their names as candidates for the crown.

Then, starting at 12:01 p.m. July 30, we encourage everyone to vote for the lady who most deserves the award. Voting will run through noon Aug. 13.

We’ll be crowning the winner on Aug. 16 at the Lake County Fairgrounds during the fair.

I hope you’ll take this chance to honor those who do their jobs the right way.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

GM's injury proves that I'm glad it didn't rain during grounds crew stint

When I first decided I wanted to join the Lake County Captains grounds crew for a day, I had the team's general manager, Brad Seymour, in mind.

During an early April gathering at Classic Park, I discovered what to me is a fascinating fact: Captains front office personnel take part in a multitude of tasks on any given day.

One of the most interesting to me is that quite often, they are among those who run on the field when it starts to rain and help cover the infield with the tarp.

Craig Deas, senior director of media relations and community relations and play-by-play announcer, told me that he and General Manager Brad Seymour both have tackled the project over time.

Of course, I got competitive: “If they can do it, so can I!”

So, after I finished working on the five-day Classic Park package that rain in mid-June, I asked Captains beat writer David S. Glasier to hook me up with Dan Stricko, the team's director of turf management and stadium operations.

We decided on a day game, July 12. It was an 11 a.m. start, so I could work my normal shift.

I told Glasier that I was hoping that it would rain the day I worked on the grounds crew, so I could get my shot at the tarp. No such luck, though. The weather was perfect, with sun and high temperatures.

A few weeks beforehand, though, I got a glimpse of just why I probably should be thrilled that it didn't rain on July 12.

A bad thunderstorm rolled in on Sunday, July 1, with high winds that seemingly tossed the tarp around the field like it was a piece of tissue paper. In a video shot during the storm by Glasier, you can see how the grounds crew and other staffers -- including the team's mascot, Skipper -- struggled to get control of the tarp.

During the storm and ensuing struggle, Seymour tripped along the third-base line and fell. He couldn't stand up, because he injured his foot. He is now sporting a walking boot on his broken foot. He'll be wearing it for six weeks.

I feel badly that he was injured during that freak storm. Stricko said that the storm that day was among the worst he's seen in his 10 years working on grounds crews at stadiums.

So, in light of that incident, I guess I'm glad that I didn't have to battle wind and rain in an attempt to say I could do what they can do.

I'll accept the fact that they can do it and just move on.

Laura Kessel, managing editor
Twitter: @Lauranh

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A few lies create doubts sentence will help

I met a couple of liars a few weeks ago.
It shouldn’t have surprised me, especially when you consider where we were when it happened.
It was, after all, a courtroom on the eighth floor of the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court.
I haven’t had a lot of occasion to walk into a courthouse over the years. Sure, I did a stint on jury duty in 2006, and I have covered a few hearings and court appearances as part of my job.
But, before last month, I’d never sat in the gallery as a proceeding involving me took place.
I was there on June 20 on behalf of my mom, whose house was burglarized on Sept. 17. Having a generous boss worked in my favor as I let my nosiness get the best of me when we got the letter announcing that the suspect who was arrested in December had pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree felony charge of burglary.
The letter, from an assistant prosecuting attorney Callista Regas, explained that he was scheduled for a sentencing hearing and that we could provide a witness impact statement for the judge to consider when making her ruling.
If you know me at all, and I think you do by now, you know I jumped at the chance. I’m a writer, I thought, so who better to explain the complete disaster that was this brazen act by what turned out to be a 17-year-old boy.
A few days after emailing the letter, I dialed up my courage and drove down to what’s been called the “Taj Mahal,” the new Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court building on Quincy Avenue in Cleveland.
It’s a gorgeous building that is full of people working with children and families who have found themselves in troubling circumstances.
My business was in the courtroom of Juvenile Court Judge Kristin W. Sweeney.
She proved to be a no-nonsense jurist who pays attention to what’s going on around her as she listens to testimony.
For instance, she noticed my eyes roll when the probation officer recommended probation for the teen who stood before her.
And, when he detailed his full report, she pounced on the holes.
He said that the teen’s mother told him the suspect was a good kid, and that his grades were “good.” When quizzed by the judge, the suspect said he didn’t have all F’s and didn’t have all C’s.
There was no grade report, though, so no one could say for sure what he’d gotten in the last semester he’d attended classes.
The probation officer said the suspect had a serious marijuana problem at the time of the crime. He said the boy reported that he’d been clean for “30 to 45 days.”
I wasn’t sure what that meant, whether it was a box they’d checked on a form or if that’s what he told the probation officer.
“If I gave you a drug test right now, would it come back clean?” the judge asked.
“No,” the teenager asked.
Sweeney sat back in her chair, folded her arms across her chest and said, “I want a deputy. Now.”
After a break to allow the deputy to get to the courtroom, Sweeney lectured the suspect on his contempt for the court in that he went to a friend’s party and smoked pot just a week or so before he knew he was headed to court for sentencing.
She remanded him into custody with a $50,000 bond. To get out, he’d need to post $5,000.
Sweeney then set a new sentencing date, at which time all the documents relating to the suspect’s status were to be presented.
When I reported back to the eighth floor this week, the prosecutor assigned to the case that day asked me if I wanted to speak in court. I declined, saying that aside from learning his sentence, my main purpose there was to find out about his grades.
He immediately got up and went to find the probation officer to see the grade report.
“Well, they’re all F’s,” he said.
A few minutes later, we were called in for the hearing. Everyone present got the chance to speak again.
When his mother stood up to address the court, I thought back to the first time I had seen her, sitting outside the courtroom with the defendant as they waited for the earlier hearing.
I sat on a bench near them, unaware of who they were.
She spent the better part of the five minutes we were sitting near each other telling him that he has always been a problem and was always mouthy.
“And now here we are, in court,” she told him.
He didn’t have much to say, as he sat there in his gray dress shirt and tie, eyes riveted to the floor. Periodically he’d answer her with, “yes.”
When I walked up on Tuesday, she was there again, sitting on the same bench. I sat a few benches down, not wanting to repeat that error.
In court, she was direct with the judge and her son.
“You don’t age out of this,” she said, pointing to her chest. “I’m here for life.”
She sobbed as she told him that the change he needs to make in his life must come from him, and that she expects him to never repeat the errors he’s made.
When it was his turn to speak, the suspect turned to his mother to apologize for all he’s put her through since he was charged with felony counts in five burglaries.
He wept as he promised he’d never do anything like it again.
After he sat down, the judge served up his sentence.
She sentenced him to probation, but told him the leash is very short. He must submit to a drug test once a month. He must serve 10 hours of community service for each count. He must enroll in school and attend daily “with no cuts, tardies or suspensions.”
And, he must work off the $400 in damage to my mom’s home.
I accepted the sentence, but wonder if he’ll be able to fulfill it. I keep thinking back to all the lies told during the pre-sentence investigation.
I hope, for his sake, that this period of his life brings about the change necessary for him to become a productive member of society.

— Laura Kessel | | @lauranh