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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.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

So many depend on good work of Laketran

I’m worried about Laketran.

Lake County’s transportation service has a tough job on its hands as we move toward the election in November.

Laketran’s Board of Trustees fell victim to timing when it put the agency’s 0.25 percent sales tax on the ballot. The issue is a renewal, and for the fourth time aims to collect the bulk of its funding from purchases made in Lake County.

The only change this time is that the Board put the issue on the ballot as a “continuing levy,” which means that it’ll be a permanent 0.25 percent collection.

You hear a lot of talk about voter fatigue these days.

School districts and municipalities routinely go to the ballot for levy renewals, and these days asking for new money to fund various aspects of the operation. It’s easy to see this “fatigue” among voters, who are constantly being asked for more, more, more.

Laketran’s move is a direct reaction to this feeling among voters.

Of course, timing, as they say, is everything.

The recent hike in the state sales tax of 0.25 percent has left Laketran with the prospect of selling what now seems like a tax increase.

That’s a shame.

But it’s important that voters remember the truth — Laketran isn’t asking for an increase. The increase came from the state level.

It’s crucial to watch for spin when you’re discussing levies with friends or reading any mailings that might come out.

While it’s true that the sales tax you pay when purchasing goods and services is higher than it was before, it’s not Laketran’s fault.

I see it as just as important, though, that voters not punish Laketran.

Laketran offers three types of services to its riders — Commuter Express to Downtown Cleveland; fixed-route service around the county; and Dial-A-Ride.

With each each option, you’ll find buses filled with people who can’t get to work or to school or to the doctor any other way.

A few years ago, when state and federal budget cuts left the agency in a position to radically cut its service, I remember listening to bus patrons passionately sharing their needs to get around with Laketran’s management.

The words of a young woman who said the elimination of service after 7 p.m. would spell the end of her college education at Lakeland have stuck with me.

As someone who started her college education at Lakeland, I felt her pain.

If the bus can’t get you there, and you can’t find a ride from friends or any family members, you’re just out of luck.

In the three years since, Laketran has been able to add an hour back to the end of its schedule, which is a boost for those who need night classes at either Lakeland or Lake Erie.

Admittedly, Laketran does have some limitations.

No fixed routes go to TriPoint Hospital in Concord Township, and the Commuter Service doesn’t take buses past Cleveland Clinic or University Hospitals in Cleveland. Plenty of nurses or other hospital personnel would be thrilled for the chance to leave the driving to someone else.

Kevin Malecek, president of Laketran’s Board of Trustees, said while they’d love to add these services, this levy is about maintaining current services for the bus service.

One complaint we hear consistently, too, is that Laketran’s buses are empty a lot.

The answer to that one is an easy one — it depends when you’re looking.

I asked Laketran General Manager Ray Jurkowski to answer the critics during a recent meeting. He didn’t hold back.

“A transit service buys its vehicles for maximum capacity,” he said on a recent morning. “If we were to stand in Downtown Willoughby right now, you’d see most of the cars would pass you with only one passenger in the car. Are you going to stop them and say, ‘you should have four people in your car because you have four seats.’ If you go to Molinari’s at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and see most of the tables are empty, are you going to ask why they opened a restaurant? The other night, I went to the theater in Cleveland, and on the way home, I had an entire lane to myself from Cleveland to Madison. Are you going to ask why we need highways? Of course not.

“People apply a different kind of standard to the ebb and flow of business, and why they would hold public transit to that standard is beyond me.”

Laketran is fighting for its life with this levy.

And, in essence, so are those who rely on the service.

If the levy isn’t renewed ... well, I’ll let Malecek explain it.

“If this does not pass, Laketran will not exist,” he said.

This sales tax makes up 60 percent of Laketran’s budget. Most of the rest is federal and state funding that requires a local match.

If the sales tax doesn’t pass, well, you saw what Malecek said.

Voters should remember that this levy is one that’s been in existence for 25 years, since the agency first was born.

It’s not an increase.

To let it fail would drive away a public service that has helped thousands over the years.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Questions show these police officials are really on a roll

“You know you’re good people. We don’t know you.”

I’ve learned a lot already. But this might be the most important thing so far.

Capt. Scott Roller of the Euclid Police Department has said it twice in class so far.

Each time, he’s said it really slowly.

The instructor of the Euclid Citizen Police Academy has a distinct speech pattern.

When he’s being serious, he slows down. When he’s making a point, he slows down.

Roller’s point in the statement at the top applies to anyone, in any city, in any state, in any country.

What it means is that if you stumble across a police officer, they’re going to treat you with respect, but with a suspicion that comes with a job that puts them in danger every time they report for work.

Don’t take that the wrong way.

They don’t assume you’re a criminal. They just don’t assume they can trust you until you show them that they can.

When you consider it that way, it really does make sense.

To find that trust, though, requires communication. That’s where the questions come in.

Roller’s great with a question. If he wants a second career, he should consider English teacher, because of his skill dissecting a sentence.

I’m only two weeks into this 11-week course offered to Euclid residents and the families of Euclid police personnel and I’ve already found myself churning around in Roller’s meat-grinder a few times.

You can see why he’s been around 24 years and moved up the ranks from a patrol officer. He’s all business when he wants to understand what you’re saying.

I knew I was in trouble during a phone conversation when he followed a statement about a recent issue involving police work with a stern, “Laura!”

Parental. Authoritative. And, requiring explanation.

That clarifying only gets him going.

“OK, let me ask you this ...”

If he wasn’t physically the exact opposite of Perry Mason, I’d consider that comparison.

On Tuesday, the class met someone who I was sure had been one of his pupils.

Roller has overseen many aspects of the training of new officers since 2002.

When a classmate asked Patrolman Brian Collins a question about a specific police procedure, Collins responded with a question.

I laughed out loud. It was like Junior Roller was standing before the class.

I whispered my belief to Roller, who assured me that Collins had been trained by someone else, only because he was on another assignment when Collins started on the force. He laughed as he admitted, though, that others have noticed the similarities in the past.

A little while later, Dispatcher Karen Cassese walked up and made it clear that questions are her game, too.

She needs information when calls come in, and sometimes those reporting what they think is a crime need a little coaxing to get the information out.

“I can’t do my job without your help,” Cassese said. “I really, really, really, really can’t. I can’t make this city a better place without your help.”

She discussed how important it is for callers to know their address — sounds simple, doesn’t it? They often offer cross streets, or neighborhood names, because they’re new to the area or maybe not even a resident in the home. Occasionally, they’ll try to tell her the color of the home and its awnings.

Cassese and Roller discussed their concern, too, that the reason for the reluctance to share their address is that they fear reprisals from those they’re attempting to turn in to police.

Roller said it’s incredibly rare, and said the only times he recalls it on his cases is when the parties involved knew each other and had regular involvement in each others’ lives.

“I’m worried that what might happen keeps people from doing what they should do,” Roller said. “I’m really worried.”

The pair pointed out that callers can remain anonymous, which should help residents feel comfortable calling about things they might believe to be a crime.

A tour of the dispatch center a few minutes later left little doubt that anonymity doesn’t signal freedom from the third degree, as we listened to a dispatcher question someone calling in a report of a possible drug deal.

“Did you see any money change hands?”

“What did you see them do?”

“What are they wearing?”

“They’re behind the building?”

Your willingness to answer questions like these goes a long way to letting a police officer know that he can trust you, and the information you’re providing.

Remember: “You know you’re good people. We don’t know you.”

It’s up to you to change that second part.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Itching to know why I suddenly am scratching so much

I can tell you where I purchased every single piece of clothing and pair of shoes I own.

I probably can even tell you how much I paid for it.

I know the name of the first 45 rpm record I purchased (“Dancing Queen” by ABBA).

I can remember the color number for the various makeup I purchase (Classic Ivory foundation, 510).

When it comes to produce, I know that the navel oranges marked 4012 are the big, juicier ones. The ones marked 3107 are the cheaper imposters.

With that much knowledge of me and my supplies and history at my fingertips, it’s shocking that I have absolutely no clue where I contracted the skin condition that has left my legs looking like I need the surgical ward.

I’ve mentioned my hate/hate relationship with bugs before.

When I get stung by a mosquito or some of their bug brethren, I’m left with huge, swollen welts.

It wasn’t always that way. No, I was like most of you. When I’d get stung it would be an irritating little dot that itched for a few days and then faded away.

Something happened, though.

It’s possible that it’s just that I got older. Now when I get a bug bite, it nearly consumes the appendage where it shows up.

But what happened over Labor Day weekend has left me in a quandary.

And, in pain.

And, itching like I’m about to go insane.

My co-workers were so grossed out by Wednesday, they told me to go to the doctor.

I’m not an alarmist. If I get sick, I usually just accept the fact and go about my business. 

But my co-workers’ freaking out and screaming the words “infection” and “staph” made me a little concerned, so off I went.

When I said that it first appeared late Sunday night, the doctor asked where I’d been over the weekend.

I detailed my trip to the Great Geauga County Fair (nowhere near the animal barns, and no walks through grassy areas); a party at a friend’s house (standing in the kitchen and sitting out on a pretty great brick deck in the dark); and scratching my legs on Monday during an excursion for groceries.

I told her I figured I got eaten alive at my friend’s house.

“This doesn’t look like bug bites. This is poison ivy.”

“I didn’t walk through any grass or rub up against any plants all weekend.”

“I like to think I’m right.”

Me too. I mean, you have way more medical knowledge than me, after all. I just watched “ER” a lot.
It didn’t really matter, anyway.

She told me it was too localized for her to give me a shot or steroids, and that I should take an allergy pill. She said she’d only go those routes if it continued to spread and went near my eyes or mouth.

I’ve gotten a lot of advice from friends over the past few days.

Some seems like wives-tale stuff.

Meat tenderizer. Fels Naptha soap. Witch hazel.

Some just sound like pure torture.

I found out just how tough Laketran General Manager Ray Jurkowski is when he told me during a phone call that he once scrubbed poison ivy on his leg with a rough washcloth, then poured bleach on it.

“I thought my head was going to pop off,” Jurkowski said.

As I sit here and type this, the itching has subsided. You wouldn’t know by looking at it that I haven’t really scratched my legs since Monday. I figured it would only make it worse. Trust me, it was a test.

I passed, but just barely.

But what really bugs me is I have no clue how to avoid getting it again, because I don’t know where I contracted it.

Someone told me they contracted it from a bonfire. Something burning in the fire had the oil from the poison ivy on it, and it spread on the ashes. She had it in her eyes and other places she said I “didn’t want to know.”

Probably so.

Again, I wasn’t anywhere near a fire.

I remember the old adage “leaves of three, let it be.”

But again, just where were those three? Who knows.

This week I discovered, and its stash of truly disgusting photos depicting examples of poison ivy. Luckily, I’m not there yet.

I did find some advice for what to do once you have it — don’t wash it with hot water, because it will irritate it and also open the pores to absorb more of the oils we discussed earlier. One expert also said to throw away the clothes you were wearing when you think you contracted it.

It doesn’t say what to do if you were wearing the same skirt as you wore the night you think you did to the doctor’s office where it was diagnosed.


So far no more has sprouted. But, there’s a three-week incubation period. I’m not sure if I’m at the beginning or end.

So, if you see me and notice a little issue on my legs, now you know why.

I’m going to excuse myself now so I can concentrate on not scratching.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Abuzz about a nasty encounter with some sort of bug

Bugs like me.

And, when I say "like," I mean they really, really like me.

I'm not sure if it's my candy-consistency blood or that my ankles just look like a classy place to land, but they've been showing me the love over the summer.

Most people aren't crazy about mosquito bites. Who can blame them? They itch. You scratch and scratch and scratch.

Trouble is, as the process continues, the bite gets worse and worse.

Sure, there are things you can put on the bites -- calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream have topped most lists I've checked the past few days as I've been dealing with the latest love fest from Bugville.

Trouble is, this one's on a scale that dwarfs any bug bite I've ever encountered. You're probably wondering if I rank them.

I do now.

For years, the highest on the charts was one that occurred in the summer of 1991 when I was a senior at Kent State and living off campus in an apartment that apparently was home to a clutter of spiders. No that's not misspelled. A group of spiders is called a clutter.

I never saw the spider(s) that bit me, but I prefer to think that such damage could only have been done by a huge stinking load of spiders. The day after the attack, my legs bore three wounds about the size of a large coffee can. They hurt. And, because it was about 95 degrees outside, I didn't really feel like I could just throw on a pair of jeans to cover them.

So, I just said the heck with it and probably grossed out half of Kent with those lesions on my legs.

Fast forward to Tuesday, and here I sit once again, grossing out my coworkers with the massive lesions on my legs from unknown origins. I know I acquired them Sunday night at a party. I was sitting in a friend's back yard, in the dark, and didn't feel anything as I apparently was becoming some vermin's late-night snack.

I noticed the itching early Sunday, but then it was just a little bump on my toe. Today, when I woke up I looked down and found a 2-inch red blotch mid-shin followed downward by about 15 more.

As the day's gone on, they've become more itchy and even painful. As I write this I'm planning a trip to the drug store for some relief.

But I take with me the knowledge that I must have some pretty tasty blood for some creature to have wanted to dig in quite this much.

I'm not sure what to do to keep from becoming a snack at the next outdoor outing -- which is Friday night at my nephew's high school football game at Hawken. He plays for Lutheran West and we'll get to see the game close to home.

Perhaps if I wrap mesh cages around my legs, I'll be able to keep the bugs out.

And, I know I have to do something.

Because bugs love me.
Twitter: @Lauranh