Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:
Pass Collin’s Law to help stop hazing
The Columbus Dispatch
Few parents ever want to see lawmakers pass a bill named for their child, because when that happens, it typically comes after there has been a tragic end to a short life.
Once a mother and father have experienced the horrific death of a son or daughter, they surely want to think their child didn’t die in vain. It won’t ease their pain — not in the least — but knowing that something has changed to try to prevent another senseless death can provide a ray of hope.
This is why the Ohio General Assembly must finish its work on House Bill 310 and send Collin’s Law: The Ohio Anti-Bullying and Hazing Act to Gov. Mike DeWine. It will close a chapter in the nightmare lived by Kathleen and Wade Wiant of Dublin since they received the unthinkable news that their son died after collapsing in an off-campus fraternity house at Ohio University on Nov. 12, 2018.
The legislation is a much-needed effort to try to prevent injury and death from the deplorable behavior of any group or institution that preys on individuals’ desires to belong. As detailed in The Dispatch six-part digital series Broken Pledge last year, and in follow-up stories, some college fraternities, sororities, as well as university bands, sports teams or other organizations, still haze new members by requiring demeaning or dangerous tasks to demonstrate loyalty.
An Indiana university professor and author who tracks such behavior said 92 hazing-related deaths occurred in the United States since 2000. Hank Nuwer said the legislation, which the Ohio House passed on Nov. 19 and sent to the Senate, “could help save a life, but it won’t stop hazing.” Still, he believes that Collin’s Law, if enacted, would offer “an important cudgel to hold over the heads of hazers who ignore basic human decency and personal safety.”
Collin Wiant, 18, was a freshman pledge of Sigma Pi when he inhaled a canister of nitrous oxide gas, known as a whippit, and died of asphyxiation. The Broken Pledge series chronicled pressures that had been put on him by the fraternity and drug use engaged in by members. OU subsequently banned the fraternity permanently.
HB 310 would expand definitions of bullies and their victims, require school districts to investigate claims of bullying in elementary through high schools and include forced consumption of drugs and alcohol in the definition of hazing. The bill would also raise penalties for criminal charges, elevating hazing from a fourth-degree misdemeanor to a second-degree misdemeanor unless it involves drugs or alcohol, which would make it a third-degree felony, punishable by a prison term.
At the very least, the Ohio Senate should pass HB 310 and send a message to discourage behavior that demeans others, which any form of hazing certainly does, no matter how anyone tries to dress it up differently.
Even better, senators may want to listen to Collin Wiant’s parents’ pleas to strengthen the bill even more with required hazing education and transparency for colleges and universities.
The Wiants vow to continue fighting to try to save other parents from the heartache they have suffered and to obtain results that give them some solace that their son would be proud of their efforts.
Sadly, there are too many examples these days of people who demean others to deflect their own insecurities. We hope lawmakers pass HB 310 to strongly discourage such harmful acts in educational institutions.
Who are you really mad at?
The Toledo Blade
Dr. Jonathan Ross, president of the Lucas County Board of Health, looked out his window during his family’s Thanksgiving dinner Thursday to see a crowd of demonstrators protesting. They were angry, Dr. Ross noticed. And they have a right to be.
But as Dr. Ross himself pointed out, these protesters are aiming their justifiable anger at the wrong target.
“They should be angry at the situation we’re in. Sometimes you can control situations and sometimes you can’t. And I genuinely believe they’ve done everything they can to control it. And despite that, our numbers are terrible.”
What provoked the demonstrators’ ire was a resolution the board of health passed Wednesday ordering schools to close facilities to in-person learning for older students, and shutting down athletics and extracurricular activities until Jan. 11 as coronavirus cases continue to climb locally.
As most people are all too aware, there is widespread exposure to the virus in Lucas County. The number of cases and deaths are spiraling each day. The health board made its decision to try to slow the spread of the virus and save lives.
There are no moustache-twisting villains eager to pounce on opportunities to curtail the social activities we enjoy. There is no grand conspiracy of medical experts who want to ruin the holidays. Get real.
Protesters — some of them armed — protested at the Columbus-area home of former Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton until she stepped down earlier this year and stepped away from the public spotlight.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, has had to have a security detail since the spring. The man worked in public health for the federal government for more than 50 years but now he needs security.
Public health officials across the country have faced the same hostility. The National Association of County and City Health Officials notes that since the pandemic began more than 70 professionals have resigned, announced plans to leave their jobs, or been fired.
Harassing public health officials does not make the virus go away. It doesn’t end the threat. Only the coming vaccine and, in the meantime, smart precautions, can do that.
Do protesters have a First Amendment right to speak their minds and demonstrate? Absolutely. That doesn’t make this particular demonstration a good idea, though. And it doesn’t mean that the protesters’ complaints aren’t bunk.
A global pandemic that has killed more than a quarter-million people in this country alone this year, that is now raging out of control in most places, including Lucas County, is exactly the emergency for which we depend on public-health experts.
Physicians and public-health authorities doing their best to keep communities safe should not be harassed. Dr. Ross and his family should be able to eat their turkey in peace.
Everyone is angry and fed up. We should be. But it’s important to remember the real enemy is the virus.
Corrupt officials should be exposed
The Marietta Time
Give FBI officials credit for holding their cards close to the vest regarding utility-related corruption in Ohio. What is troubling is that the number of cards seems to be increasing.
Earlier this year, federal agents arrested former state House of Representatives Speaker Larry Householder and a few associates in a $60 million bribery scheme. Two of the men, but not Householder, have pleaded guilty to charges in what has been termed an “unholy alliance” between public officials and a FirstEnergy affiliate.
Then the other shoe dropped. Federal agents raided the Columbus townhome of Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo, carting away documents. Randazzo resigned the PUCO post — and it was reported FirstEnergy had paid a firm in which an Ohio utility regulator was involved more than $4 million as part of a consulting contract. The regulator fits Randazzo’s description.
At this point, Ohioans can be pardoned for wondering whether anyone in state government who was supposed to be looking out for their best interests was doing so — or was too preoccupied with pocket-lining.
The sooner Buckeye State residents know where to start, the sooner a major cleanup can begin.
Council arrests an intolerable embarrassment for Cincinnati
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Elected officials trying to get away with conceitedly corrupt acts, unfortunately, is nothing new. But watching one-third of Cincinnati City Council get arrested by the FBI for pay-to-play schemes in less than a year is an intolerable embarrassment for our city and should offend the sensibilities of every voter.
Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard, the first of the three busted for exchanging votes for cash, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Tuesday, after pleading guilty to honest wire services fraud. Council members Jeff Pastor and P.G. Sittenfeld could be facing a similar outcome or worse for allegedly taking bribes related to a downtown development project involving former Cincinnati Bengals player and developer Chinedum Ndukwe.
Pastor recently accepted a suspension from council with pay. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is seeking a similar suspension for Sittenfeld. Both men should put the public first and resign immediately, allowing a broken council to conduct business without distraction and them to focus on their families and legal defense. If they are ultimately cleared of the charges, they can run again for public office at a later date. But for now, they should put the people’s interests ahead of their personal desires.
Each case is a sad and stunning betrayal of the public trust. Sittenfeld was a shoo-in to be the next mayor of Cincinnati, but those aspirations have disintegrated beneath a cloud of suspected corruption. Sittenfeld, a magna cum laude graduate of Princeton University, should have known better, but it seems his ambition might have consumed him. Unlike his one-time staffer, Dennard, Sittenfeld is accused of taking bribes to increase his political power not to pay past due bills.
Of course, Sittenfeld and Pastor are innocent until proven guilty. Sittenfeld has adamantly maintained his innocence since the arrest. Pastor has not spoken since being taken into custody, but his attorney Ben Dusing warned against “rushing to judgment.” But based on what we know so far from the FBI, the suspected behavior is totally unacceptable. It doesn’t speak well of the political culture at City Hall and demands not only outrage and resignations, but a movement of reforms not seen since the days of former mayor Murray Seasongood.
There should be vigorous public discussion about exactly what changes should be implemented, whether that is changing how council members are elected, ethics training for newly elected officials, creating an ethics or other oversight board, or campaign finance reform. A good first step would be council members understanding their roles and duties and staying in their proper lanes. Council members need to stop sticking their noses in development deals and leave those sensitive negotiations to the city manager and administrators hired to do the job.
There is plenty of fault to go around for our present predicament. An epidemic of arrogance has infected our elected officials at every level of government. Some politicians have no shame. Hardly any contrition. And when confronted with their bad behavior, they double down on victimization instead of being accountable.
Most of the council members involved with the so-called Gang of Five text messaging scandal, which included Sittenfeld and Dennard, still think they did nothing wrong, despite being found guilty of breaking Ohio’s open meetings law. Not a single council member involved personally paid a price, outside of a tongue lashing by the judge, and taxpayers wound up paying most of the $101,000 in court fines and fees.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman told the five council members they violated the trust of voters and should immediately resign from office. “No city voter should ever vote for them again,” he said. Maybe Ruehlman was onto something.
Local political parties and the supporters who enable these council members have a shared responsibility. It was good to see the Ohio and Hamilton County GOP step up quickly to denounce Pastor’s actions. The Hamilton County Democrats likewise issued a statement calling for Sittenfeld’s resignation if the allegations against him prove true. It’s critically important that these parties, and others, not only do a better job of vetting their candidates for office, but swiftly calling out misbehavior and corruption when they occur. It shouldn’t matter who the candidate is, both Democrats and Republicans need to demonstrate that the public good trumps party loyalty.
The community has a role to play too. Voters get the politicians they deserve for the most part. If residents want better government, then they must vote differently and hold elected officials accountable not enable them. Voters have a responsibility to know what they are voting for in terms of a council person’s character and their actual duties. In other words, better understand what your elected officials can and cannot do in their roles, which can help manage expectations.
The FBI investigations are a national embarrassment and a black eye Cincinnati can ill afford. More disturbing is the FBI might not be done exposing other under-the-table dealings. While much of the spotlight has been cast on the misdeeds of the politicians, there should be equal scrutiny placed on developers. It takes two to tango in pay-to-play schemes. The Feds should be as focused on rooting out shady developers trying to buy favor from council members for their projects.
Every corner of this community must take a stand now and send a clear message this culture of corruption at City Hall has come to an end.
Ohio GOP should reject ignorance
The Sandusky Register
We live in an era of polarization in our politics, from Washington to Columbus. It is concerning that some choose to build huge and cavernous divides among us when the true level of disagreement is small and, in some cases, non-existent. It is dangerous that some lawmakers choose to exploit these divides — real and imagined — for their own personal benefit, either for political reasons or some maladjusted psychological dysfunction.
We do not know which it is — politics or disturbed ego — that drives state Rep. John Becker, R-Union Twp. in his quest to impeach Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a fellow Republican. Perhaps it is a combination of both for Becker, and for the prominent supporters of his effort, state reps. Candice Keller of Middletown, Nino Vitale of Urbana and Paul Zeltwanger of Mason, also Republicans.
We are grateful these pandemic deniers are not gaining more support from the statehouse Republicans, but is it enough to just not join in this delusional effort?
The reasons Becker, Keller, Vitale and Zeltwanger give for targeting DeWine are flimsy, shallow and ignorant and this effort and their practice of politics should be condemned and repudiated by Democrats and Republicans alike. But, especially by Ohio Republicans, including state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, and state reps. DJ Swearingen, R-Huron, and Dick Stein, R-Norwalk.
Failure to condemn this ignorance is giving tacit approval to destructive talking point politics that rips at the fabric of our Democracy, in addition to the damage it does to the public health. While Becker, Keller, Vitale and Zeltwanger downplay the pandemic, encouraging revolt against public officials and public health orders, the coronavirus is spreading misery in the communities they represent.
We, like many Americans, were shocked in October when the FBI arrested 13 people who allegedly plotted to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, and otherwise violently overthrow the state government. Something like that happens in Third World countries, not in the heartland, we thought. But, indeed, this is what prioritizing polarization and promoting division does. Becker, in fact, was reported to have met with a woman who was later implicated in a police report to have plotted a “citizen’s arrest” of DeWine.
Our local representatives and the Republican majority in the Ohio House and Senate, in our view, should publicly and soundly reject and repudiate the efforts of Becker, Keller, Vitale and Zeltwanger and encourage them to leave the statehouse.