A few months ago the city provided the addresses where “dangerous dogs” are registered. Their number appears to be concentrated in the central and eastern portions of the area. There are a couple of dots that are home to two registered dogs.
A few months ago the city provided the addresses where “dangerous dogs” are registered. Their number appears to be concentrated in the central and eastern portions of the area. There are a couple of dots that are home to two registered dogs.
Birdtown’s Otis the Bull Dog (maybe pit bull) was in the wrong place at the wrong time on Saturday and received a couple of jolts from a Taser courtesy of the Lakewood Police Department (see Plain Dealer story and raw video).
Nevermind the obvious argument over whether or not Otis was acting in an aggressive manner (and what are the odds bystanders to the scene would include not one, but TWO “professional dog watchers”? See NewsNet5 story and video). The more important concern is the ease by which the Taser camera can be obscured.
According to a 2008 study of the X26 Taser — similar to the one used by the LPD — performed by the research arm of the United Kingdom’s federal police force, the device has a mechanism that alerts its user when the camera is obstructed:
Lens Cover Warning (pg. 9)
With conventional handguns it is common for the firer to adopt a two-handed grip. If the X26 is gripped using this method the lower hand is likely to cover the lens and obscure the image being recorded. When the lens is covered the Central Information Display (CID) at the back of the x26 will flash “88″ and the red laser dot sight will flash. If the red dot laser is turned off the CID display flashes 88. Though this lens cover warning is being given video will still be recorded and audio is uninterrupted. During testing, when the lens is deliberately obscured, the lens cover warning activates after approximately 3 seconds.
The study noted trained firearms officers, accustomed to the two-handed grip of their service weapon, needed to use a different kind of grip.
“…it was apparent that [trained] firearms officers would instinctively adopt a two-handed grip, as they would their service pistols. To avoid covering the lens of the Taser Cam, the firearms officers then had to change their grip or simply adopt a one-handed style. Conversely, because non-firearms [trained] officers were not familiar with holding weapons the form of the attachment was not considered uncomfortable…” (pg. 15)
So, while it’s unfortunate Otis was tasered, the incident proves there’s a need for the LPD to reexamine how it trains its officers to handle Tasers equipped with cameras. The cameras are there for good reason — to provide a layer of accountability– but they’re irrelevant if not used correctly.
Considering that the July 22nd Listening to Lakewood meeting was supposed to target the decently-sized section of the city stretching from West 117th to Nicholson between Lake and Detroit, the turnout was total disappointment. 35 or so people heard the mayor give a rather typical self-serving stump speech and PowerPoint presentation.
To the uninitiated, FitzGerald’s schpeel was probably a feel good event. His message: Lakewood was in bad shape before I took the reins, but now it’s comparatively blue skies and sunshine. If there was a scintilla of doubt about the purity of his soul, he casually reminded the audience he used to work for the FBI.
His hour and forty-minute presentation and Q&A session were flawed by dastardly omissions of fact. For instance, in trumpeting the increased number of uniformed police officers and establishment of neighborhood police offices, it should have been mentioned that the program’s funding came exclusively at the expense of other city services.
In an act the dearly departed Michael Jackson might have described as “very, very, very devilish,” FitzGerald referenced the youth re-entry program at Hidden Village when someone raised a question about the MHS clients on Bonnieview, but conveniently side-stepped specific mention of Hidden Village’s federal lawsuit against the city alleging racism and violations of fair housing laws.
And, for the record, Mayor FitzGerald was a councilperson during almost the entire period of time when the city’s finances ran amuck. He’s as much responsible for that mess as the people he likes to point the finger at.
Residents had a range of familiar questions and comments. One elderly fellow expressed his displeasure about stray dogs, and dog walkers who don’t curb their pets. He also was unhappy about discourteous bicyclists who travel on sidewalks.
A Mathews Ave. resident was ticked about kids who routinely walk in the street and the influx of residents in subsidized housing. (“If the economy continues to go downhill, it’s going to increase landlords’ temptation” to accept housing vouchers, FitzGerald said. But, not to worry. “We’re gonna just have to manage it,” he said.)
Another person was unhappy with the poor quality of communication from the recreation department (run by the school board) in regard to the process of reserving playing fields. The mayor said the city and the school board were working on an agreement to revise and clarify each others’ responsibilities.
Somebody else was peeved that people on Thoreau are leaving garbage cans on their front lawns well after the conclusion of garbage day. The mayor nodded. He cuts down Thoreau during his morning commute to city hall from the land of milk and honey.
A citizen queried FitzGerald about his opinion of Bill Mason’s proposal to reform county government. Not good, said the mayor. He described the plan as “risky” and “very flawed.”
Overall, this Listening to Lakewood session was a missed opportunity. The unvarnished truth is that Ward 4 is home to many of the city’s worst crime and decay problems. These problems will only be solved when the residents are organized, informed, and empowered.
If FitzGerald was serious about drawing a crowd, he would have drafted Ward 4 Councilperson Mary Louise Madigan (who was present at the meeting) and each of the three at-large council people to go door knocking. I’m sure the folks living on Clifton Prado have a few things to share. The residents who most needed to be there were absent.
The July 20, 2009 meeting of Lakewood City Council lasted around two hours and was attended by about 25 people, including a dozen or more citizens being honored for their participation in the city’s Fourth of July parade. The docket can be reviewed here (.pdf).
Liquor permits approved
Council declined to raise any objections over liquor permit applications for El Tango Taqueria at 14224 Madison Ave or the BP gas station at 14718 Madison Ave.
Parade honors handed out
Paula Reed and representatives from Brennan’s Floral Gift Shop, Beck Center, Emerson Unicycle Club, and VFW Edgewater Post #387 were present to receive their plaques in recognition of having winning parade entries. The Lakewood High School Marching Band entry won for Most Spirit, but no one was on hand to accept their award.
No guards at Madison Park — yet
Human Services Director Dorothy Buckon provided council with a written update regarding a couple of youth programs in Lakewood. In the course of discussion, Councilperson Mary Louise Madigan (Ward 4) said she felt the situation at Madison Park – the amount of trouble caused by young people – was getting to the point where “an adult set of eyes and ears” might be needed in order to keep the peace.
“This year it wasn’t possible to have a guard,” she said. Madigan suggested the administration plan ahead for next year, and possibly try to get stimulus funding to support the addition of one or two guards or outreach people who would be at the park from 2:00 p.m. until dusk.
Mayor Edward O. FitzGerald said he hasn’t ruled out posting someone at Madison Park this year as a stopgap measure. He added that the city never had a guard at the park in the past. His concern is that once a guard is allocated there, people will expect there to be one at other Lakewood parks. “The money quite frankly isn’t there [for that],” he said.
Mayor’s tweaks to tall grass ordinance unanimously approved
Give Councilperson Kevin Butler (Ward 1) a gold star. In what was probably a tedious slog for many in attendance, Butler took several minutes to make sure council was clear on the differences between the proposed ordinance and the existing ordinance.
Mayor FitzGerald said he examined the tall grass remediation process early last summer, when it was run by the health department (since disbanded), and found it took about three weeks between the point when a citation was issued and the time when the grass was mowed.
The housing and building department now runs the process and the delay in action has been reduced to about five days. Director Jeff Ashby reviewed the tall grass ordinances of Bay Village, Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights, and Cleveland and found Lakewood’s ordinance could be improved by doing away with the part of the law that required multiple warnings to repeat offenders.
Ashby said the city’s lone tall grass inspector issued 290 letters of correction (for grass exceeding 6 inches in height) during May and June. 30 lawns needed to be cut by the city. There were 11 repeat offenders.
Councilperson Michael Summers (Ward 3) and Councilperson Butler both tested the report a problem feature on the city’s Web site to report tall grass and proclaimed it a success.
There was some discussion about vague wording within the proposed ordinance in regard to the time frame and method of contact used to notify property owners about a violation. Because Ashby’s department allows for a five-day grace period between receipt of a violation letter and property reinspection, it was a moot point.
Council suspended the rules and unanimously approved the proposed ordinance.
Council approved a resolution supporting the police department’s application to the state to get funding for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program. Councilwoman Madigan gave Police Chief Timothy Malley a tough time about the D.A.R.E program’s usefulness. “I keep hearing things,” she said. Madigan wanted to know if the program’s effectiveness has been evaluated. Chief Malley said the program has been around for 20 years, but hasn’t been evaluated recently.
Councilperson Butler and Chief Malley are going to discuss the police bar patrol situation. None of the recently hired part-time police officers have been assigned that duty due to their work schedules, according to Chief Malley.
Mayor FitzGerald said he’s working on a plan to convince RTA to continue circulator service in Lakewood. “We expressed ourselves vociferously” at the recent public meeting on RTA’s budget issues, he said.
FitzGerald was particularly unhappy RTA didn’t invite more public comment on the matter before making a decision. FitzGerald’s sources have told him a final decision on the circulator will be made prior to the next RTA board meeting scheduled for late August.
Coletta Graham, of 1286 Chase, had a range of questions on several different topics. Councilperson Thomas Bullock is still conducting public meetings on the leashed dog walking ordinance. The lawsuit against Lakewood filed by Rocky River regarding the dog park will be heard in early 2010. The police department has a good idea of what killed the person recently found along the railroad tracks, but is waiting for the corner to issue an official cause of death.
Steve Gannis, of 13511 Detroit, applauded the mayor’s efforts to save the Lakewood circulator. He opposed the ordinance allowing leashed dogs in city parks because “it would lower the quality of life in Lakewood.”
Andy Baxter, of 1522 Wayne, was unhappy with the city policy that allows people to anonymously make complaints. He said a neighbor recently called the police and accused him of skinning a buffalo in his garage. He said the complaint was bogus and he’s tired of receiving harassment from the city.
Baxter said he was involved in a custody dispute and someone repeatedly called the housing and building department to complain about a teepee he erected in his yard for his son. Baxter said he was writing a book about the poor treatment he has received from the city.
Baxter read from a prepared statement and was visibly angry. Here’s hoping city officials who witnessed the event don’t discount it, and make an effort to talk to him.
The July 6, 2009 meeting of Lakewood City Council lasted about an hour and was attended by about 25 people, including several residents present to speak in favor of legalizing leashed dog walking in Lakewood’s parks. You can review a .PDF of the docket here.
City income tax amnesty program and delinquency sweep approved
Council suspended the rules and unanimously approved after only two readings (three readings are usually required) an ordinance authorizing Director of Finance Jennifer Pae to set-up a tax amnesty program.
Full details of the program were not available to the public for review or discussed at the council meeting, but the city has since issued a press release providing additional information.
Between July 21st and September 30th, the city will allow residents and businesses to file outstanding tax returns, pay overdue tax and interest in full without penalties and also pay overdue penalties at a reduced rate.
The city will then team-up with Cleveland in order to access information that will enable them to identify which Lakewood residents filed federal taxes, but not Lakewood city taxes. Lakewood has authorized Cleveland to collect the delinquent taxes on behalf of the city.
It seems like these phases will be independent of each other. The city will first conduct the amnesty period. It will then use the IRS information it gets from Cleveland to track down and bill deadbeats, who won’t have the benefit of making amends within the amnesty period.
Considering the lousy economy and the shock and fear some of the deadbeats will experience when they receive their delinquent tax bill in the mail, it would make more sense to throw them a bone and conduct the delinquency sweep within the amnesty period.
Portions of the program were discussed at a finance committee meeting held just prior to the council meeting.
Present at the meeting were council members Michael Summers (Ward 3), Mary Louise Madigan (Ward 4), and Kevin Butler (Ward 1). Also present from the finance department were Pae, Assistant Finance Director Keith Schuster, Income Tax Supervisor Bridget Ebenger-Balla, and Municipal Income Tax Division Manager Patricia Chittock.
Chittock said the city hasn’t offered a tax amnesty program in at least 20 years. She noted that the city of Euclid recently brought in an estimated $150,000 during their amnesty period. “Every city that has tried it has had success with it,” she said.
Compared to Lakewood’s program, Euclid’s amnesty offering (.PDF) seems to feature better incentives.
In Euclid, for instance, a deadbeat who files delinquent taxes and makes full payment within 10 days would not have to pay penalty or interest. At the 30-day mark, they would pay only the overdue tax plus 50% of the interest and no penalty. At the 90-day mark, they would pay late taxes and full interest without penalty.
Chittock estimated the cost for the amnesty program to be around $10,000. 80% of the expenses are expected be postage-related. Overtime costs would consume the other 20%.
She said the city is only going back seven years, but has identified several thousands of people with an unknown tax status and thousands of people who definitely owe the city money. She didn’t provide any exact numbers, but when Councilperson Summers recapped the meeting to council, he said around 2,000 people had an unknown tax status and another 1,000 individuals were known to be delinquent.
The contract with Cleveland was vetted by the mayor and the law department and e-mailed to each city council member for review. The contract was not posted on the city’s Web site for public review.
Cleveland will get a small cut of the action for each Lakewood debt they collect ranging on average between 1.5% to 3%, with a maximum of 5%.
Status of Dick Jacobs’ estate tax situation unknown
Councilperson Summers noted during the committee meeting that council was about three months overdue in examining the status of several different city cost variables, including health care benefit costs.
Finance Director Pae said the city has seen fewer claims since going to the 90/10 healthcare insurance split and they are down about 5% from last year.
Pae indicated her second in command, Keith Schuster, was in the process of stringing together revenue projections. She said property taxes will be down, and state provided funding will likely decrease. Personal income tax revenue has been flat so far, Pae said, and considering the rising rate of unemployment numbers, close attention is being paid to the July 31st deadline when Lakewood residents must submit their next estimated quarterly income tax payment.
The city is not counting on receiving any extraordinary windfall from the recent death of former Cleveland Indians owner Richard Jacobs. His estate is still working its way through probate court. Pae said estate executors have as long as nine months before they need to file their tax liability information with the state. “An estate that large could go on for years,” she said.
Summers recalled that Shaker Heights received $10 million in estate taxes when the founder of Swagelok passed away. Someone else mentioned that Bay Village received a nice chuck of change when David Jacobs (Richard’s brother) died, but actually had to refund some of the loot after the tax assessment was challenged.
Shuster said Lakewood probably wouldn’t see anything until late next year at the earliest. Summers wondered if maybe it should be used to pay down city debts.
Council sharpening 2010 budget knife
Councilperson Madigan said council needs to bring city department heads in and ask them, “Where are your changes for 2010? What have you done to save money?” Three sections she wants to review for cost savings are human services, public works, and the fire department.
Summers said he was going to meet with the mayor and draw-up an early plan of attack. He seemed interested in trying to figure out how much money the city might save by renegotiating health care insurance benefits during the collective bargaining negotiations scheduled for the end of the year.
Pae said the city can’t even count on property taxes to increase as they had during previous property reappraisal cycles. “I mean, we’re going backwards,” she said.
Time to buy Councilperson Madigan a telescope?
Councilperson Antonio and Councilperson Madigan introduced the first reading of an anti-idling ordinance. The purpose of the proposed law is to prohibit most vehicles within the city from idling their engines for – depending on the situation – more than 5 to 10 minutes during any 60-minute time period. The intent of the law is to improve air quality and promote fuel conservation.
When a law this lame and unenforceable comes down the pike, one begins to wonder if certain council people are spending enough time walking through their respective wards.
Madigan should travel to the top of her Gold Coast tower and point a telescope towards the belly of the beloved Fighting Fourth Ward.
What’s the priority…
idling or tackling the out of control signage in the parking lot of Sam’s Beverage?
What’s the priority….
idling or getting a handle on the overgrown grass and bushes of this house located at 12109 Franklin?
As Shaker Heights Police Chief Scott Lee told the Sun Press regarding his city’s consideration of a similar anti-idling law: “In speaking with the police chief in South Euclid, I found out that they really couldn’t enforce any tangible time limit because they would have to have an officer standing there for 60 minutes.”
And that’s all anyone needs to know about Antonio, Madigan and this dopey ordinance, which will be debated further at the rules and ordinances committee.
Easter Seals to receive abandoned shopping carts
Council unanimously approved an ordinance that will allow the public works director to donate to Easter Seals approximately 60 unclaimed shopping carts the city currently has possession of.
Antonio still disagrees with leashed dog walking strategy
Council had the second reading of Thomas Bullock’s (Ward 2) proposal to allow leashed dog walking in Lakewood’s parks.
Five people spoke in favor of the ordinance, including Yvonne Rubin, resident of 14312 Detroit Ave.
She said people are very passionate about this issue. She felt the actions of a few irresponsible dog owners shouldn’t prevent everyone from being able to enjoy the parks. “We should just face the fact that shit happens,” she said.
Councilperson Madigan cautioned the audience against using coarse language.
Coletta Graham, resident of 1268 Chase Ave., opposed the ordinance and facetiously wondered if it was discriminatory in its exclusion of other animals. “Is this going to include cats, rabbits, and ferrets?” she asked.
Councilperson Antonio looked forward to debate on the matter, but still harbored reservations about the costs and responsibilities of enforcing the ordinance. “I continue to disagree with the strategy of leaving this up to the public works director,” she said.
The proposed ordinance was referred to the public safety committee for more discussion.
Due to the interest in the subject, Councilperson Madigan asked that the committee meeting be scheduled in the evening so that it would be more convenient for citizens to attend. Days later, the committee meeting was held at 8:00 a.m.
Deferred discussion on liquor permit application for El Tango Taqueria
Not all council members had a chance to read the police department’s liquor license report about El Tango Taqueria. Councilperson Summers (Ward 3) said he had “some concerns” about what he read in the report, and wanted to speak with the ward 3 police officer about the situation. Councilperson Bullock read the report and didn’t think it was big deal. Council voted to defer a vote on the matter until their next meeting.
2010 federal census outreach efforts
Lakewood’s population has been shrinking for the last several years and there is a very real concern it could drop below 50,000 and inhibit the city’s ability to access a sizeable pot of federal money.
Councilwoman Madigan said it is “critical to maintain federal funding” and wants to see the administration’s outreach plans to ensure the city doesn’t get the short shrift.
To her credit, Madigan said she hoped the pro-dog walking residents in the audience would be just as interested in census situation.
The police department is getting a $16,000 federal grant to be used to upgrade their 10-year-old computer server and CAD and records management system. They are also getting a $62,000 grant from the state to help pay the salaries of officers who are involved in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) program.
Public Works Director Joseph Beno received authorization from council to get an extra $80,000 (from $120k to $200k) for concrete repair work at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Councilperson Bullock asked for more information and Beno said it had something to do with unexpected problems being discovered in underground tanks and tunnels.
Council also approved Beno’s request to fork over the city’s contribution of $120,110 to ODOT for the replacement of 13 traffic signals on Clifton Blvd. Construction will begin in the fall and will take about a year.
The United Stated EPA awarded the city $166,400 for diesel exhaust retrofit equipment.
The city wants to unload a vacant parcel of land located on Sloane Ave that it acquired from Bonnie Bell, Inc. in 1983. The parcel sits between two houses, not far from the new Blackbird Bakery, and isn’t suitable for building.
Mayor FitzGerald said the number of city households participating in the mandatory recycling program is “increasing dramatically” and will share the statistics with council soon.
Clifton Apartment Dweller Edward McCartney mentioned Graber Dr. is missing a street sign. He also spoke about redressing grievances and referenced The Book of Luke. He wanted to include a reference to the Declaration of Independence, but ran out of time.
Coletta Graham, of 1268 Chase Ave., described herself as being “aghast” after reading a recent Plain Dealer article that outlined the area’s shrinking population. “Where did all these people go,” she wondered. Councilperson Butler said they are likely moving to faster growing suburbs in other areas. “It’s just really sad,” Graham said. She remembered when Lakewood’s population was 75,000.
Graham asked Pubic Works Director Beno how many workers in his department have been laid-off since the mayor appointed him. He said one person in engineering and 5 people in refuse.