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WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Dec. 7, 2017
AP: FBI gave heads-up to fraction of Russian hackers’ US targets
The Associated Press reported the FBI failed to notify scores of U.S. officials that Russian hackers were trying to break into their personal Gmail accounts despite having evidence for at least a year that the targets were in the Kremlin’s crosshairs. Nearly 80 interviews with Americans targeted by Fancy Bear, a Russian government-aligned cyberespionage group, turned up only two cases in which the FBI had provided a heads-up. Even senior policymakers discovered they were targets only when the AP told them, a situation some described as bizarre and dispiriting. “It’s utterly confounding,” said Philip Reiner, a former senior director at the National Security Council, who was notified by the AP that he was targeted in 2015. “You’ve got to tell your people. You’ve got to protect your people.” The FBI declined to discuss its investigation into Fancy Bear’s spying campaign, but did provide a statement that said in part: “The FBI routinely notifies individuals and organizations of potential threat information.”
AP: Big contracts, no storm tarps for Puerto Rico
The Associated Press reported that after Hurricane Maria damaged tens of thousands of homes in Puerto Rico, a newly created Florida company with an unproven record won more than $30 million in contracts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide emergency tarps and plastic sheeting for repairs. Bronze Star LLC never delivered those urgently needed supplies, which even months later remain in demand by hurricane victims on the island. FEMA eventually terminated the contracts, without paying any money, and re-started the process this month to supply more tarps for the island. The earlier effort took nearly four weeks from the day FEMA awarded the contracts to Bronze Star and the day it canceled them. Thousands of Puerto Ricans remain homeless, and many complain that the federal government is taking too long to install tarps. The U.S. territory has been hit by severe rainstorms in recent weeks that have caused widespread flooding.
AP: Why Republicans who once fought budget debt now embrace it
The Associated Press asks: When did Republicans stop worrying and learn to love budget deficits? Over the next decade, their tax plan would add at least $1 trillion to the national debt. That would be on top of an additional $10 trillion in deficits over the same period already being by forecast by the Congressional Budget Office. As a share of the economy, the national debt would be rising to levels last seen during the height of World War II. This borrowing spree would mark a sharp reversal for Republicans who made a career of sounding the alarm that mounting national debt would ultimately crush the economy and perhaps impoverish future generations. So what changed? Republicans gained control of the House and Senate as well as the White House, said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, an advocate for fiscal responsibility. Its all-inclusive control gave the party the leverage to focus on slashing tax cuts, rather than taking the sometimes painful steps required to curb the debt.
San Francisco Chronicle: A year after fire, inspection troubles persist
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a year after the Ghost Ship fire, people are still living in unlawfully converted artist warehouses throughout Oakland, and city officials have yet to fully correct deficiencies in their inspection programs to prevent another disaster. The city still has a backlog of roughly 1,000 commercial properties it has not inspected as required by state law. And 21 of 32 buildings brought to the city’s attention after the Ghost Ship fire for possibly holding unauthorized events or residents remain out of compliance with building and fire codes. Some are used as dwellings. The city acknowledges it probably does not have a full tally on illegally converted buildings or the hazards they may hold. City officials have defended their response to shortcomings that drew scrutiny after the fire, saying they have taken steps to make Oakland safer than it was a year ago.
Sun Sentinel: Downtown development could overwhelm leaky sewer system
The Sun Sentinel reports that Fort Lauderdale’s downtown sewer system was already straining two years ago, but the city kept approvals flowing for thousands of new condos, hotel rooms and stores. A South Florida Sun Sentinel review of development and sewer records shows a system groaning under the city’s momentous growth. A utilities expert said the downtown sewer pump was working at its maximum two years ago and could not support more development. But since then, the city has approved 26 downtown projects with 6,368 residential units, plus 104 hotel rooms, 285,378 square feet of retail and 1 million square feet of office space, records show. No downtown high-rise has been rejected because of the city’s deteriorating infrastructure. With a series of yes votes over the past five years, the city has ushered in the largest sustained period of development in the downtown’s history, records show.
New York Times: Tax victory in sight, Republicans eye next step: Cut spending
The New York Times reports that as the tax cut legislation passed by the Senate hurtles toward final approval, Republicans are preparing to use the swelling deficits made worse by the package as a rationale to pursue their long-held vision: undoing the entitlements of the New Deal and Great Society, leaving government leaner and the safety net skimpier for millions of Americans. Speaker Paul D. Ryan and other Republicans are beginning to express their big dreams publicly, vowing that next year they will move on to changes in Medicare and Social Security. Their nearly $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts, a plan likely to win final approval in the coming days, could be the first step. But their strategy poses enormous risks, not only for millions of Americans who rely on entitlement programs, but also for Republicans who would wade into politically difficult waters, cutting popular benefits for the elderly and working poor just after cutting taxes for profitable corporations.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/02/us/politics/tax-cuts-republicans-entitlements-medicare-social-security.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fus&action=click&contentCollection=us®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=9&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0
Chicago Tribune: Can these Chicago high schools survive?
Theron Averett Jr. was one of 250 students enrolled this year at the South Side’s Tilden High School, which Chicago Public Schools says has room for about 1,900 students. Dwindling enrollment has cut Tilden's budget. The school now offers only a small slate of classes. Tilden's football team forfeited most of its season for a lack of players, leaving homecoming without a game to celebrate. Last year's graduating class, on average, scored 14.5 on the ACT, far short of what's considered college-ready. In Chicago, where funding follows students, Tilden is one of more than a dozen shrinking neighborhood high schools that has been starved of resources. Using academic, demographic and enrollment data — in addition to criteria CPS employed to close 50 schools in 2013 — the Tribune identified 17 neighborhood high schools hardest hit by dwindling enrollment and poor academics.
Des Moines Register: Despite GOP warnings, few Iowa farmers face estate tax
The Des Moines Register reports that if the tax reform packages that have now passed the U.S. House and Senate become law, at least one thing appears likely: The federal estate tax will be slashed and perhaps eliminated altogether. That will represent a victory for Republicans in Iowa’s congressional delegation, who have consistently opposed the tax and argued it unfairly lumps in the state’s farmers with some of the country’s richest families. But a review of federal tax data and nonpartisan research on the subject shows that family farmers and small business owners represent a tiny share of estate tax payers, and that the taxes they owe rarely force them to sell land or quit farming. The number of Iowans paying the estate tax actually numbers in the dozens each year, out of roughly 1.4 million who file federal tax returns each year. IRS data from the last five years shows the number of Iowa taxpayers owing estate taxes ranged from 32 in 2012 to 61 in 2015, and that the vast majority of those probably were not farmers or small business owners.
Topeka Capital-Journal: Official defends free connection to sewer system
The Topeka Capital Journal reports that Riley County Commission Chairman Ron Wells defends a secret deal that enabled his family’s property where he lives on the edge of Manhattan, Kansas, to be connected, free of charge for decades, to the city of Manhattan’s sewer system. The arrangement saving the Wells family thousands of dollars during the past 35 years was stumbled upon by a Riley County environmental health employee looking into the commission chairman’s belated building permit application for work to convert part of a barn into an apartment. County staff were surprised to discover Wells didn’t have county-approved sewer service at two addresses on the property, including the apartment where Wells lives and his mother’s former residence. Wells responded to inquiries from county government colleagues by claiming the existence of an agreement that, since at least 1981, had excluded the payment of monthly fees for sewer lines serving the property.
Boston Globe: Warming waters dim hope for lobster south of Cape Cod
The Boston Globe reports that in the colder waters off the coast of Maine, lobstermen have been hauling in record catches. But south of Cape Cod, where rising sea temperatures have contributed to the decimation of the lobster population, the industry has collapsed. In some areas, catches have plunged 90 percent below their peak in the late 1990s, leaving scant hope that a once-storied fishery can recover. The steep decline has left regulators in a quandary: Should they tighten fishing restrictions in the hope of preserving what’s left of the lobster population? Or accept that conservation efforts may be futile and let lobstermen continue setting thousands of traps? Even scientists who have sought tighter restrictions in hopes of saving the region’s lobster population acknowledge such efforts may be in vain. For an iconic New England industry, the picture is devastating.
Record: Management exodus at N.J. Transit
The Record reports that NJ Transit lost a quarter of its railroad managers in the two years prior to a fatal 2016 crash in Hoboken, according to a document the agency sent to federal regulators. The exodus squeezed the agency from both sides: As 49 of NJ Transit's most senior rail supervisors retired between January 2014 and July 2016, a group of younger potential replacements, including some who were considered rising stars, left the agency for jobs from Connecticut to Florida. The Record and NorthJersey.com obtained the list through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal Railroad Administration. A total of 93 managers left NJ Transit from January 2014 to July 2016. There were 376 rail management positions then. The names of the 93 managers who left the agency were redacted from the documents The Record received. However, the documents do show the titles, departments and years of experience they had.
Newark Star Ledger: NJ Environmentalists use new strategy to fight pipelines
The Newark Star Ledger reports that over the years, environmental groups opposed to the expansion of oil and natural gas pipelines across the nation have tried various ways to fight against pipeline projects. Now, Garden State environmental advocates think they've found a way to stop pipeline companies from acquiring the land they need in the first place, and a pipeline project in New Jersey may serve as the legal battleground. The New Jersey Conservation Foundation has sued the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the grounds that the agency's use of eminent domain to take over land for the construction of interstate natural gas pipelines is often unconstitutional. The NJCF is represented by the Eastern Environmental Law Center and the Columbia University Environmental Law Clinic. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in November, cites the Fifth Amendment requirement that any eminent domain action be made for "public use.
News and Observer: Faulty radios put prison officers in danger
The News and Observer reports that more than a dozen current and former prison employees described in interviews a potentially life-threatening problem: The two-way radios that officers are issued often don’t work properly, leaving them without a crucial safety tool. The disclosures – made by officers who worked at nine different prisons – come during a deadly time for North Carolina’s prison employees. Since April, five workers have died as a result of attacks inside the prisons. In response to questions from the Observer, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety said that managers have directed all prisons “to inventory and assess their radios and PA systems.” But prison leaders say better technology has made radios more reliable, and that only 5 percent of radios now malfunction. They say they are quick to repair and replace broken radios.
Dallas Morning News: More women jailed in Texas though arrests dropped
The Dallas Morning News reports that across Texas, the number of women awaiting trial in county jails has jumped by 48 percent since 2011, according to an analysis of state data. At the peak this year in August, more than 6,300 women were jailed before trial, up from under 4,000 in early 2011. Using monthly headcounts that sheriffs reported to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the newspaper found significant increases in women inmates at many jails, especially in rural counties. During the same time period, men in Texas county jails pretrial increased only 11 percent. The surge doesn’t seem to reflect a crime wave. The number of women getting arrested has actually dropped by 20 percent since 2011, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. (Arrest data don’t necessarily reflect every time an inmate is jailed.)
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK
AP: Toxic algae: Once a nuisance, now a severe nationwide threat
The Associated Press reported Lake Erie and other waterways are choked with algae that’s sickening people, killing animals and hammering the economy. The scourge is escalating from occasional nuisance to severe, widespread hazard, overwhelming government efforts to curb a leading cause: fertilizer runoff from farms. Pungent, sometimes toxic blobs are fouling waterways from the Great Lakes to Chesapeake Bay, from the Snake River in Idaho to New York’s Finger Lakes and reservoirs in California’s Central Valley. Tourism and recreation have suffered. An international water skiing festival in Milwaukee was canceled in August; scores of swimming areas were closed nationwide. Algae are essential to food chains, but these tiny plants and bacteria sometimes multiply out of control. Within the past decade, outbreaks have been reported in every state, a trend likely to accelerate as climate change boosts water temperatures.
AP: Radioactive waste continues to leak at Illinois nuclear plants
The Associated Press reported radioactive waste continues to pour from Exelon's Illinois nuclear power plants more than a decade after the discovery of chronic leaks led to national outrage, a $1.2 million government settlement and a company vow to guard against future accidents, an investigation by a government watchdog group found. Since 2007, there have been at least 35 reported leaks, spills or other accidental releases in Illinois of water contaminated with radioactive tritium, a byproduct of nuclear power production and a carcinogen at high levels, a Better Government Association review of federal and state records shows. No fines were issued for the accidents, all of which were self-reported by the company. The most recent leak of 35,000 gallons occurred over two weeks in May and June at Exelon's Braidwood plant, southwest of Chicago.
Birmingham News: Why Alabama locks up teens as adults
The Birmingham News reports that in Alabama, unlike in most other states, teens who are 16 and 17 are automatically charged as adults for certain crimes, including burglary and murder. Advocates expect reforms to come before the Legislature next year. ="We are in a minority of states that continue to follow a process that I think legislators and constituents and other jurisdictions have decided is barbaric," said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been advocating for juvenile justice system reform. In Alabama, kids as young as 14 can be charged as adults if a juvenile court judge so orders after reviewing a case. But during the "tough on crime" 1990s, state legislators passed a law that bypasses judges and prosecutors for some crimes and some kids. If a 16 or 17-year-old is accused of one of the felonies on the list, they're charged as an adult. There's no judicial review where a judge decides what's appropriate. Prosecutors don't get much leeway.
Washington Post: When will sexual abuse in Olympic sports end?
The Washington Post reports more than 290 coaches and officials associated with the United States’ Olympic sports organizations have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct since 1982, according to the newspaper’s review of sport governing body banned lists, news clips and court records in several states. The figure spans parts of 15 sports and amounts to an average of eight adults connected to an Olympic organization accused of sexual misconduct every year — or about one every six weeks — for more than 36 years. The figure includes more than 175 officials convicted of sex crimes as well as those who never faced criminal charges and have denied claims, such as Andy Gabel, an Olympian and former U.S. Speed skating president banned from the sport in 2013 after two women alleged he forced himself on them; and Don Peters, the 1984 Olympic gymnastics coach banned after two women alleged he had sex with them when they were teenagers.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/every-six-weeks-for-more-than-36-years-when-will-sex-abuse-in-olympic-sports-end/2017/11/17/286ae804-c88d-11e7-8321-481fd63f174d_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_olyabuse-137pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.a0551935c83b
Arizona Daily Star: Unapproved economics class tied to Koch network
The Arizona Daily Star reports Tucson’s largest school district has allowed a controversial economics class with a biased textbook and ties to the Koch network to slip through the cracks and be taught at four high schools without being properly vetted or approved. Now, in the middle of the second year of the yearlong class, the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board is scrambling to decide what to do with students who are currently enrolled and grappling with the consequences of having already graduated students who technically didn’t take an approved, required economics class. Critics of the class say the way it was quietly inserted into district curriculum highlights the worst aspects of both the Koch network and TUSD — that the former is attempting to fund an ideological revolution through its clandestine infiltration of public institutions, and the latter is too incompetent to notice a contentious, unapproved course in its schools.
San Francisco Chronicle: “Build-it-yourself” handguns bypass tough state laws
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the man who shot five people to death on a rampage through a small town in the northern Central Valley couldn’t buy guns legally, but by building his own untraceable weapons, he was able to amass an illegal arsenal. Kevin Janson Neal used at least two homebuilt semiautomatic rifles to massacre his wife and four other residents of Rancho Tehama Reserve in Tehama County, authorities who seized the weapons said. Such “ghost guns” are slipping through a loophole in California’s tough firearms laws, according to gun control proponents. One manufacturer of the technology that makes such weapons easy to build says the state’s tough-on-guns stance has created a demand for workarounds that is making him rich.
Miami Herald: Florida deletes online inspections of troubled nursing homes
The Miami Herald reports how it and other media wrote extensively about the troubling regulatory history at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills where 13 frail elders died last September in the sweltering aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which knocked out the home’s cooling system. The newspaper also reported on AHCA’s subsequent decision to heavily redact state reports on nursing homes.. Soon after, with no announcement or notice, AHCA wiped its website clean of all nursing home inspections, shielding the industry to the detriment of consumers. Online, AHCA now refers consumers to a separate website managed by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, though that site does not include as much material as the state previously provided. AHCA does maintain spreadsheets online that rate homes on a host of criteria, and allow consumers to compare.
Chicago Tribune: Sandhill cranes bounce back from brink
The Chicago Tribune reports you can once again hear the rolling bugle call of long-necked sandhill cranes gliding overhead. They are appearing with increased frequency across northern Illinois, part of a widespread regional recovery. Once nearly vanished from the Midwest, sandhill cranes have bounced back and returned by the thousands. The population is booming. “It’s an incredible recovery. It’s one of the best Midwest bird stories,” said Rich Beilfuss, president and CEO of the International Crane Foundation. “They’re back in people’s lives in a way we really haven’t seen in a while.” In the 1930s, only two dozen breeding pair of sandhill cranes lived in Wisconsin. The population in the upper Midwest is now between 65,000 and 95,000, researchers estimate. The biggest boost for the sandhill cranes’ re-emergence in the region, scientists say, is the conservation and restoration of wetlands, marshes and prairies, the birds’ preferred habitat for nesting and breeding.
Lexington Herald-Leader: Kentucky taxes coffins but not tombstones
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports how for 41 years Kentucky has given a tax break to the bereaved: When a loved one dies, you don’t have to pay the state’s 6 percent sales tax when buying a gravestone. The report is the fifth in a series of stories about tax breaks and incentive programs that cost Kentucky billions of dollars each year, leaving lawmakers little money to fix Kentucky’s ailing pension systems. The tombstone tax exemption is one of hundreds on the books that cost Kentucky about $13 billion a year. That’s more than the state collects in taxes for its General Fund each year. Aside from the headstone exemption, all the other tangible goods used in a funeral — caskets, flowers, urns, stationary — get taxed when they’re bought by a funeral home. “We exempt far too many things,” Gov. Matt Bevin recently told the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “We have tax exemptions to the tune of billions and billions of dollars that other states don’t have.”
Baltimore Sun: Baltimore resident: “I don’t really feel safe anywhere anymore.”
The Baltimore Sun reports that even in a city where crime seems like a chronic rather than an episodic disease, the recent string of killings, shootings and robberies has felt qualitatively different. Mayor Catherine Pugh says the violence is out of control. Three years into a historic spike in killing, it’s not clear that anyone has any idea how to curtail it. In conversations private and public, in neighborhood gathering spaces and on social media, fear is rising. On Nov. 15, Baltimore showed it still had the capacity to shock, in the fatal shooting of police Detective Sean Suiter. The 18-year veteran, who joined the homicide unit in 2015, as the violence began rising, was investigating one of last year’s 318 killings. He became this year’s 309th. The shooter remained at large, even as police descended on the Harlem Park neighborhood, shut down streets and banged on doors in search of the suspect or evidence that would lead to him.
Maine Sunday Telegram: State largely ignores role as seas grow more acidic
The Maine Sunday Telegram reports that at last week’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Germany an issue of vital importance to Maine fishermen and shellfish growers took the international spotlight: the increasing acidity of the sea, which is making it harder for some shellfish to grow their shells. The governors of Washington state and Oregon joined the fisheries minister of Fiji, the meeting’s official host nation, to announce the expansion of a year-old international alliance to combat the problem. It now includes four states, two Canadian provinces and nine national governments. Maine isn’t one of them, nor was anyone from Maine state government at the conference. Nearly three years ago, a bipartisan panel of experts convened by the Legislature concluded that ocean acidification – a byproduct of global warming – represented a potentially catastrophic threat to Maine’s marine harvesters and issued a series of recommendations. But state government and legislators have done little to implement the panel’s recommendations.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Gun-related cases running at 20-year highs
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports Minnesota prosecutors have taken aim at criminals with guns, sending more to prison for gun-related convictions than at any time in at least two decades. In 2015 and 2016, prosecutors statewide received about 1,200 gun-related cases each year from police, according to a report from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission. That’s up more than 50 percent from a decade earlier and more than double the cases forwarded for prosecution in 1996. Lawmakers recently toughened the penalties for illegal possession, extending the law to bullets. Defense attorneys say that this year they’re seeing more gun charges going to trial than ever before. The bulk of the cases come from Hennepin County, where prosecutors have collaborated with the U.S. attorney’s office to go after illegal gun possession. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman forbids prosecutors from being lenient on guns to strike plea deals.
Mississippi Press: Mayor removes Mississippi state flag from city hall
The Mississippi Press reports that on Shea Dobson's first day in office July 3, he made the decision to return the Mississippi state flag to the flagpole outside his office window at Ocean Springs City Hall. Dobson's decision reversed the action of his predecessor, Connie Moran, who had the flag removed years earlier. Earlier this week, however, Dobson changed course and had the flag taken down after months of complaints and protests from those opposed to the state flag, which has become a source of division among Mississippians for the inclusion of the Confederate battle emblem. "It wasn't an easy decision," Dobson told The Mississippi Press. "But it had become clear it was affecting a lot of people in the community, affecting business, affecting our ability to get things done and move forward, so I made the tough call to take it down."
The Record: Write-in candidates successful across New Jersey
The Record reports voters went to the polls across New Jersey on Nov. 7 to find school board races without any candidates, or races where there were more seats than people on the ballot. These seats were clinched by write-in votes — in one case, as few as eight. In recent years, interest in school board positions has waned and more races have attracted just one candidate or none at all. Political activists say communities lose out when they don’t have a rigorous debate on education issues, but they acknowledge the difficulty in fielding school candidates in a state with nearly 600 school districts, some of which are so small that they have just one school. Across New Jersey, there were 128 school board positions on the ballot without candidates, out of a total 1,590 seats up for grabs in the election.. Another 758 seats were uncontested, meaning they attracted just one candidate, not exactly a picture of vibrant democracy.
Newark Star Ledger: More guns on streets in New Jersey. Question is Why
The Newark Star Ledger reports the guns being taken off the streets in Newark, New Jersey, these days often range from the firepower of a combat weapon, to modern semi-automatics little different than those carried by police. And in a place where gang violence and illicit drug dealing account for much of its serious crime, there has been a big surge this year in the number that are turning up. Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said what they are seeing is far different from the cheap "Saturday Night Specials" that were once a staple of urban violet crime. Last month in Newark, a search by police of a rental car driven by North Carolina man turned up two revolvers, a semi-automatic pistol and an AR-15 military-style rifle. Already this year, 449 weapons have been recovered or seized in the state's largest city, up from 377 during the same period a year ago, according to Ambrose.
New York Times: When unpaid student loans mean you can no longer work
The New York Times reports few people realize that the loans they take out to pay for their education could eventually derail their careers. But in 19 states, government agencies can seize state-issued professional licenses from residents who default on their educational debts. Another state, South Dakota, suspends driver’s licenses, making it nearly impossible for people to get to work. As debt levels rise, creditors are taking increasingly tough actions to chase people who fall behind on student loans. Going after professional licenses stands out as especially punitive. Firefighters, nurses, teachers, lawyers, massage therapists, barbers, psychologists and real estate brokers have all had their credentials suspended or revoked. Determining the number of people who have lost their licenses is impossible because many state agencies and licensing boards don’t track the information.
Oregonian: How Oregon let clean energy program enrich rule beakers
The Oregonian reports a Seattle-based energy consultant and the state employee he’s accused of bribing became the public faces of corruption charges at the Oregon Department of Energy after their arrests last summer. But it wasn’t one rogue employee who enabled consultant Martin Shain to reap $12 million in green energy tax credits for solar projects that should have failed to qualify, according to thousands of records reviewed by The Oregonian/OregonLive. Four other Energy Department employees, including the director, helped Shain obtain the credits by circumventing program rules and ignoring deadlines lawmakers insisted on. None of the four has been accused of wrongdoing. All four employees declined to answer questions about their particular roles in greenlighting the tax credits. But records illustrate that officials scrambled to ensure success of the politically high-profile project. Documents also show how the culture of the agency contributed to the misuse of millions in taxpayer funds.
Dallas Morning News: The airlines are packing ‘em in for profit
The Dallas Morning News reports that as travelers head to the airports this holiday season, those who haven’t flown for a while could be forgiven for wondering if the plane is a bit more cramped than they remembered. For decades, airlines have worked to find new ways to fit as many seats as possible on their aircraft, a trend that hasn’t let up even as carriers are coming off a stretch of record profits that in 2016 totaled $13.5 billion industrywide. But with labor costs rising and gas prices and airport fees steadily inching upward, the pressure is on to control expenses and keep revenue growing apace. Packing even a few more seats onto an aircraft is an efficient way to spread costs over more passengers and ideally earn a few more dollars per flight.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Nov. 16, 2017
AP Exclusive: Russia Twitter trolls deflected Trump bad news
The Associated Press reported disguised Russian agents on Twitter rushed to deflect scandalous news about Donald Trump just before last year's presidential election while straining to refocus criticism on the mainstream media and Hillary Clinton's campaign. An AP analysis of since-deleted accounts shows tweets by Russia-backed accounts such as "America_1st_" and "BatonRougeVoice" on Oct. 7, 2016, actively pivoted away from news of an audio recording in which Trump made crude comments about groping women, and instead touted damaging emails hacked from Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta. AP's analysis illuminates the obvious strategy behind the Russian cyber meddling: swiftly react, distort and distract attention from any negative Trump news.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/ap-exclusive-russia-twitter-trolls-deflected-bad-trump-news/2017/11/09/cab7945c-c560-11e7-9922-4151f5ca6168_story.html?utm_term=.a0c8a8e9e440
Arizona Republic: Foster care boards don’t look like their communities
The Arizona Republic reports that experts have long recognized inequalities in America's child-welfare system: When kids share identical circumstances except for race, black and Native American children enter foster care more often, spend more time in the system and wait longer to be adopted. In an attempt to ensure fair treatment for kids taken from their parents, Arizona lawmakers decades ago mandated that Foster Care Review Boards — which help decide the fates of children in foster care — mirror the races, ethnicities and income levels of the communities they serve. They don't. Though children of color represent about 60 percent of kids in out-of-home care, Foster Care Review Boards are overwhelmingly overwhelmingly white. State records indicate nearly 90 percent of board members in Maricopa County and 100 percent of board members in six other counties identify as "Anglo American."
Miami Herald: Want to see emergency plan for mom’s nursing home? Good luck
The Miami Herald reports that to protect the elderly and disabled residents of Florida’s 683 nursing homes from the ravages of an Irma-like storm or other disaster, state law requires that administrators submit detailed emergency plans to regulators every year. Will residents have enough food and water to survive a prolonged siege? Where will they go during a mandatory evacuation? How will they get there? Is there a generator to operate air-conditioning systems or respirators? But if viewing the emergency management plan is on your checklist of things to do before moving a loved one into a South Florida nursing home, good luck. What information is available points to a troubling reality: Many of the plans will be of little help the next time a hurricane rumbles through.
Orlando Sentinel: Election officials say online voter registration a “great tool”
The Orlando Sentinel reports most people do just about everything online today. They pay their bills. They make hotel reservations and file their income tax returns. Now, residents can use their computers to register to vote or change their party affiliation as Florida recently joined 35 other states and the District of Columbia to offer online voter registration. Central Florida elections officials are lauding the online service as a “great tool” that will encourage more people to sign up to vote and improve the accuracy of voter rolls. “The online voter registration process has opened the door to a lot of folks who have not previously registered to vote,” said Michael Ertel, Seminole County Supervisor of Elections. “When I first registered to vote back in the late ’80s, I had to take a forward step. I had to go to the supervisor of elections office. Since that time, elections offices have come to the voters.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Pison hospital a breeding ground for infection
The Atlanta Journal-Constitutional reports the unsafe and unsanitary conditions at Georgia’s flagship prison medical facility are worse than previously reported and could jeopardize the health of inmates already dealing with cancer and other serious illnesses, newly obtained photos and documents reveal. Photos obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the last two weeks show standing water and filth from leaking ceilings only feet away from the operating room, pads on the floor to soak up leaking rain water and air vents covered with dust and other debris at Augusta State Medical Prison. The AJC has also obtained recent letters and emails in which two inmates diagnosed with cancer described broken and dirty toilets and showers as well as other germ-related issues in the dormitories where they were required to recover after surgery. Both inmates said they found the place so unsanitary that they would resist further treatment if they had to have it there.
Times-Picayune: How city council spent $155,000 in travel expenses
The Times Picayune reports the prospect of new malls and retail outlets was enticing enough to attract New Orleans City Council staff and two council members themselves to Las Vegas in May 2016. The trip cost taxpayers a combined $14,230 in travel expenses, however, raising questions about what benefit their fact-finding and promotional efforts brought to the city's economy. Records show that wasn't the only retail conference trip to Vegas for Council members Jared Brossett, Nadfine Ramsey and James Gray or their staff. They each went at least once more or sent staffers, spending a combined $36,158 in Las Vegas trips over four years. Those were among dozens of out-of-state trips taken by six out of the council's seven members or their staff using city-issued credit cards in the past five years, according to a NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune analysis of credit card records. In all, council credit cards were charged more than $155,300 for out-of-state trips since 2013, records show.
Baltimore Sun: Gun arrests decline after indictments of gun task force members
The Baltimore Sun reports the corruption indictments this year against Baltimore’s elite Gun Trace Task Force has produced an unintended — and undesirable — consequence: a major decline in gun arrests in the city. As Baltimore struggles under surging gun violence, gun arrests are down 25 percent from last year. Much of the decline has come from the police department’s operational intelligence division, of which the task force was a part. The division has made 277 fewer gun arrests this year, a 67 percent drop. Police spokesman T.J. Smith said the dissolution of the task force in March has been a factor. The end to “their methodology of work certainly has contributed to a decline in gun arrests,” Smith said, adding that some of the successes claimed by the unit “might not have been lawful arrests.” The task force was assigned a job that Police Commissioner Kevin Davis described as a key to quelling the city’s historic violence: getting illegal guns out of the hands of trigger-pullers.
Minnesota Star Tribune: Abused, ignored in senior homes across Minnesota
The Minnesota Star Tribune reports that every year hundreds of residents at senior care centers around the state are assaulted, raped or robbed in crimes that leave lasting trauma and pain for the victims and their families. Yet the vast majority of these crimes are never resolved, and the perpetrators never punished, because state regulators lack the staff and expertise to investigate them. And thousands of complaints are simply ignored. State records examined by the Star Tribune show the scale of the failure. Last year alone, the Minnesota Department of Health received 25,226 allegations of neglect, physical abuse, unexplained serious injuries, and thefts in state-licensed homes for the elderly. Ninety-seven percent were never investigated. That includes 2,025 allegations of physical or emotional abuse by staff, 4,100 reports of altercations between residents and 300 reported drug thefts.
Kansas City Star: Kansas: “One of the most secretive, darkest states”
The Kansas City Star reports that Kansas runs one of the most secretive state governments in the nation, and its secrecy permeates nearly every aspect of service. From the governor’s office to state agencies, from police departments to business relationships to health care, on the floors of the House and Senate, a veil has descended over the years and through administrations on both sides of the political aisle, the Star found in a months-long investigation. “My No. 1 question to anybody who opts in favor of nondisclosure is, ‘What are you trying to hide from us?’” said former Rep. John Rubin, a Johnson County Republican, calling Kansas “one of the most secretive, dark states in the country in many of these areas.” The examples, when stitched together, form a quilt of secrecy that envelops much of state government. Many lawmakers who have attempted more openness in government say accountability has withered in Gov. Sam Brownback’s era.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: How states spend your money on Hollywood
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports that although Florida has sunny skies, beautiful beaches and luxurious locations to shoot movies and TV shows, it lacks one key attraction: lucrative tax credits. As a result, the cameras have shut off, and the stars have moved to other states. Even HBO's Ballers, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, which glamorizes South Beach, left for California after Florida's tax incentives dried up. The situation in Florida has played out in states across the nation, an investigation by the USA TODAY Network found. Some states have increased public spending to bring in shows and films, creating a competition among New York, California, Georgia, Louisiana and other states with big incentives. But other states like Florida, Wisconsin and Michigan have done away with their programs, concluding the tax breaks weren't producing enough of a return on investment.
Philadelphia Inquirer: A $1 million clause in gaming bill for a casino
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that in a last-minute maneuver before the state Senate last month passed a sweeping expansion of casino gambling in Pennsylvania, lawmakers added a 28-word amendment, cloaked in legalese tucked halfway into the 939-page bill. Pennsylvania has 12 casinos. But that single sentence could be worth millions of dollars to one: Mount Airy Casino Resort. The bill paved the way for so-called mini-casinos to open around the state, requiring only that they be at least 25 miles from one of the larger, established gambling halls. More important, it guarantees that the Mount Pocono destination remains the closest and most accessible casino for the thousands of New Yorkers who flock each week to the commonwealth to gamble.
Dallas Morning News: Pain creams caused death, cost government millions
The Dallas Morning News reports the Harris County medical examiner ruled that 22-year-old Desiree Ford’s November 2014 death was caused by toxic effects of two drugs in the pain cream she used, which came from a Houston compounding pharmacy called Diamond Pharmacy. The doctor who prescribed it, Michael Kelly, never talked to or examined Ford. But he did take a kickback for writing the script, prosecutors said. Kelly and four others connected to the pharmacy were convicted of fraud in federal court in Houston for the $17 million scheme. Kelly, 71, who surrendered his medical license, died earlier this year before he could be sentenced. Federal prosecutors are bringing similar fraud cases against doctors, pharmacies and marketers from Dallas to Houston to the border. The feds say they bilked taxpayers out of millions of dollars and endangered patients with the dubious creams, some costing as much as $28,000 per container.
Seattle Times: County that voted for Trump shaken as immigrants disappear
The Seattle Times reports that many in Pacific County thought President Donald Trump would take away “drug dealers, criminals, rapists” with his immigration crackdown, but they were shocked to see who started to go missing. That kind of shock is reverberating throughout the county as Trump’s toughened immigration policy hits home. ICE has arrested at least 28 people in the county this year, according to numbers provided to the Sheriff’s Office. While that’s just a small share of the roughly 3,100 ICE arrests overseen by its regional office in Seattle it represents a pronounced upward trajectory. In a county of small, close-knit communities — Long Beach, population 1,400, is one of the largest — it’s noticed when someone goes missing. The number is magnified by those who have moved, gone into hiding or followed family after a deportation. People have lost neighbors, schools have lost students and businesses have lost employees.
Read more: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/northwest/fear-regrets-as-pacific-county-residents-go-missing-amid-immigration-crackdown-police-chief-neighbors-kind-of-in-shock-after-immigration-arrests-in-pacific-county-immigration-crack/
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Nov. 10, 2017
AP: Russia hackers pursued Putin foes, not just US Democrats
The Associated Press reported the hackers who disrupted the U.S. presidential election last year had ambitions that stretched across the globe, targeting the emails of Ukrainian officers, Russian opposition figures, U.S. defense contractors and thousands of others of interest to the Kremlin, according to a previously unpublished digital hit list obtained by The Associated Press. The list provides the most detailed forensic evidence yet of the close alignment between the hackers and the Russian government, exposing an operation that went back years and tried to break into the inboxes of 4,700 Gmail users — from the pope's representative in Kiev to the punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow. The targets were spread among 116 countries. The AP findings draw on a database of 19,000 malicious links collected by cybersecurity firm Secureworks, dozens of rogue emails, and interviews with more than 100 hacking targets.
Miami Herald: Code of silence breaking on Tallahassee’s sex secrets
The Miami Herald reports that for decades, sex has been a tool and a toy for the politically powerful in the male-dominated world of politics in Florida’s capital. Now it’s a weapon. Allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment and infidelity among the state’s legislators flew like shrapnel from a bomb blast in recent weeks, destroying much of the trust left in the Republican-controlled Legislature and replacing it with suspicion and finger pointing. The latest target, Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala, was accused by six unnamed women of inappropriate touching and verbal harassment. Shortly after Politico Florida first reported the allegations, Senate President Joe Negron called them “atrocious and horrendous” and ordered an investigation. Latvala, a Clearwater Republican and candidate for governor, denied the allegations, said he welcomed the probe, and vowed a fight to “clear my name.”
Chicago Tribune: Chicago sees surge in car hijackings in all neighborhoods
The Chicago Tribune reports that with gun violence garnering unflattering national attention for Chicago, carjackings have quietly gone off the charts as well. While shootings and homicides are largely concentrated in impoverished pockets of the South and West sides, carjackings are occurring throughout the city, including the downtown area, Chicago police statistics show. Last year Chicago recorded 663 carjackings, nearly double the 339 in 2015 and the most since 2009, according to the department. And the numbers have shot up even further so far this year. Through Oct. 18, the latest date available, carjackings have totaled 661, nearly equal to all of 2016 and a 44 percent spike from the same period a year ago. Carjackings started to spike last year, when homicides and shootings skyrocketed while crimes in virtually every other category rose.
Arizona Daily Star: Education department misallocated millions of federal funds
The Arizona Daily Star reports that the Arizona Department of Education misallocated tens of millions of dollars from federal special-education funds that it distributed to schools in the past three years, according to a recent federal audit. The department wrongly distributed more than $35 million in federal Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funds — money aimed at paying for special-education teachers and support staff — to schools since 2015. Some schools received too much money and could be forced to repay the funds, while others received too little and will likely see a windfall in the form of repayments over the next few years. The finding comes on the heels of last week’s revelation that the department also misallocated more than $60 million in federal Title I funds designed for low-income schools.
New York Times: National flood insurance program broke and broken
The New York Times reports the government-run National Flood Insurance Program is, for now, virtually the only source of flood insurance for more than five million households in the United States. This hurricane season, as tens of thousands of Americans seek compensation for storm-inflicted water damage, they face a problem: The flood insurance program is broke and broken. The program, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has been in the red since Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in 2005. It still has more than a thousand disputed claims left over from Sandy. And in October, it exhausted its $30 billion borrowing capacity and had to get a bailout just to keep paying current claims. Congress must decide by Dec. 8 whether to keep the program going.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/04/business/a-broke-and-broken-flood-insurance-program.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
Denver Post: Denver heroin users could get supervised injection site
The Denver Post reports that in semi-private booths, each with a chair and a mirror, Denver heroin users could shoot up with clean needles, no threat of arrest and under the supervision of staff trained to jump in with a life-saving antidote in case of overdose. It would look more like a medical clinic than a party lounge, with floors and furniture that workers could hose down in the event of vomit or blood spills. Staffers would hand out sterile needles and possibly distilled water, but clients would bring their own drugs to cook and inject. It’s called a supervised injection site, and Denver is on a path to become one of the first U.S. cities to open one — although doing so would require action by the City Council, the state legislature and possibly the federal government. Seattle and San Francisco, ahead of Denver in planning, are attempting to open the first sites in this country, although there are more than 100 around the world.
Washington Post: Chasing a killer known as monkeypox
The Washington Post reports a team of American scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is traveling deep into the Congo rain forest to solve a decades-old mystery about a rare and fatal disease: monkeypox. A cousin to the deadly smallpox virus, the monkeypox virus initially infects people through contact with wild animals and can then spread from person to person. The disease produces fever and a rash that often turns into painful lesions that can feel like cigarette burns. It kills up to 1 in 10 of its victims, similar to pneumonic plague, and is particularly dangerous in children. Monkeypox is on the U.S. government list of pathogens such as anthrax and Ebola with the greatest potential to threaten human health. There is no cure. Over the past year, reports of monkeypox have flared alarmingly across Africa, one of several animal-borne diseases that have raised anxiety around the globe
Courier-Journal: Call for resignation of law makers hiding sexual harassment
The Courtier-Journal reports that demands from key Republicans grew for resignations of anyone involved in a secret settlement of sexual harassment claims by GOP House Speaker Jeff Hoover as the newspaper reported more House members are alleged to be parties to the settlement. Gov. Matt Bevin, Kentucky's top Republican officeholder, led the charge at a hastily called press conference at the Capitol. "These alleged actions, which haven’t been denied, are reprehensible, indefensible and unacceptable," Bevin said. "Any elected official or state employee who has settled a sexual harassment claim should resign immediately. The people of Kentucky deserve better." Eight influential Republican House members also released an extraordinary statement demanding immediate resignations of any House member involved in the settlement. The demand came as the Courier Journal reported three other Republican lawmakers and a staff member were involved in the settlement of sexual harassment claims of a woman who works on Hoover's legislative staff.
Baltimore Sun: Retailers facer new threat: Organized crime
The Baltimore Sun reports simple shoplifting is an unavoidable cost of doing business for retailers, but now, industry analysts and law enforcement officials say, a greater threat is emerging: theft and fraud by highly organized criminal rings. The high-stakes enterprises often operate across state lines. They might employ teams of “boosters” — often the homeless or the drug addicted — who go into stores to steal everything from laundry detergent and baby formula to designer clothes and diamonds. They fence stolen goods at pawn shops, kiosks, vans on the street and, increasingly, online auction sites. And they’re becoming more brazen and more dangerous, analysts say, in some cases attacking store employees and even shoppers. Organized theft has surpassed internal theft to become the leading cause of retail loss, said Robert Moraca, vice president of loss prevention for the National Retail Federation. Analysts say the increase has been fueled by the opioid epidemic and by the growing understanding among criminals that theft can be quick, easy and profitable.
Dallas Morning News: How officials profited on downtown development
The Dallas Morning News reports how City Council members sat in their usual perches last December as the manager of Cedar Hill, a town southwest of Dallas, ran through the agenda and mentioned one item he called a “biggie.’’ Indeed it was big: a plan to pump millions of future tax dollars into street, water and sewer improvements for Cedar Hill’s sagging downtown. Like many other communities in fast-growing North Texas, the council would create a special tax zone — this one meant to entice an estimated $160 million in new development and boost property values in the center of town. The six council members swiftly approved the measure. But they didn’t tell the public that several town officials — including the mayor — and their families owned at least 25 properties inside the zone, an investigation by The Dallas Morning News found.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Sham nonprofit snags and flips properties
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports a sham nonprofit group took advantage of lax oversight by city officials to repeatedly purchase tax foreclosed properties for $1,000. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation found that Inner City Development Project Inc. —a group that city records show falsely claimed to be certified by the IRS as a nonprofit — then sold several of the properties for quick gains, in one case making $44,000 on a north side house it bought one week earlier. Gathan Anderson, a disgraced ex-real estate broker, was involved in at least six of the sales shortly after the city sold the properties to Inner City Development, deeds show. The city routinely charges nonprofit organizations $1,000 for properties it seized through tax foreclosures with the commitment that the group will fix them up. The Journal Sentinel's discovery of the sales, which are documented in City Hall and courthouse records, has sparked frustration and anger among city officials.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Nov. 2, 2017
Arizona Republic: Arizona's KidsCare account is running on fumes.
The Arizona Republic reports Gov. Doug Ducey was not shy in making clear his position on repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. But he's been quiet on another federally funded health-care program: the Children's Health Insurance Program, known in Arizona as KidsCare. It provides health coverage to kids whose families make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to buy insurance on their own. Unlike "Obamacare," as the ACA is known, CHIP has lost its funding because Congress failed to reauthorize the legislation that pays for the program by the Sept. 30 deadline. Arizona's KidsCare account is running on fumes. Boosted by an extra $22 million in leftover federal money, the program is still on track to run out of money by late November. That would force the state to kick more than 23,000 kids off the program.
Sun Sentinel: Florida lets dangerous doctors keep practicing
The Sun Sentinel reports it has been more than nine years since Florida health regulators concluded that Dr. Barry Jack Kaplan botched a woman’s breast implants and shouldn’t practice cosmetic surgery. In the time since, he’s been accused of injuring two other women, one so seriously she had to have her nipples removed.
Florida officials finally decided a year ago to revoke Kaplan’s license – but have yet to follow through. Today, the website for Kaplan’s two cosmetic surgery centers in Central Florida highlights his medical license and boasts that he is a “leading breast augmentation doctor.” When it comes to taking action against doctors, the state of Florida takes its time – and that puts people at risk, a South Florida Sun Sentinel investigation found. Florida regularly allows doctors to continue to see, treat, and operate on people for years after accusing them of endangering patients.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Some campus cops have checkered records
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports many colleges and universities have a quality deficit when it comes to the officers they are hiring to protect students and police their campuses. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found 13 percent of the 1,413 officers working on 63 college campuses across Georgia have been fired or forced out of a previous job. That compares with about 6 percent of officers working at local county or municipal police agencies statewide, according to data obtained in March 2017 from the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST). The AJC analysis comes as police agencies across the country, including schools and colleges, face heightened scrutiny from a public armed with cell phone cameras and demands for better accountability. This month, another cell phone video surfaced that raised fresh questions about the fatal police shooting of a mentally ill Georgia Tech student in September.
Chicago Tribune: Same lake, different water rates
The Chicago Tribune reports Lake Michigan water rates have been surging throughout the Chicago region in recent years, squeezing low-income residents and leaving them with little, if any, recourse. In this tangled network that delivers water to the vast majority of the region’s residents, the Tribune found an upside-down world, one where people in the poorest communities pay more for a basic life necessity than those in the wealthiest. The financial pain falls disproportionately on majority-African-American communities, where residents’ median water bill is 20 percent higher for the same amount of water than residents pay in predominantly white communities, the Tribune’s examination revealed. Consider Ford Heights, a cash-strapped, predominantly African-American suburb south of Chicago. People there pay nearly six times more for the same amount of water than residents of Highland Park, a wealthy, predominantly white town on the North Shore.
Des Moines Register: At Iowa DHC, staffing is down while caseloads go up
The Des Moines Register reports the number of front-line child abuse staffers at Iowa’s Department of Human Services has declined in the past 15 years, caseloads have risen and state funding has failed to keep pace with inflation. With state resources unlikely to improve in the wake of continued budget shortfalls, questions are being raised about whether the agency tasked with attending to Iowa's neediest children can keep pace with increased demands for vigilance following the deaths of two teenage girls. The department reported an increase in calls to its child abuse hotline following the deaths of two Iowa teenagers, Sabrina Ray and Natalie Finn. Despite involvement from state workers, both girls were found dead in their homes — the result of apparent abuse and neglect, allegedly at the hands of their adoptive families.
Arizona Daily Star: Who controls the water? Arizona agencies slug it out
The Arizona Daily Star reports that for three years, federal, state and local water officials have hunted for a solution to declining water levels at Lake Mead, a key drinking-water source for Tucson, Phoenix and their suburbs. But in the past few months, a bitter power struggle between Arizona’s two top water agencies has ground that effort to a halt. The turf war pits the Arizona Department of Water Resources, which manages water issues statewide, against the agency operating the Central Arizona Project, the 336-mile-long canal that brings Colorado River water to Tucson and Phoenix. The agencies are jockeying over a series of issues, many pointing to who controls the state’s most precious resource — and the population growth and jobs it can support. But the conflict also cuts to the heart of how Colorado River water, the lifeblood of the West, will be managed.
Baltimore Sun: Plan to demolish Baltimore’s vacant houses lagging
The Baltimore Sun recalls that Gov. Larry Hogan stood on a blighted street in West Baltimore in January 2016 with a demolition crew ready to get to work. He had heard residents’ calls for action on the vacant row houses that pockmark the city, he said. Now he was pledging $75 million to tear thousands of them down. He would put the Maryland Stadium Authority in charge of the work. The authority, experienced in contracting, sought a firm to oversee the demolition of 4,000 units over four years. Eighteen months later, the stadium authority had spent just $5 million on the effort, the state says. Only 131 houses had been demolished. Baltimore has more than 16,000 vacant houses, the city says. With plans to tear down more buildings mired in the city’s system for approving properties for demolition, the state is turning money over to community organizations to jump-start redevelopment projects instead.
Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/
Boston Globe: Bounce houses are fun but may not be as safe as you think
The Boston Globe reports that inflatable attractions like bounce houses, obstacle courses, and slides, which have increased in popularity in recent decades, may seem less ominous than roller coasters that flip riders upside down or carnival rides that send thrill-seekers whirling through the open air. But they can be just as dangerous, and in many states they are far less regulated. The estimated number of injuries on the attractions soared from 5,311 in 2003 to 17,377 in 2013, according to a Consumer Product Safety Commission report analyzing US hospital records. A Stateline analysis found that the trend continues, with an estimated 20,700 injuries last year. Only half of US states — including New Hampshire and Massachusetts — have regulations governing permits, inspections, and insurance. But even where rules are in place, a Stateline investigation found major shortcomings.
Austin American-Statesman: Nonprofit’s ties to city hall “not improper”
The Austin American-Statesman reports that when Frank Rodriguez took a full-time job working for Austin Mayor Steve Adler in April 2015, he resigned his post atop the nonprofit he co-founded, the Latino HealthCare Forum. But four months into his new government post, Rodriguez emailed his former colleagues at the forum, which still employed his wife, with a tip: Keep an eye out for a possible contract linked to the city’s massive development and zoning code rewrite, known as CodeNext. The message was one among dozens of emails Rodriguez traded with his former colleagues at the forum since joining Adler’s staff. Rodriguez, who denied any improper ties between his work as the mayor’s aide and the nonprofit’s projects, is stepping down Friday because of health issues, a spokesman for the mayor said.
Houston Chronicle: Charities waiting for millions pledged for Harvey relief
The Houston Chronical reports that after Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25, major corporations such as Exxon Mobil Corp., Home Depot Inc. and Kellogg Co. announced big financial pledges to help the people of Texas and Louisiana feed their families and rebuild their homes. Two months later, at least $76 million in pledges from companies, foundations and individuals still has not been delivered to the designated charities, a Houston Chronicle review found. The Chronicle canvassed 18 charities that were among the major recipients of corporate pledges. Of those, nine - including United Way Worldwide and Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund - disclosed the amounts promised to them versus what they have actually received.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Jumps in cost, violence at youth prison
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports costs and reports of violence have both skyrocketed at the state’s troubled youth prison, raising questions about whether the institution has entered a financial tailspin. Counties already are pulling inmates out of Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls, threatening its funding and its future. The 34 percent cost increase — $98 more per inmate per day — and a rash of incidents may cause local officials to send even fewer teenage offenders to the Northwoods prison, which remains under a nearly three-year FBI investigation and a separate federal court order. "It's like rubbing salt in the wound a little," says Kerry Milkie, manager of the Racine County Youth and Family Division. "So we continue to look at alternatives." So does Milwaukee County, which has already cut its transfers to Lincoln Hills by nearly half over the past 20 months and wants to keep up that trend.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Oct. 26, 2017
Arizona Republic: Slapdash bidding process revealed
The Arizona Republic reports that crews, which were given 30 days to do the work, now have about a week left to finish building eight border wall prototypes. As of Friday, Sept. 20, workers had completed six. Despite logistical challenges – given six crews hurriedly working in close quarters – U.S. Customs and Border Protection said construction has gone off without a hitch. But behind that scene was the unusually confusing and haphazard process that hundreds of bidders faced as they tried to submit proposals in March and April to build these prototypes. The USA TODAY Network obtained nearly 200 pages of emails sent to and from a CBP email address that was set up in March for companies to ask questions about the bidding process. They chronicle continuous confusion over the most basic details of the process – deadlines, page counts, how to submit bids, where to submit bids and so on.
Los Angeles Times: New monuments to Confederacy being mounted in Texas
The Los Angeles Times reports that Annette Pernell, a council member in Orange, Texas, was aghast when she heard about plans to construct a Confederate memorial that would be visible from the interstate and loom over Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. But there was nothing she or anybody else could do about it. The land was private. And so the Confederate Memorial of the Wind slowly went up on a grassy half-acre. A total of 13 concrete columns — one for each Confederate state — rise from a circular concrete pedestal. Eventually it will be surrounded by as many as 40 poles topped with Civil War battle flags. “It’s as if we’ve gone backwards,” said Pernell, who is 54 and black. “I didn’t think, at this age, I would see what I’m seeing now. A Confederate memorial is a slap in the face of all Americans, not just African Americans.”
Orlando Sentinel: Schools without rules
The Orlando Sentinel reports that private schools in Florida will collect nearly $1 billion in state-backed scholarships this year through a system so weakly regulated that some schools hire teachers without college degrees, hold classes in aging strip malls and falsify fire-safety and health records. The limited oversight of Florida’s scholarship programs allowed a principal under investigation for molesting a student at his Brevard County school to open another school under a new name and still receive the money, an Orlando Sentinel investigation found. Another Central Florida school received millions of dollars in scholarships, sometimes called school vouchers, for nearly a decade even though it repeatedly violated program rules, including hiring staff with criminal convictions.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Unsanitary conditions at prison long ignored
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that at Augusta State Medical Prison, unsafe and unsanitary conditions have persisted for weeks, months or years, putting inmates, doctors and others at risk. Even plaintive calls for help have been ignored. Documents and photos obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show that the Grovetown facility, the flagship of Georgia’s correctional healthcare system, is a place where state officials have allowed hazards to slide. Trash, mold, dirty floors and counters, leaking ceilings and congested corridors are just some of the issues detailed in the documents, including emails and an environmental survey, that have flagged top officials to the problems. The garbage in the hallway outside the operating room, a situation rife with the potential for infection, wasn’t resolved as of last week even though the facility’s medical director earlier this month wrote an email to her superiors expressing frustration.
Indianapolis Star: The liquor store grip on cold beer
The Indianapolis Star reports that when Indiana lawmakers swiftly closed a loophole this spring that had enabled Ricker’s convenience stores to sell cold beer, it was easy to see the hands of the liquor store industry at work. A liquor store owner raised some of the earliest objections to the Ricker’s maneuver. Liquor store lobbyists were in on key meetings with lawmakers to address it. And the final bill ultimately went through a committee chaired by a senator who is the top recipient of liquor industry campaign money. The episode was just the latest win for a liquor store industry that’s fought tenaciously for years to preserve its virtual monopoly on cold beer — and that’s deftly thwarted the expansion of Sunday alcohol sales.
Newark Star Ledger: N.J. offered $7 billion to Amazon. Is it worth it?
The Newark Star Ledger reports New Jersey has put a deal worth up to $7 billion in tax credits on the table to lure Amazon to the Garden State. If the company picks New Jersey as the site to develop its new HQ2 headquarters, the deal would become the second-largest economic development package ever offered to a company in the U.S., an NJ Advance Media study found. The offer is New Jersey's latest attempt to entice a corporation to the state by handing out massive tax breaks. New Jersey has handed out a total of $8.9 billion in subsidies since 1996, most of them awarded since 2010 and ending up in Camden, according to data released by Good Jobs First, a national policy resource center in Washington. It is difficult to know whether the investments, including those in Camden have paid off because a lot of the information needed to make that determination, such as the number of jobs created per subsidy awarded, is not always accessible, said Kasia Tarczynska, a research analyst with the center.
New York Times: Why has the EPA shifted on toxic chemicals?
The New York Times reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled for years to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water. The chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, has been linked to kidney cancer, birth defects, immune system disorders and other serious health problems. So scientists and administrators in the E.P.A.’s Office of Water were alarmed in late May when a top Trump administration appointee insisted upon the rewriting of a rule to make it harder to track the health consequences of the chemical, and therefore regulate it. The revision was among more than a dozen demanded by the appointee, Nancy B. Beck, after she joined the E.P.A.’s toxic chemical unit in May as a top deputy. For the previous five years, she had been an executive at the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main trade association.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/21/us/trump-epa-chemicals-regulations.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fus&action=click&contentCollection=us®ion=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0
Cleveland Plain Dealer: Lead poisoning progress report: Toxic neglect
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that two years ago its “Toxic Neglect” series revealed the scale of Cleveland's ongoing lead poisoning crisis: About 10,000 children had been poisoned over the most recent five years, there was a backlog of about 3,000 incomplete and uninvestigated city lead poisoning cases stretching back to 2003 and only one third of children who should be screened for the toxin were tested. In the immediate aftermath of the series, three of the city's four top health department officials were fired or resigned. Temporary staff was hired to investigate the backlog, and the state threatened to revoke Cleveland's authority to respond to lead poisoning cases and tightened its watch over other cities and counties as well. Two years later, the city has devoted more money and staff to investigating cases, there are new efforts aimed at boosting screening, and a fledgling program designed to prevent poisoning by identifying hazardous homes has just begun.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Oct. 19, 2017
AP: Pro-Trump states most affected by his health care decision
The Associated Press reported President Donald Trump's decision to end a provision of the Affordable Care Act that was benefiting roughly 6 million Americans helps fulfill a campaign promise, but it also risks harming some of the very people who helped him win the presidency. Nearly 70 percent of those benefiting from the so-called cost-sharing subsidies live in states Trump won last November, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. The number underscores the political risk for Trump and his party, which could end up owning the blame for increased costs and chaos in the insurance marketplace. The subsidies are paid to insurers by the federal government to help lower consumers' deductibles and co-pays.
Arizona Republic: Phoenix Public Housing Project could lose in HUD cuts
The Arizona Republic reports how for 32 years the Edison-Eastlake neighborhood has crumbled along with so many of America's public housing projects. Federal money meant to maintain the country’s 1.2 million public housing units was never enough, and a backlog built up. The National Housing Preservation Database now counts more than 84,000 units in need of immediate investment. The three Edison-Eastlake projects were stuck in America’s old approach to public housing. It is an approach that everybody from Yvonne Bridges to U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson want to leave in the past. The city of Phoenix planned to rebuild Edison-Eastlake the new way. It wanted a community where people could thrive, and to pay for it the city eyed a $30 million grant from HUD’s popular Choice Neighborhoods grant program. Then the federal government outlined next year’s budget. Its proposals shrank HUD to help pay for drastic increases in defense spending.
Santa Fe New Mexican: Ankle monitors: Pretrial supervision or punishment?
The Santa Fe News Mexican reports how James Coriz was charged with intimidating a witness during a trial but said he hadn’t threatened anyone and refused to take a plea deal. About five months later, a jury found him not guilty. But by then, Coriz says, he had paid more than $1,000 to Santa Fe County for being on an ankle monitor while awaiting his trial and had spent 21 days in jail after program officials said he’d violated the electronic monitoring agreement that governed the conditions of his release. Had he been found guilty and sentenced to time in jail, Coriz would have been given time-served credit for every day he spent on electronic monitoring, plus the 21 days he spent in jail. But after being exonerated, he got no consideration for the time and money he spent on the court-ordered ankle bracelet — not even an apology, never mind a refund. The issues surrounding electronic monitoring — legal, financial and constitutional — are deep and complex.
Los Angeles Times: Santa Rosa suburb was exempt from fire regulations
The Los Angeles Times reports that when fire swept down the mountain, Coffey Park, a suburb of Santa Rosa, proved defenseless in its path. In a matter of hours, the neighborhood was almost totally consumed, leaving hundreds of houses burned to the ground and residents in disbelief. Surprising as it was to residents, the destruction of Coffey Park wasn’t a mystery to fire scientists. They view it as a rare, but predictable, event that has exposed flaws in the way fire risk is measured and mitigated in California. Because it was outside the officially mapped “very severe” hazard zone, more than five miles to the east, Coffey Park was exempt from regulations designed to make buildings fire resistant in high-risk areas.
San Diego Union-Tribune: Slow progress against sex trafficking in San Diego
The San Diego Union-Tribune report that as the director of programs for Generate Hope, an emergency shelter for victims of sex trafficking, part of Susan Munsey’s mission is telling people just how bad the problem is in San Diego. When she gets to the number of likely victims in the county — an average of 5,000 children and adults — “there is almost always an audible gasp,” she said. The number stunned even people like her, the most seasoned prosecutors and service providers, when they first heard it. The statistics that were revealed in October 2015 as part of a study to quantify the human-trafficking problem in San Diego served as a major wake-up call. A lot of victims were clearly slipping through a lot of cracks. Two years later, has anything changed? Yes and no.
Washington Post: The drug industry’s triumph over the DEA
The Washington Post reports that in April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets. By then, the opioid war had claimed 200,000 lives, more than three times the number of U.S. military deaths in the Vietnam War. Overdose deaths continue to rise. There is no end in sight. A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills, according to an investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes.” The DEA had opposed the effort for years.
Miami Herald: Fight Club: Investigating Florida’s juvenile justice system
The Miami Herald reports Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice calls its philosophy “tough love.” But a Miami Herald I-Team analysis of 10 years of seldom-seen records reveals an emphasis on the “tough.” Documents, interviews and surveillance videos show a disturbing pattern of beatings doled out or ordered by underpaid officers, hundreds of them prison system rejects. Youthful enforcers are rewarded with sweet pastries from the employee vending machines, a phenomenon known as “honey-bunning.” The Herald found fights staged for entertainment, wagering and to exert control, sex between staff and youthful detainees and a culture of see-nothing/say-nothing denial. Herald journalists also examined 12 questionable deaths of detained youths since 2000. In the end, untold numbers of already troubled youths have been further traumatized.
Honolulu Star Advertiser: “Aging in place” facilities trigger debate
The Honolulu Star Advertiser reports that over the past two years, dozens of unlicensed residential facilities offering elder care have opened in neighborhoods around Hawaii, embracing a new model that its proponents herald as safe, effective and the wave of the future. But critics contend the homes flout state law and circumvent oversight designed to protect vulnerable seniors. The debate over these businesses, called “aging in place” facilities, is expected to be taken to lawmakers in the upcoming state legislative session and likely will trigger broader discussions about the state’s ability — some say inability — to effectively oversee an industry that needs to grow substantially to care for Hawaii’s mushrooming elder population.
Indianapolis Star: Analysis of liquor stores shows surprising underage sales
The Indianapolis Star reports liquor stores sell to minors at a higher rate than other retailers, undermining a core argument used to justify the liquor store industry's virtual monopoly on cold beer sales. An IndyStar analysis of data from excise police compliance checks found liquor stores improperly sold to minors at twice the rate of convenience stores and three times the rate of pharmacies and big-box retailers.
That contradicts liquor store claims that their stores — with prominent signs warning customers must be 21 or older to enter — are best equipped to keep booze from underage buyers. The finding also flies in the face of what key lawmakers have been led to believe for years — and have left unchallenged.
Minnesota Star-Tribune: Millions spent on patients who don’t need help
The Minnesota Star-Tribune reports that Minnesota taxpayers have shelled out more than $92 million over the past six years to house patients who no longer require mental health treatment at a state hospital but have nowhere else to go. The cost per patient, according to Department of Human Services records, now tops $1,300 a day – enough to rent an apartment in a Minneapolis for a month. The rising toll is largely hidden but a stark sign of gaps in the state’s mental health safety net, particularly for Minnesotans accused of a crime but deemed mentally unfit to face the charges. Courts now send those patients primarily to a state hospital in Anoka. But once doctors there say the treatment is complete, there is often no place for them to transition back to society.
Kansas City Star: Gun owners are making it easy to steal guns
The Kansas City Star reports there has been an unprecedented and alarming rash of gun thefts citywide in Kansas City since 2016, according to electronic police records it has obtained. The number of annual firearms thefts rose from 496 to 588 between 2008 and 2015, but it exploded in 2016. Thieves stole 804 a year ago — a 37 percent increase. And they are on pace to steal some 830 firearms in 2017. Too many gun owners are only making it easy for criminals to propel Kansas City’s harrowing gun violence. Too many are stowing their guns carelessly in cars, not securing them in locked boxes, and failing to record serial numbers to help law enforcement if they are stolen.
St. Louis Post Dispatch: Farmers divide over dicamba
The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that cupped and crinkled soybean leaves were a common sight across millions of acres of the nation’s farmland this year. The distinctive symptoms point to exposure to dicamba, a decades-old chemical the agriculture industry is now turning to in the fight against increasingly stubborn “superweeds” — a controversial shift that has borne different results for different farmers and left the agriculture community divided. The damage has been widespread across the Farm Belt, causing conflicts between neighbors, recriminations and lawsuits, culminating with the Environmental Protection Agency announcing that increased regulatory oversight will be required for dicamba applications in 2018. Sparking the controversy was a shift to new technology spearheaded by Monsanto, the seeds and traits giant that, for years, has counted the herbicide, Roundup, as its signature product.
New York Times: Wary of hackers, states upgrade voting systems
The New York Times reports state election officials, worried about the integrity of their voting systems, are pressing to make them more secure ahead of next year’s midterm elections. Reacting in large part to Russian efforts to hack the presidential election last year, a growing number of states are upgrading electoral databases and voting machines, and even adding cybersecurity experts to their election teams. The efforts — from both Democrats and Republicans — amount to the largest overhaul of the nation’s voting infrastructure since the contested presidential election in 2000 spelled an end to punch-card ballots and voting machines with mechanical levers. One aim is to prepare for the 2018 and 2020 elections by upgrading and securing electoral databases and voting machines that were cutting-edge before Facebook and Twitter even existed.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/14/us/voting-russians-hacking-states-.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Oct. 12, 2017
AP: Is NRA move to regulate “bump stocks” real or a ruse?
The Associated Press reported that when the National Rifle Association urged the government to revisit whether "bump stocks" should be restricted, it immediately raised eyebrows. Why would the nation's leading gun-rights organization, not known for compromise, be willing to bend even just a bit when it wields perhaps more influence than ever? Some gun-industry experts say the NRA's move is little more than a ruse to stall any momentum for wider gun control until outrage over the Las Vegas attack subsides. It also carries little risk. For one, it's rare for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to reverse course without a change in the law. For another, "bump stocks" are not big moneymakers for the gun industry. And by seeking an administrative change, rather than a new law, the NRA allows its supporters in Congress to avoid going on the record with a vote.
Los Angeles Times: Trump’s pro-gun stance is new. Will Las Vegas change that?
The Los Angeles Times reports the pro-gun community had reason to be suspicious of Donald Trump. He wrote in favor of an assault weapons ban and a “slightly longer” waiting period before gun purchases in a 2000 book, and accused Republicans of walking “the NRA line.” And even as he rebranded himself a “2nd Amendment maven” in 2013, he sounded conflicted, suggesting he favored expanded background checks. No one on either side of the gun debate seems to know exactly when or why Trump shifted. But they agree that the mogul from Manhattan has become one of the most forceful pro-gun presidents in decades. Now, after the worst mass shooting in American history, Trump faces a gut-check moment on guns.
New York Times: The “Resistance,” raising Big Money, Upends Liberal Politics
The New York Times reports that it started as a scrappy grass-roots protest movement against President Trump, but now the so-called resistance is attracting six- and seven-figure checks from major liberal donors, posing an insurgent challenge to some of the left’s most venerable institutions — and the Democratic Party itself. The jockeying between groups, donors and operatives for cash and turf is occurring mostly behind the scenes. But it has grown acrimonious at times, with upstarts complaining they are being boxed out by a liberal establishment that they say enables the sort of Democratic timidity that paved the way for the Trump presidency. If the newcomers prevail, they could pull the party further to the left, leading it to embrace policy positions like those advocated by Mr. Sanders, including single-payer health care and free tuition at public colleges.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/07/us/politics/democrats-resistance-fundraising.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
San Francisco Chronicle: Prosecution of police sex scandal sees little success
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that in the year since Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley filed criminal charges against six East Bay law enforcement officers for what she called their “morally reprehensible” actions in Oakland’s sexual misconduct scandal, the most severe punishment handed down has been a $390 fine and three years of court probation. Half of the cases have been dismissed or their charges dropped due to insufficient evidence. Two cases were plea bargained, and one awaits trial. Critics who wanted to see greater consequences wonder whether the district attorney’s office mishandled the scandal. Some say the prosecution was frivolous.
Denver Post: Water drying up as farmers keep irrigating desert
The Denver Post reports that Colorado farmers who defied nature’s limits and nourished a pastoral paradise by irrigating drought-prone prairie are pushing ahead in the face of worsening environmental fallout: Overpumping of groundwater has drained the High Plains Aquifer to the point that streams are drying up at the rate of 6 miles a year. The drawdown has become so severe that highly resilient fish are disappearing, evidence of ecological collapse. A Denver Post analysis of federal data shows the aquifer shrank twice as fast over the past six years compared with the previous 60. While the drying out of America’s agricultural bread basket ($35 billion in crops a year) ultimately may pinch people in cities, it is hitting rural areas hardest.
Washington Post: Fired/rehired: Three shootings in three years
The Washington Post reports how most police officers will never fire their weapons while on duty, but Cyrus Mann, a nine-year member of the Philadelphia Police Department, shot three people in just over three years. The shooting in an alley, on Aug. 9, 2012, would prove fatal and prompt the police commissioner to try to fire Mann. Like many police chiefs across the nation, he would fail. A Washington Post investigation found that hundreds of police officers who were fired for misconduct, including allegations of sexual assault and drug trafficking, have been reinstated. Since 2006, at least 451 of 1,800 officers fired from 37 of the nation’s largest departments have won their jobs back through appeals provided for in union contracts.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/investigations/fired-rehired-three-shootings-in-three-years/?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories_mannrevised-711pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.05a77f627c5d
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Bribery, corruption scandal looms over mayor’s race
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports a guilty plea in federal court and an FBI raid on a long-time city vendor are reshaping the Atlanta mayor’s race by throwing a white-hot spotlight back on the City Hall bribery investigation, just one month before voters choose Kasim Reed’s successor. Most of the major candidates have weaponized the scandal in their stump speeches and at forums since the federal probe netted a guilty plea from the city’s top purchasing official two weeks ago. Tough talk on ethics and procurement reform have joined pledges about affordable housing and transportation, issues that were driving the campaign’s early days. The mayor himself has been forced to defend his record and issue regular statements about how he’s cooperating with the probe.
Des Moines Register: Companies write off millions. Taxpayers reap little benefit
The Des Moines Register reports that a Polk County middle manager signed a nondescript sheet of paper last year attesting to heating and cooling work the Waldinger Corp. performed in 2012 on the county-owned Iowa Events Center. That paper wiped $1.1 million off the Des Moines-based mechanical contractor’s federal income tax liability. What did taxpayers get in return? Nothing they hadn't already paid for. The Events Center example is hardly unique. The Des Moines Register examined 70 Iowa projects in which the tax break was sought and documented 37 cases where governments gained little or nothing for authorizing the deduction on taxpayer-funded construction. That's just a tiny sample of more than 10,000 cases nationally in all 50 states — including at least 300 in Iowa — in which government officials have handed out tax breaks to private companies through an obscure giveaway known as the Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings Tax Deduction.
Courier-Journal: University of Louisville Athletic director highest paid in US
The Courier-Journal reports that suspended University of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich was the highest paid in the land. Over the past seven years, through a byzantine array of longevity and performance bonuses, base pay raises and tax subsidies, Jurich collected total compensation of $19,279,710, an average of $2.76 million per year.
Last year, his taxable income – enriched by the vesting of a $1.8 million annuity plus $1.6 million from the university to pay his taxes on it – totaled $5.3 million. Although the annuity was earned over several years and will be paid out in $200,000 installments, his listed income last year was more than the university budgeted for its departments of biology ($3.3 million), English ($4 million), history ($2.4 million) or mathematics ($3.5 million).
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: University investigates but lawsuit expected
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports that trustees at the University of Rochester have hired Debevoise & Plimpton, one of the nation's priciest law firms, to investigate claims of sexual harassment and retaliation on campus. There is plenty of documentation to sort through, and that is where such investigations begin, experts say. But the review also faces obstacles — lacking cooperation from accusers, and needing to maneuver around myriad confidentiality and legal concerns. Meanwhile, a lawsuit appears imminent. The scope of the inquiry is broad, encompassing the whole of events that surround embattled professor Florian Jaeger and UR's Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS) department. Jaeger allegedly had sex and used illegal drugs with students, made inappropriate and humiliating comments to and about female students and faculty, pressured them to meet with him alone, and conditioned access with being part of his social circle.
Seattle Times: City Light has paid $7.8 million to company of off-duty cops
The Seattle Times reports a retired Seattle police officer’s private company has exclusively billed Seattle City Light more than $7.8 million over the past five years to provide off-duty police officers for traffic control or security work, according to billing data obtained by the newspaper. The company, Seattle’s Finest Security & Traffic Control, has been chosen by utility crew chiefs for every job, even though another company, Seattle Security, also provides off-duty officers, the records show. Details of the lucrative relationship between Seattle’s Finest and City Light come at a time the FBI is investigating allegations of price-fixing and intimidation in the hiring of off-duty officers directing traffic at parking garages and construction sites. The allegations, made by a new startup company, Blucadia, and echoed by some downtown business owners, have renewed longstanding concerns about a murky off-duty employment arrangement controlled by few companies with little oversight.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • OCT. 5, 2017