Sandusky Register readers pick Top 10 stories of 2008

SANDUSKY When we show up at a factory gate, interviewing hard-working Erie County residents who have
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

When we show up at a factory gate, interviewing hard-working Erie County residents who have been thrown out of work by the recession -- or hang around at a crime scene, trying to get information from the police -- our reporters are working for you, our loyal readers.

When editors and reporters come to work at the 1920s-vintage office building at Jackson andWest Market streets, we know our customers are the real bosses.

So when it was time to pick the top 10 news stories of 2008, we asked "the boss" for help.

We polled readers at our Web site, asking them to vote on stories nominated by our staff.

Readers picked the economy's effect on local factories as the top story of 2008, although many readers chose the firing of Police Chief Kim Nuesse and allegations of sexual abuse at a local nursing home as top stories, too.

As our readers picked the top stories, they chose to omit several that received lots of news coverage in 2008. For example, the long-running controversy surrounding the Marina District didn't make the final cut. Neither did the closing of Norwalk Furniture, although doubtless many readers considered it part of our top story.

Here are the top stories of 2008:

We polled readers at our Web site, asking them to vote on stories nominated by our staff.

Readers picked the economy’s effect on local factories as the top story of 2008, although many readers chose the firing of Police Chief Kim Nuesse and allegations of sexual abuse at a local nursing home as top stories, too.

As our readers picked the top stories, they chose to omit several that received lots of news coverage in 2008. For example, the long-running controversy surrounding the Marina District didn’t make the final cut. Neither did the closing of Norwalk Furniture, although doubtless many readers considered it part of our top story.

To view the results of the poll, click HERE.

Here are the top stories of 2008:

1. Factory closures, layoffs

As the recession took hold in northern Ohio, many factories announced they were shutting down, and others announced layoffs.

Among the items of bad news:

•  Tenneco Automotive in Milan announced in July it was eliminating 65 jobs, relocating the work to a plant in Reynosa, Mexico.

• KBI (the former Delphi plant) put 758 workers on temporary layoff during the first week of January. Workers worried what would happen as Detroit’s Big Three automakers sought help from the government.

•  Similarly, ACH in Margaretta Township, the parts plant owned by Ford, temporarily laid off about 260 people late in the year, with layoffs expected to last until  this month.

• I.A.C. in Huron, another auto parts plant, put 225 people on temporary layoff and 120 on indefinite layoff.

•  Norwalk Furniture in Norwalk shut down, then was reopened by new owners in November as Norwalk Custom Order Furniture. When it reopened, about 220 of the Norwalk Furniture’s original 350 employees remained out of work. The company plans to expand employment under the terms of its low-interest state loan.

• At the Whirlpool Corp. Clyde Division, 250-300 midnight shift employees were temporarily laid off in November.

UPDATE: Much of the fate of the area’s auto parts plants seems to be tied to what will happen to America’s domestic automakers.

Nov. 7, 2008 - Whirlpool Corp. lays off 250 workers in Clyde with VIDEO

Dec. 1, 2008 - Keys to the economy: Auto workers fear aftereffects from industry failure with VIDEO

2. Kim Nuesse fired

Sandusky’s first female police chief, Kim Nuesse, became Sandusky’s first former female police chief June 1, when city manager Matt Kline fired her.

Kline cited an investigative report from Murman and Associates that accused her of dishonesty. He said Nuesse deceived city officials on Sandusky’s emergency dispatch situation, used her position to void a parking ticket issued to her, and falsified information on the 2005 WiFi and the Weed and Seed grant applications.

Nuesse, who was placed on paid administrative leave March 12, launched an effort to save her job and said her firing was based on sexism, not dishonesty. She argued that the Murman report was full of mistakes, and that it was “sexist, biased and lacking in objectivity.”

UPDATE: At year’s end, a civil service hearing was underway on Nuesse’s appeal of her firing. The city finished presenting its case to Judge Joseph Cirigliano on Dec. 16, but the hearing will resume this year as Nuesse begins calling witnesses to present her case.

COMPLETE COVERAGE - Nuesse Saga

May 31, 2008 - Nuesse vows to fight, wants to stay chief with VIDEO

3. Nursing home sexual abuse

Police say John Riems sexually assaulted numerous patients while he worked as a night-shift supervisor and registered nurse at Concord Care and Rehabilitation Center. And investigators say they have the videotaped confession to prove it.

The defendant was arrested in January 2007 when relatives of a Concord resident, a 55-year-old blind and partially paralyzed man, told police he was sexually abused by Riems.

Riems is charged with 15 counts of rape, three counts of sexual battery, one count of gross sexual imposition, three counts of patient abuse and one count of felonious sexual penetration. Facing a very long prison sentence if convicted, Riems is in the Erie County Jail with bond set at $500,000.

Riems’ defense attorney, Troy Wisehart, contends his client was coerced into making a bogus confession.

UPDATE: Riems is scheduled to go on trial Jan. 20. Common Pleas Judge Tygh Tone has not ruled on Wisehart’s motion to suppress the videotaped confession.

COMPLETE COVERAGE - Helpless Victims

Jan. 28, 2008 - Rape charges at nursing home with VIDEO  

4. McClung resigns, Jenkins fired at Perkins Township Police Department

One of Erie County’s largest police departments saw plenty of change during 2007. The Perkins Township Police Department’s veteran police chief, Tim McClung, resigned after a longtime feud with a township trustee, Bill Dwelle, and began concentrating on his farming career.

The changes continued when trustees fired a veteran officer, Det. Sgt. James “Al” Jenkins.

McClung resigned in July. His exit was part of an out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit that he and Lt. Adolphus Matthews filed against Dwelle and Dwelle’s wife, Sandy, alleging defamation and stalking. McClung had been police chief since 1995, when he was appointed after Richard Burrows died.

“I can see absolutely no circumstances that would lead me back into law enforcement. I’m going to do what I always wanted to do, and that’s farm,” McClung said when he left.

Jenkins had enjoyed a 19-year career in law enforcement when trustees fired him Dec. 9, alleging dishonesty. The dismissal stemmed from a probe of the Perkins police by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives over the handling of firearms owned by the department.

UPDATE: At year’s end, McClung showed no signs he had decided to leave the farm and go back to police work.

“I just walked out of my cattle pen, feeding cattle,” he said after being reached by phone last week. “You can bet your bottom dollar I have no intention of returning to law enforcement.”

At year’s end, Jenkins’ union representative, Sgt. Vince Donald, said he had no comment when asked if Jenkins is appealing his firing.

July 18, 2008 - McClung is out as police chief with VIDEO

5. Drivers deal with the highs and lows of gas prices

Who says there’s nothing good about a recession?

Soaring oil prices raised costs for local businesses, governments and residents during 2008.

But after gas prices inched up to $4 a gallon, they fell to below $2 a gallon by the end of 2008, as the worldwide recession eased demand for fuel and caused oil prices to tumble.

When prices remained high, ordinary motorists weren’t the only ones to feel the pinch. Boat operators, airplane pilots and truck drivers also had to deal with soaring fuel expenses.

The effects of high gas prices on Erie County’s tourism industry appeared to be mixed. While high gas prices tended to discourage travel, they also encouraged motorists in nearby cities to make “one-tank trips” to Cedar Point.

UPDATE: At year’s end, gas prices remained relatively low. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies sought to push oil prices up in December by curbing production.

May 18, 2008 - Gas prices pinch wings and water, too with VIDEO

Oct. 8, 2008 - Gas dips below $3 with VIDEO

6. Highway patrol troopers win back job after ill-advised KKK plank

Here’s a couple of things the Sandusky Register’s readers learned in 2008: (1) Dressing up in a KKK outfit is a poor career move if you’re in law enforcement, and (2) even Gov. Ted Strickland isn’t above the law.

Troopers Eric Wlodarsky and Craig Franklin maintained they were only guilty of an ill-advised attempt at humor.

On Jan. 20 — the day before Martin Luther King Day — Franklin was on duty at the patrol’s Sandusky post when he dressed up in a makeshift costume resembling Ku Klux Klan gear. Wlodarsky, also working that day, snapped a cell phone photo and sent it to another trooper. The two later said the joke was inspired by a skit by African-American comedian Dave Chappelle.

The two at first were allowed to keep their jobs because of a last-chance agreement in their union contracts. Strickland, however, insisted that both of them be fired.

The two got their jobs back when arbitrator Susan Grody Ruben ruled that because they had signed last-chance agreements, they could not be fired. They were reinstated with back pay.

UPDATE: The controversy appears to have reached an end, as the governor’s office chose to accept the arbitrator’s ruling.

COMPLETE COVERAGE - Troopers in Trouble

April 15, 2008 - KKK prank ignites outrage with AUDIO

7. Home foreclosure rate skyrockets

As monthly sheriff sale auctions of local foreclosed houses continued at a steady clip at the Erie County Courthouse, local judges and lawyers tried to find ways to stem the tide of home foreclosures. Common Pleas Judge Roger Binette put all cases into a 120-day timeout, giving both sides time to work out a deal. Local lawyers volunteered to help a statewide effort spearheaded by Ohio Supreme Court Justice Thomas Moyer, a Sandusky native, to provide legal help to families who face losing their homes.

UPDATE: Democrats have a stronger majority in Congress, and a Democrat, Barack Obama, is about to move into the White House. It remains to be seen will they do about the housing crisis.

Sept. 14, 2008 - Battling blight: What's working, what's not and what now? with VIDEO

8. Republican candidate John McCain visits Sandusky

Ohio was once again considered a vital “swing state” by both parties in the recent presidential election, and that led to an Oct. 30 visit to Sandusky by Republican nominee John McCain. The Democrat, Barack Obama, never made it to Erie County.

McCain rode his Straight Talk Express bus to Sandusky, where he was met in Washington Park by thousands of people who were eager to welcome the GOP nominee.

UPDATE: McCain remains in the U.S. Senate, where his current term does not expire until 2010. He intends to seek another term. His running mate, Sarah Palin, has returned to her duties as governor of Alaska.

Oct. 31, 2008 - Sen John McCain delivers "Straight Talk' to Sandusky crowd with VIDEO

9. Severe flooding in Bellevue, Groton Township

The rising of water tables and heavy rains contributed to weeks of misery for residents of Bellevue and Groton Township, who were forced to cope with exceptionally heavy flooding. Ohio 269 south of Strecker Road remained closed for weeks, as authorities waited for the waters to recede.

UPDATE: Plans for the Burdette Ditch project, designed to relieve flooding in Groton Township, are scheduled to be completed this month. Various committees and agencies continue to study the cause of the flooding to look for solutions.

Apr. 23, 2008 - Flood waters slow down firefighters as house burns with VIDEO

10. Ben Miller killed in boat crash on Sandusky Bay

Tragedy struck offshore in Sandusky last summer when two boats collided in the dark, killing Ben Miller, 21, a Berlin Heights resident.

The two boats collided at 12:19 a.m. June 15, about 210 yards outside of Lyman Harbor.

Details of the crash remain in dispute, but Miller’s family has filed a civil lawsuit. The Ohio Division of Watercraft concluded that Miller was a passenger on a boat piloted by Kevin Lake of Norwalk.

UPDATE: At year’s end, no decision had been made about whether to file criminal charges against Lake. Lake’s attorney, Troy Wisehart, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Oct. 12, 2008 - Boat crash report casts doubt on who was driving with VIDEO