Rail cars moving crude oil need makeover

Flames continue to burn a day after a Norfolk Southern train derailed on Oct. 21, 2006, in New Brighton, Pa.

Late on  Nov.  26, 2013, a train derailment and chemical spill forced hundreds of residents to be evacuated from their homes in Willard, Ohio, about 65 miles southwest of Cleveland. Thousands of gallons of styrene monomer, a highly flammable chemical, leaked from the tank of a CSX railroad DOT-111 rail car into the nearby soil.   No injuries were reported and the cold weather helped ensure that the chemical didn’t ignite. The Federal Railroad Administration has not released yet the results of its investigation into the cause of the derailment or the chemical spill. Brian Humphress, Willard’s city manager, said emergency responders, state and federal agencies, and CSX handled the clean-up smoothly and the town appears to have recovered well from the accident.    But officials in other states and in federal agencies are starting to question the safety of the DOT-111 and whether the aging rail car should be used to carry new types of cargo such as crude oil from fracking. Public Source,  a Pittsburgh-based non-profit journalism organization and fellow Investigative News Network member, takes an in-depth look at the issue. Continue Reading →

Grassroots financial support plummets in Cleveland’s mayoral campaign

Mark Singer, a resident of Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood, has long admired Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. He said he likes how Jackson has handled the city’s finances and his dedication to improving the public schools. “I’ve seen a lot of hype over the years,” says Singer, “I’ve seen a lot of politicians who say look at me.”

Because Singer believes the mayor is about more than hype, the Case Western Reserve University professor made his first political campaign donation ever this past fall to Jackson’s campaign. Singer’s willingness to donate to a campaign wasn’t shared by many other city residents. He’s one of the few who opened their wallets in the last mayoral election – either for Jackson or his opponent, businessman Ken Lanci. Continue Reading →

A crime not to tell: HIV laws debated in wake of high-profile arrest

It usually doesn’t make the news when men solicit other men for sex at Edgewater Park on Cleveland’s lakeshore. Law enforcement does its best to clear up the problem, but the attempts to find a quick hook up there still happen. An arrest on Oct. 11, 2013, was different, though, garnering attention because it involved a priest and felony, not just misdemeanor, charges. Rev. James McGonegal, then pastor of St. Continue Reading →

Fighting the war over prescription painkillers

A veteran’s widow pushes for change as the Columbus VA rethinks its prescription policies

When he returned from his service in Iraq in 2010, Scott McDonald was happy and excited about the future.  Returning to civilian life after 15 years in the Army, he and his wife Heather moved into a new house, bought a car and were trying to have another baby. They already were parents to 10-year-old Reise. “Everybody thought now that he is getting out of the army, he’s going to finally live that life he’s been dying for,” said Heather McDonald. But as the next two years progressed, Heather and Reise began recognizing changes in Scott’s behavior after he took his daily pain medication.  The stay-at-home dad was always tired, more reserved and more zoned out or “absent” than he had been before. Continue Reading →

Justice obscured: financial information scant on state supreme court judges

How does Ohio’s Supreme Court stack up when it comes to financial reporting requirements for its judges? Turns out,  not very well.   But then again, the high courts in most states don’t have strict guidelines for revealing whether a judge’s personal financial interests could conflict with a case.   The Center for Public Integrity , a national non-profit investigative news organization, created an evaluation system for financial disclosure requirements and looked at state supreme courts across the country to see how they fared.  In its story, the Center says  “Ohio asks judges to disclose who gave them gifts, but doesn’t ask what the gifts are or how much they are worth, creating a form that doesn’t distinguish between a keychain and a Cadillac.”

Ohio was tied for 41st among states for the strength of its reporting requirements. Read the story, find out the methodology used by CPI, and check out the rankings.   Continue Reading →