Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Looking back on sailing through dinner with a pair of business owners

We almost consider it a wasted evening out if we don’t run into old friends we can sit and talk with for an hour or so.

I should rephrase that. An evening is never wasted when we are dining at one of the area’s fine eateries, even when we are by ourselves. The lady of the house and I can spend an enjoyable evening alone in conversation, studying the menu and talking over the day’s events.

But other people, even though they may be strangers, do add spice to the conversation. So if it happens that they are people we have met for the first time, that is a perfectly acceptable way to spend an evening — talking things over with them.

I confess that we do meet a lot of new people everywhere we go because, let’s face it, I have my picture in the paper every Sunday, and folks we have never met look us over and consider us to be people they might like to talk to.

We never object to that. And do you know what? One hundred percent of the people we meet under those circumstances turn out to be friendly, interesting, likeable  folks we would love to see again simply because they are nice and fun to be with.

A case in point: A couple weeks ago we were at Skye Restaurant in Mentor, a regular stop in our busy schedule of looking things over and checking things out.

You would be surprised, perhaps even shocked, to learn some of the important things that have come to our attention simply by being at Skye, Molinari’s, Dino’s, Noosa, or any of the other spots where we often find ourselves when hunger pangs summon and require attention.

Yes, I admit we are still angry that Gavi’s in Willoughby has closed. But we have moved on, and never become depressed about such an insignificant matter when there are so many other fish to be fried, as the late Gov. Jim Rhodes might have put it.

But I digress. We were sitting at Skye the other evening and could tell by the glances from another couple that they seemed to know us.

Maybe it’s that ubiquitous picture that’s in the paper every week. It is not a new picture. I think Duncan Scott took it many years ago to replace a mug shot displaying a haircut from another era. But people say it looks like me.

So we introduced ourselves. They turned out to be Dane and Melanie Clark and they are from Perry.

As I got the story, they were in business, retired, and then went into business again.

They are very young entrepreneurs. But they love what they are doing, and do a very good job of it, so I am sure much success is bound their way.

When I tell you the name of their company, you will probably never guess what exactly it is they do. So I will tell you.

The name of their company is Nautique Optix.

Still haven’t got it? They make “Exotic Wood Sunglasses.” It is the frames, of course, that are made of wood, not the lenses. If the lenses were made of wood, well, I won’t even get into that.

They previously owned a precision optics company called Visimax Technologies, but they sold it in 2010. They officially retired in 2011 and, finding a lot of time on their hands, took to the high seas.

Actually, they took to the waves of Lake Erie. They love the water and they love traveling, so they spent a lot of their “retirement” boating and traveling.

But they got the itch to use their time more profitably. (Both had enjoyed careers in which they applied coatings to lenses.)

So why not, they reasoned, make wooden frames with a boating theme for sunglasses? Thus they jumped headfirst into their new enterprise, with Dane Clark (not the movie actor, they don’t even look alike) as president and CEO, and Melanie as vice president.

The lady of the house and I didn’t do a full-scale interview. We just had a friendly conversation with them. So there’s a lot about their company I don’t know, such as how many employees they have, who does what, and so forth.

But I do know that they do it in Perry, I think on Lane Road, and as of a few weeks ago they had sold 250 pairs of “wooden” sunglasses.

If you are in the market for anything that exotic, a new pair would be excellent for the Fourth of July, or even Labor Day, but be advised they are not cheap.

They run from $180 to $290. And they are marvelous conversation pieces.

Frankly, I can’t envision a pair on me. But vanity, thy name is woman. Or maybe its frailty. I can’t remember which it is.

Anyway, if a pair shows up in our household, I wouldn’t be shocked.

Surprised maybe, but not shocked.

Meanwhile, Dane and Melanie are terrific human beings and great business people. I hope we run into them again soon. I can almost guess where that might be.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, June 21, 2013

A little free advice in hopes politician stays where he belongs

Offering free advice is something I am good at. So is ending sentences with prepositions, but that is an entirely different matter.

The problem with my giving advice is that people usually don’t take it. Or, even worse, they sneer at it, or even laugh it.

Political advice is different. The trick is to charge for it. Then the recipient will listen. Usually.

I recently offered some free political advice to my good friend Dan Troy, and he neither sneered, scoffed nor laughed. And it was free.

He knew that it was not only free, it was also sincere and heartfelt. Will he follow it? Only he knows for sure. But I hope he does.

Our conversation was at the conclusion of dinner following the Lakeland Foundation golf outing at St. Denis Golf Course in Chardon.

Remember, Dan is a long-time Lake County commissioner, but as a youth he was a member of Willowick City Council and was elected for an eternity to the Ohio House of Representatives, a position at which he rose to such eminence that, except for the dreaded term limits, he could probably been elected speaker of the House.

Yes, he is that good at politics, not to mention administering good government. And his mind is so attuned to the workings of government (he remembers even the tiniest details of every bill that ever came before the House during his tenure) that making reasoned decisions is second nature to him.

Let me insert this as a footnote, or as a bodynote, so to speak: I have closely observed the workings of the Lake County commissioners since about 1950, give or take a year. And I have stated in public before that Dan is one of the three best commissioners I have ever seen in action. And that covers many dozens of commissioners.

(The other two, in case you were wondering, were Bill Stanton and Jack Platz. But I digress.)

I am telling you of our conversation after the golf outing because Dan can’t get the notion of running for Congress out of his head. Every once in a while (perhaps twice in a while) the thought recurs.

And he thinks things like, “I would never have run against Steve LaTourette. But the guy who followed him, Dave Joyce, is a first-termer, and maybe, just maybe...”

My advice to Dan is — in no uncertain terms — forget about it.

Two things: First, you are a terrific commissioner, and you are needed —you are needed very much — exactly where you are.

Nothing against the other two commissioners. They are nice people. But they are no Dan Troys. If the taxpayers don’t appreciate that, they should.

Dan simply can’t be spared from the board of commissioners. He is vitally needed there, especially since the retirement of Ray Sines from the board.

Ray, like Dan, was an exceptional state representative. Then he was an exceptional county commissioner. But he is gone now. There is no balance on the board. Ray gave it balance by being the only Republican member. Now all three are Democrats. So how can you find balance in that equation?

Well, I can find it. Dan gives a sort of balance that is not explainable in political terms. It is some other kind of balance.

It is difficult to explain without writing a book on the subject. And I am not about to write any books until I complete my memoirs on the Steele murder case, the Mounds Club robbery and the Summer of ‘57 at the beach.

But let’s not forget the second “thing” that I mentioned above: Dave Joyce may be a freshman in Washington, but he would be no pushover to beat next year, no matter who runs against him.

He is, to use the same adjective I used in describing Dan, a terrific congressman.

I have studied, as our congressmen, Frances Bolton, Ollie Bolton, Bill Stanton, Dennis Eckart, Steve LaTourette, and yes, even Eric Fingerhut.

Dave Joyce has gotten off to as good a start as any of them. Emphasize that. Any of them.

The former Geauga County prosecutor is smart, articulate, charming, witty, universally liked, has tremendous depth of knowledge and understanding of every issue facing the country, and has common sense answers for dealing with them.

I would trust him to make the proper choice on any issue. I have seen him speak three times in the past few weeks, and he can hold an audience in the palm of his hand.

And – this is very important to anyone in politics –  boy, does he know how to raise money!

So Dan, forget about Washington. Just think about staying in Painesville. Voters who care need both you and Dave – right where you are.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Getting to work as annual Union celebration approaches

I take my obligations seriously, and every year about this time I am obliged to help Ed Glavac muster up a crowd for the annual Willoughby Union High School dinner dance.

I have promised Ed I would help him with this undertaking because, except for my annual input, he does all the work.

Like Ol’ Man River, Ed just keeps rolling along. Nothing deters him in his determination to make the annual event a success, even though Union High hasn’t has a graduating class since 1957.

Obviously, there is a smaller pool of the usual suspects every year, so restrictions on the party-goers have been eased.

No longer do you have to be a Union High grad to attend. The event is now open to anyone who wishes to have a good — and a very inexpensive — time with a couple hundred like souls and get home in time so as not to miss the 10 o’clock news.

I suspect Ed gets a lot of help from the lady of his house, LaVerne. Nevertheless, there is much work to be done, yet everything seems to fall into place by party time, which this year will be Saturday, Aug. 3 at the Patrician Party Center at 33150 Lakeland Blvd. in Eastlake.

It all starts at 4 p.m., which is far too early for us. We don’t feed the dogs until 5:30. But we get there as quick as we can, gulp down our food before it is swept from the tables, and sit down for a fine evening of dancing, entertainment and prizes.

It’s all over by 9 p.m., so depending on where the Indians are playing that day, you will probably get home in time to watch most of the game. (At Miami, 7:10 start.)

Ed and I have been friends since high school, when he was a star running back on the football team and the coach, Pat Pasini, would not even allow me to have a uniform because he said I was too small and might get hurt.

The only thing that got hurt was my feelings, but I outgrew that and eventually forgave Pat for his insensitivity. I found plenty of other activities in which I never got hurt, leading to a well-rounded childhood and an ability to shoot pool on virtually equal terms with Earl Anderson (the present mayor’s father), Ralph Cage (the sheriff’s brother), Don “The Schemer” Knight and the other denizens of the place we knew fondly as the Rat Hole under the former police station on Second Street.

But I digress.

Let me first dispense with the details, because I am sure you will want to make plans to attend the extravaganza. We are able to attend each year because the lady of the house extracts a solemn promise that I won’t leave her sitting alone while I work the crowd, talking to old friends – a former act of rudeness that I have managed to overcome.

Don’t laugh. Two of our very dear friends don’t attend any longer because of this obstacle.

The cost is a mere $25 per person, and the banquet is open, in Ed’s words, “to anyone interested in our community activities.” He is talking about legal activities, of course, not numbers running or bootlegging. (That is a lame attempt at humor, and I’m sorry I said it.)

A delicious family-style dinner is promised, with an open bar (meaning free), first-rate door prizes, and dancing to the popular Joey Tomsick Orchestra, playing old favorites and a few polkas.

Dress is casual, and reservations should be made by July 25. No tickets will be sold at the door. Send your check made out to WUH Reunion to Ed Glavac, 7465 Harding St., Mentor OH 44060, and be sure to enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope, the year you attended Union High (if appropriate), maiden names and names of all attendees. (Donations are appreciated!)

If you do all that, I will see you there.

Now, here’s the surprise — the Betcha Didn’t Know feature of this column.

I have a very good friend who is the highly regarded chief executive officer of the Lake County Council on Aging, an agency that does a world of good for Lake County’s senior citizens.

He, along with top executives of Lakeland Community College, Holden Arboretum, the Lake County Historical Society, the Lake-Geauga Fund of the Cleveland Foundation and Lake Health System, are in partnership to promote what we call “Leave a Legacy” to encourage people to remember non-profit organizations in their wills.

We put on programs all over the county. If your organization needs a great program for a meeting, let me know. It will be arranged.

Now, here’s the fun part. The CEO of the Council on Aging is Joseph R. Tomsick. He is one and the same as the leader of the Joey Tomsick Orchestra that will be playing at the Union High reunion.

Betcha Didn’t Know that! (And I put it in caps because it is the title of one of the four programs we put on for service clubs [Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, etc], libraries, senior citizen centers, retiree organizations, garden clubs or anyone else who will listen.)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Don't miss your chance to spot costly errors on phone bills

There’s something terribly romantic and adventurous about being involved in a class-action lawsuit. It’s just you and a few thousand people you’ve never met ganging up on some huge corporate entity with the intent of extracting anywhere from a few dollars to a few million.

I had a chance to cash in just a few years ago, but I chose not to take part. I was advised later by Pat Perotti, the attorney who pursued the case, that I passed up about $400. Pity. That would have fed our animals for a month or so.

I am not a lawyer, so there is a good chance I don’t know what I’m talking about here. But let’s say, in round numbers, that settlement against the Grange Insurance Co. was in the neighborhood of $30 million. That is a very nice neighborhood.

Let’s also say about half the money was claimed by the injured parties. Well, that obviously leaves half of it unclaimed. So the company said to the court (I’m paraphrasing), “If they don’t want it, we’ll take it back.”

“Not so fast,” said Pat. “The winners will claim the rest in a cy pres action, and I will distribute it to charity.”

Pat prevailed in court, and he doled out millions of dollars to charities throughout the area. I remember going down to Channel 3 on a Friday morning and getting a huge check for Clothe-A-Child (my recollection is that it was for about $123,000). Pat gave even larger amounts to such beneficiaries as United Way of Lake County, Crossroads and dozens of others over several months.

You will find cy pres (pronounced “sigh pray”) in your local dictionary. It was new to me, too.
Imagine my surprise last week when I opened my bill from AT&T and discovered a yellow, 12-page folder informing me of a Class Action Settlement Notice.

“Whee!” I thought. “I’m rich.”

Well, I’m sure my entitlement would not enrich me, but even if it were for only, say, $400, why be too proud to turn it down?

I read on.

“You may have been billed for third-party charges over a period of months (on your phone bill) without having noticed it,” the notice said.

I knew exactly what Nwabueze (that must be a law firm) was talking about, and I’ve got news for Mr. Nwabueze. If everyone studied his bills as assiduously as I do, there would be no third-party billings, and fewer class-action lawsuits.

I had it happen twice on AT&T bills. The first time, I spotted a charge for $15 that I knew nothing of.

I called AT&T, got forwarded around the country and ended up talking to a very nice young man in Michigan who said there were some devious people who were charging for their stuff on phone bills, and AT&T dosen’t approve of it all. Next month I got a $15 credit on my phone bill.

Just a month ago, I got charges for $17.61 that I knew were bogus. I got on the phone again, landed in San Antonio, and got transferred to Christine in Oklahoma City (I hope she survived the tornado).

Those were long distance charges by MCI, she expalined. $16.50 plus tax.

“I don’t have long distance service,” I said. “I dropped it years ago because there is a $5 monthly fee for it, even if you don’t use it. The lady of the house and I make all our long distance calls on our cell phones.”

Christine said when I dropped long distance service, I didn’t put a block on it. That was news to me.
“Do you want me to block it?” she said. “Of course I do,” I replied. So she blocked it.

But I was curious. “How did MCI get into the act?” I wondered.

Other carriers, she said, scrounge around for business. MCI found seven long distance calls on our house phone (I have no idea how they got through) and had them stuck on our AT&T bill.

I am furious with MCI, but there is nothing I can do about its interference, although I consider it unethical. I told Christine I had never authorized MCI, or anybody else, to snoop into my phone bill or any other bill — never had, never would.

“I will issue you a credit,” said the lovely Christine. (Every company should have a Christine or two working for it.)

“Would you be so kind as to do that?” I asked.

“I already have,” she said. “It’s done.”

That was fast work. I appreciate it. And I don’t deserve any class action payments from AT&T because my losses have been covered.

Here’s my point. If you, or anybody else, pays any kind of a bill without looking it over and making sure you aren’t being stiffed, shame on you.

That goes for utility bills, credit card bills, or any other bill. If it’s not right, get on the phone. Start out by being nice. If that doesn’t work, raise holy hell.

But I didn’t need to resort to the latter tactic with AT&T. The folks there were so nice I almost apologized for asking for my money back. Almost.