Monday, January 31, 2000

Readers boil over Lebanon early buyouts




BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Be careful when you open your voice mail. The lines are crackling over three Lebanon city employees taking costly early retirement buyouts from the town's electric department.

        “Fry those turkeys.” — B.J. Bates, Lebanon.

        “Hasn't anyone in Lebanon ever heard of the word, "ethics?'” — Gretchen Carls, Warren County.

        “Throw out the bums behind this.” — Ed Strait, Mount Carmel.

        These callers set the tone for responses to my recent column about three questionable early retirement buyouts costing Lebanon taxpayers nearly $500,000. (Jan. 24 column)

        Former City Auditor Debbie Biggs, former City Attorney Bill Duning and Robert Newton, former deputy director of the city's electric department, took advantage of a retirement buyout fund set up only for employees of the electric department. City council approved the buyouts without asking for details.

        Robert Newton was the only retiree eligible for the buyout. But, he approved his own retirement package.

        The city's auditor also signed her own buyout. The city attorney and the auditor justified being covered by the package because they worked closely with the electric department. Their justification prompted Ben Thomas of Glendale to write:

        “I once flicked on a light switch in a party room at Lebanon's Golden Lamb restaurant. Am I eligible for the electric department's buyout?”

        “City officials in Lebanon act like kings and queens issuing their own edicts.” — Ralph Klein, Westwood.

        “Where do I sign up to work for Lebanon? Sounds like a great city. You can write your own retirement check.” — E.J. Winters, Covington.

        Lebanon's buyouts made Jack Bowen of Mount Airy think of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts. “Lebanon,” he said, “sounds worse than Mayberry.”

Porkopolis code
        Ma Bell threw a scare into me last month. She announced a local number shortage. The 513 area code will run out of telephone numbers by the year 2002. A new code will have to be assigned to Southwestern Ohio.

        We, the people of the 513 area code, should have a say in the new code. So, I put the word out in a column asking for suggestions, for three numbers that stood for us. (Dec. 13 column)

        Northern Kentucky's custom code — 859 stands for UKY — goes into effect April 1. Cape Canaveral has 321, the last three digits in a countdown. If those areas can have custom codes, so can Southwestern Ohio.

        Readers with push-button phones and fertile imaginations sent in 112 ideas.

        “Go for 384. Stands for DUH! That's for the idiots who should have planned ahead for this.” — Ellen Ratcliff, Colerain Township.

        “982 for XUC (Xavier and University of Cincinnati).” — Michael Magdich, via the Internet.

        The idea leading the pack smelled a bit porky. Sixty-one people said Southern Ohio's new area code should be 744. That stands for PIG.

        “In honor,” as Linda Smith wrote from Loudon, Tenn., “of Cincinnati's Flying Pigs.”

        Thanks to everyone who contributed. As promised, I sent the most popular suggestion to the Ohio Public Utilities Commission in Columbus. That agency can request customized codes from the North American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA), the continent's area code dispenser.

        Before the package went into the mail, Paul Cary of Withamsville faxed a list of area codes to me.

        Area codes are Paul's hobby. “You gotta have something to occupy your mind,” he explained.

        He found the list while cruising NANPA's Web site. The list contained area codes from 200 to 999. Codes were categorized as: in use; for relief; or on permanent hold for being too “easily recognizable.” The 744 code falls into the last category. So, bad news for the Porkopolis connection.

        Paul directed me to area code 789. That's reserved as a relief number for area code 513.

        NANPA's Rebecca Barnhart told me “we don't discuss what numbers have been reserved.”

        She held out hope Southwestern Ohio could still get a customized code. A grass-roots campaign could gather signatures and send them to Columbus. Although, 789 does have a certain ring to it.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

RADEL ARCHIVES