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July 31, 2007

City Strobe

Yarmuth secures funding for Weed and Seed programU.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-3, announced last week a $192,650 federal grant to continue work on the Newburg Weed and Seed program. Begun in the Newburg neighborhood in 2006, the federal program is one of 250 around the United States that targets specific neighborhoods in an effort to “weed out” crime and drug activity and “seed in” positive development through law enforcement, community policing, neighborhood restoration and social services.Yarmuth called the initiative a “unique program takes an intelligent, practical approach to keeping our neighborhoods safe.”Since the program began in September, violent crime in Newburg has dropped 23 percent, according to Sgt. Don George, sector sergeant for Metro Police’s 6th Division. Half of the grant money goes to the 6th Division, paying for anything from increased overtime to placing more officers on duty.Many community leaders attribute the high rate of crime and lack of resident interest to the large number of renters in the neighborhood — 71 percent of the population of 9,000. The program aims to increase the number of homeowners, and increase resident interest in the community, by offering financial assistance to first-time buyers. In addition, several formerly abandoned houses that harbored drug activity have been restored, according to Metro Councilwoman Barbara Shanklin, D-2, whose district includes Newburg.Like most federal initiatives these days, though, Newburg Weed and Seed is not without its problems. Many residents are unaware the program even exists, and internally, it is rife with unrest. Former program coordinator Elizabeth Fick Koppen recently resigned, though she wouldn’t say why. She now works for Metro Housing and Community Development. Newburg resident Rose Robinson, who used to work with the program, said it was basically Shanklin’s way or the highway, and that Fick Koppen let them “walk all over her.” Shanklin, in a May 16 LEO story, brushed off such concerns.Dianna Walker became the new program coordinator last week. When LEO reached her yesterday morning, she declined to answer questions and referred the reporter to Metro Housing and Community Development. That department did not return calls by press time, though we don’t think that means they’re hiding something — their PR flack just returned from the Army Reserves and was a little busy. —Melissa MoodyCan I have my foot back?It’s rare that one can say of something on the TV news, “Gosh, I’ve never seen anything like that before.” Last Wednesday, WDRB-TV reporter Jennifer Baileys was party to just such a moment, when a state senator — at the instance a “No comment” would have been expected — instead smiled, pinched the reporter on the nose and said, “You know, you’re a very beautiful girl,” before walking away. The incident at Waterfront Park came at the end of a typical media hoo-ha event in which Gov. Fletcher said some soulful things about Dr. Martin Luther King and his latest stretch of eponymous road (I-65) before some other shakers genuflected, checked their watches and then started to disperse.Baileys (pronounced Bayless) was there to cover the hoo-ha but took the opportunity to ask a different question of State Sen. Gerald Neal, D-33, who had just been named in a federal lawsuit over the failed Broadway Cinemas project in which Neal was a principle.After she asked him about the suit, Neal could be seen reaching toward Baileys, who was slightly out of camera view, and clearly heard making the remark. WDRB aired the footage, with anchors telling viewers what they couldn’t quite see when Neal’s hand went out of view.Neal’s initial apology was of the “I am sorry you took it that way” variety, said WDRB president and general manager Bill Lamb, which prompted a conference call on Monday between Neal, Baileys and Lamb. Lamb had already prepared a “Point of View” editorial and was ready to come down on Neal, but during the conference call both Baileys and Lamb believe Neal showed true contrition. They now consider it a dead issue.“He seemed genuinely remorseful and appalled at his own action,” Lamb said Tuesday. “I thought it was a clumsy and irresponsible thing to say and do. I was outraged by it. However, we have all made clumsy and stupid mistakes. I think that somebody should have an opportunity to feel genuinely bad about what they did and apologize for it and have that apology accepted.”Neal did not return a call seeking comment. —Cary StemleRich kids countOnce again, those pesky researchers at the Annie E. Casey Foundation have shone a light on the way children live in America, and once again, Kentucky’s kids’ ranking came in near the bottom. The “Kids Count” study, which reported data from 2005, ranked Kentucky 40th, up from 42nd last year. But several key measurements actually worsened slightly, including low birth weight and the overall teen death rate. Still, a two-point improvement is a two-point improvement. Keep this up and we’ll be No. 1 in 2027! Woo-hoo!The study is another reminder that it sucks to be poor. In Kentucky, 22 percent of children live in poverty. Fully 38 percent of children live in homes where no parent has full-time employment. Even factoring out the idle rich, a lot of Kentuckians are scraping by in a country that now has more than 1,000 billionaires.To fix this problem, Kentuckians will have to pull together and fund education, reduce dropouts, provide jobs, make roads safer, and provide better access to healthcare, right? Um, yeah. But guess what experts say the single-most effective strategy to improve the well-being of children would be: Yep, raise the cigarette tax. Not only would it help fund healthcare, reduce disease and freshen breath, but it would dramatically impact this shocking statistic: Currently, one out of every four pregnant women in Kentucky smokes. —Jim WelpHenhouse hires foxBoth agencies that oversee public education in Kentucky are finding it impossible to hire leaders, possibly because it’s not a lot of fun doing the impossible with the unfunded for the thankless. Both the Kentucky Department of Education, which oversees K-12 schools, and the Council on Postsecondary Education, which oversees public colleges, have seen candidates for their top jobs vamoose faster than free-and-reduced lunches at the poor kids’ table.Accordingly, both agencies have resorted to the I-word — “interim” — in hopes of buying some time until new suckers … er, leaders … can be headhunted. But the Council on Postsecondary Education might have found its man in Ernie Fletcher’s budget chief Brad Cowgill. The council hired Cowgill as its interim president last week and hinted he would make a great permanent candidate for the $275,000-per-year job.And why not? It’s impossible to ponder the prospect of the Fletcher administration’s top spreadsheet guy struggling to oversee starving universities without the word “karma” coming to mind. The consolation prize for Cowgill: If he takes the job permanently, he’ll be employed next year. —JWContact the writers at citystrobe@leoweekly.com