FSU Students Find Way to National Institutes of Health Thanks to Partnership

5d5e96a1-9b8f-4510-85a23030e6fe41f4_mediumBy Charles Schelle

Eugenia Asare is helping the nation’s top scientists find answers about anthrax before she earns her bachelor’s degree from Frostburg State University.

The health sciences major from Gaithersburg is working with world-renowned experts at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md., to help solve unanswered questions about anthrax by seeing what happens when a harmless protein found in the potential biological weapon is mutated.

“Research like this seems to be something you do at a Harvard or Yale, but to come from Frostburg and to be able to represent my school at NIH, it really is encouraging,” said Asare, who enters her senior year in the fall. “I hope a lot more Frostburg students can be able to do this as well.”

Asare completed an internship at NIH in summer 2015 then continued independent study research at FSU with related experiments in a student-safe system involving a different bacterial species. Continue reading FSU Students Find Way to National Institutes of Health Thanks to Partnership

Becoming A One-Time Flood Insurance Policy Expert

I’d guess that 80 percent of journalism is having to write about something you don’t know about.

Don’t ask me what the other 20 percent is, though.

It could be something as simple as you don’t know what’s going to come out of a meeting, or covering a religious event that you don’t celebrate or in this case, explaining to people what the hell was going on with skyrocketing flood insurance policies. Thankfully enough noise was made that forced the federal government to delay changes that were making people pay more for flood insurance than their mortgage.

I don’t own a home. And so I don’t pay for flood insurance. So, I have no idea how any of this works.

But I was told to tell people what happened in my community and what’s behind the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. It must have resonated because a law office decided to cite one of my articles as a source in a Tampa Chamber of Commerce newsletter and InsuranceNewsNet picked up the story.

Part of the reporting was to convince the Washington Bureau that the flood insurance problems are not just a Florida problem, but a national issue. I also contributed to a McClatchy Washington Bureau story on the issue, too, when the bureau was able to follow the goings-on in D.C.

Continue reading Becoming A One-Time Flood Insurance Policy Expert

When Nobody’s Home at the Housing Authority

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via @JDeLeon1012 on Twitter

One of the more interesting assignments I had was covering the Bradenton Housing Authority after a federal raid and investigation.

At the time of the raid, the paper hadn’t regularly covered the BHA meetings for at least a year, thanks to layoffs and cuts. I was asked to cover what was going on to assist a rookie reporter and the crime desk. The crime desk covered the initial raid and as the crime beat picked up with activity, I had to take the BHA over full time until another city reporter was hired, who has since then dutifully covered the beat. Mark Young has done a great job when he came on and I was very thankful he could tackle the beat as the Mall at University Town Center and another huge land development, Lake Flores, were about to consume my beat again.

What I found was a public board that was complacent by saying yes to everything by the executive director, signing off on policies without looking at them or fully understanding them and either ignorance or apathy. And for the longest time, denial, until a few of the members came around and realized what happened.

The interim director, who was the authority’s financial director, revealed later she was the whistleblower, but the question was always why did she allow this to go on for so long and not alert anyone else? The inflated salaries for staff certainly helped keep folks quiet. The interim director was also looking for a raise from her financial director salary.

Eventually she resigned for medical reasons and so did another official making $130,000 a year. The agency saved salaries from both of them and paid an experienced director $130,000 to lead it back on track. The new director also pointed out the bias and flaws in a salary study completed under the interim director’s watch.

I filed plenty of FOIAs for this one, some still awaiting to be fulfilled because of the ongoing investigation through HUD-OIG. Just getting coherent information and documentation from the Housing Authority was a mighty struggle, where I had to rely on experts from other housing authorities to verify what I was seeing.

I tracked down the main players, who of course, weren’t willing to talk. My work also grabbed the attention of a U.S. Senator who is known for making a stink over housing authority scandals–mainly pointing out that in one way or another the federal oversight is broken. And the various state and local laws make it difficult to find a solution.

Here are the highlights of my Housing Authority coverage:

Continue reading When Nobody’s Home at the Housing Authority

Levity in Political Coverage When The Vice President Visits

If you wanted to win the 2012 Presidential Election, you and your friends campaigned in Florida.

Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Joe Biden all made public campaign stops in Sarasota, Fla., during that cycle.

Watching so many political speeches can drive you a little bonkers. Especially with grumpy traveling media by your side.

Patch was flexible enough where we could post lighthearted moments meant for viral content the same day we post straight news.

Biden’s colorful speech made for the perfect viral moment. I had professional grade camera equipment at this stop and was able to hook up into the mic feed for clean audio.

So, here’s Yo Biden from Oct. 31, 2012, where I mashed up and cleverly edited the vice president’s speech.

That Time You Asked Ben & Jerry’s Cofounder About Political Contributions

Ben Cohen, cofounder of Ben & Jerry’s, stopped in Sarasota, Fla., in 2013 to talk about “stamping” money out of politics.

It seemed groovy, but Cohen also contributed cash to political donations. And so did the ice cream maker’s parent company, but the Vermont-based operation seemed to keep its nose clean.

Just shows you how there are no easy answers to politics.

Ben & Jerry’s Co-Founder Stamps Money Out Of Politics In Sarasota

Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen greeted Sarasota visitors with his Amend-O-Matic StampMobile Friday night.

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Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen arrived in St. Armands Friday to put his own stamp on the American political system.

Cohen came with his Amend-O-Matic StampMobile that’s a bit of a Rube Goldberg machine, sending dollar bills through a contraption, stamping them with messages to help influence people to ask their lawmakers to overturn the Citizens United decision, giving corporations the power to donate endlessly to political campaigns and political action committees.

“Stamp Stampede is part of the larger movement to pass a Constitutional Amendment that corporations are not people, and money is not speech,” Cohen told Patch inside the St. Armands Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Scoop Shop. Cohen is in the midst of an extensive road tour with the truck, having just arrived in Sarasota from the Miami area, and will hit the road again Saturday.

Yet, with his movement, he’s using money to act as a vehicle for free speech with messages like “Stamp Money Out of Politics.”

“The goal of the campaign is to get tens of thousands of Americans to get these tamps—they can get these stamps online at StampStampede.org—and stamp money  that comes in their possession because it’s like a petition on steroids,” Cohen said.  “Every dollar that you stamp gets seen by 800 people. You stamp five five dollar bills a day, that’s 4,000 people that see it. If you do that for 100 days, that’s 400,000 people, and if you do that over a year, that’s a million impressions and that’s just one person.”

Cohen’s visit came through a surprise call through his assistant this week, Almarode said. After a few quick calls, Cohen told Almarode he wanted to come out to the Gulf Coast of Florida to gain some exposure for his Stamp Stampede, and from there, they used the organic approach to spread the word through community radio WSLR.

“Jerry’s very like minded, too, supporting community radio,” Almarode said.

This is the first time that Cohen has visited the Scoop Shop since 1996, Almarode said. Jerry Greenfield has visited the shop multiple times through the years, he added.

“Rick has been one of our best franchisees, and I met him at the last franchise meeting,” Cohen told Patch. ” He has really cool Ben & Jerry’s memorabilia that he’s been collecting and one of our better shops.”

Cohen’s visit isn’t a Ben and Jerry’s company sponsored event, however. It’s really a part of Cohen’s own nonprofit he founded called Stamp Stampede, which sells stamps at-cost to people they can use to legally stamp their money with messages to get the word out that corporations should not be allowed to endlessly donate to political campaigns and action committees.

“I know this was successful when those bills started to come back to me,” Cohen said. “At the beginning, people were waiting for that to happen, and it wasn’t happening. Now we’re getting reports that those bills are circulating.”

However, Ben and Jerry’s has its own campaign called “It’s time to Get The Dough Out of Politics” where postcards are available at the Scoop Shop in St. Armands and other shops for customer to fill out to tell their Congressmen to take money out of politics, by partnering with the national non-partisan organization Free Speech For People.

Ben & Jerry’s got caught up in the corporate world now, though, being acquired by the British and Dutch conglomerate Unilever in 2001, but has been able to remain relatively autonomous in that structure.

Unilever has contributed $38,132 from 2011 through third quarter of 2012 to campaigns, mainly Democrats, but $500 did to go Gov. Mitt Romney, according to InfluenceExplorer.com. Barack Obama’s campaign received $15,620, and Florida Congressman Ted Deutch, covering Pompano Beach, received $5,000, according to the website.

Cohen himself has donated $155,773 of his own money to federal campaigns since 1988, according to NewsMeat.com’s database.

Cohen, who said he doesn’t have much influence at Ben and Jerry’s anymore, said he doesn’t view being in that position of donating as a conflict with his message.

“Do I see a conflict? I don’t see a conflict at all. I guess that’s one of the hallmarks of Ben and Jerry’s. Corporations are very political animals. They are working really hard. They’re the people who finance all the lobbyists in Washington. They’re very much trying to influence the government in their own narrow self-interests,” Cohen said. “The hallmark of Ben and Jerry’s is that it tries to use its power as a corporation in the interest of the community as a whole, not in its own narrow self interests. That’s worked pretty well, and the company’s done alright.”

The company and Cohen’s non-profit doesn’t ask the stores or franchise owners to support the causes, Almarode said, but he does believe in equality and social justice.

“I would never buy into this if it was partial to one side,” Almarode said.

Making Sewage Stories Readable

I love sources who can explain boring topics in a way that’s relatable and meaningful to readers.

I’d see and hear Joe Barrington at enough meetings in the county about sewer projects that I learned more about where your waste goes more than I wanted to know.

He shared with me a series of problems in the community with both sewers and water–something that mattered in a community that often had line breaks and clogs.

So, we did a series called Liquid Assets to cover these topics. Continue reading Making Sewage Stories Readable

When Mental Health, Safety, Politics Collide

Photo by Phil Grout

See more at: Covering a small town can be more active than what you think.

I learned this when I was thrusted in covering a controversial change at a state mental hospital in town, Springfield Hospital Center. The center has a long history with the town and many residents either work there or knows someone who does.

They understand the hospital’s mission and care. But a change in policy led residents to be uneasy as those who battle mental issues that have committed crimes, some violent, would be transferred to Springfield. The Muncie Building on the campus, shown above, was renovated to house these patients awaiting trial.

Links to full coverage are at the bottom, for as long as the Sun maintains the archive. Continue reading When Mental Health, Safety, Politics Collide

When a Maryland Delegate Ignores the First Amendment

It’s beneficial to be the only reporter at a meeting. At a work session of the Carroll County Delegation to the General Assembly, a Maryland politician took newspapers to task for their delivery method. And her bill to restrict that went further than we thought despite being a First Amendment issue.

At the time in 2008, the bedroom communities in suburban Maryland were inundated with news. Especially free weeklies. It was possible that your home could receive The Examiner, The Eagle, The Advocate, The Gazette — all free publications — in your driveway plus whatever paper you paid to subscribe to. If I recall, the Eagle and Advocate had paid to be sent via the mail.

You can see how this would be a nuisance during rain or on vacation. As a news outlet, you’re having to defend your turf in reporting because you want a job and you want your stories to be read.

In the long-run, this was for naught. Despite a delivery pact being signed, most of these papers aren’t in business. The Gazette shuttered all operations; The Examiner stopped printing papers in Baltimore; The Eldersburg and Westminster editions of the Eagle turned into the Carroll Eagle and was inserted in the Sunday Baltimore Sun; and The Advocate was eliminated as it was owned by the Carroll County Times, which was bought by the Sun.

Continue reading When a Maryland Delegate Ignores the First Amendment

Incarcerated Veterans Care for Veterans Cemetery

Award Winner: 2008 First-place state government story in Division E for MDDC Press Association

Prisoners called to aid fallen soldiers

Sykesville inmates tapped to maintain veterans’ cemetery

By Charles Schelle
cschelle@patuxent.com

Posted 12/17/08

(Enlarge) Central Laundry Facility residents Sylvester Woodland, Timothy Brown and Ernest Belcher work together to install new section markers at the Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery as part of a pilot program between the cemetery and the Department of Corrections. All the inmates chosen for the duty are, themselves, veterans. (Photo by Phil Grout)

David Fisher, 42, looked across Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery and pointed to two hills.

“My uncle is buried right up there over that hill and one of my best friends is buried right there,” said the Army veteran — who these days is incarcerated at the Central Laundry Facility minimum security jail in Sykesville.

“I put flowers on his grave the other day,” he added.

Fisher, originally from East Baltimore, is one of several workers at the Central Laundry Facility who are honorably discharged veterans now incarcerated.

And since September, he and others have been maintaining Garrison Forest Cemetery in Owings Mills as a means to honor their fellow servicemen, friends and family; and as a way to find meaningful work when they’re released.

Continue reading Incarcerated Veterans Care for Veterans Cemetery

When Technology Limits 911 Capabilities

Award Winner: 2008 First-place local government story in Division E for MDDC Press Association

Crossing the line on 911 calls? | The Eldersburg Eagle

Calls sent to Howard, then back to Carroll

By Charles Schelle, cschelle@patuxent.com

Eldersburg Eagle, June 25, 2008

Beverly Burns of Sykesville said she can still hear the scream of a 39-year-old Baltimore Gas and Electric worker who was electrocuted last week outside her home.

Unsure of what those screams meant, Burns picked up her cell phone at about 2:45 a.m. Wednesday, June 18, in her home on Spout Hill Road and dialed 911.

When the dispatcher answered, though, it was Howard County’s 911 center. That center transferred Burns to Carroll County’s 911 center and sent help to the scene.

“I’ve been sitting here for two days wondering if we weren’t routed through Howard County, could those extra minutes made a difference for that man?” she said Friday in a call to The Eagle.

The BGE worker died of cardiac arrest en route to University of Maryland Shock Trauma, according to a press release from the Sykesville Police Department. He was not identified in the release.

Scott Campbell, Carroll County Department of Public Safety administrator, said he could not give a definitive answer, but from what he was told about the situation, the system worked as it is supposed to, and he said there’s no issue with AT&T, Burns’ carrier.

Communication companies typically place three 120-degree panel antennas to route calls, Campbell said. Those antennas receive 911 calls in a full circle, he added.

“At least one of its towers are pointing toward Howard County and vice versa,” he said.

Campbell gives Mount Airy as the best example of the case given that it is split among Carroll, Frederick, Howard and Montgomery counties where cell phone users dialing 911 might get a call center from either of those counties – depending on where they are standing, he said.

When a caller is routed to a neighboring jurisdiction, dispatchers have specific guidelines and procedures of what to do, he said. Callers can help by stating clearly where they are, he said.

“I’m very happy to hear the process worked the exact way it’s suppose to,” he said. “It’s a very brief transfer process.”

Terrible instance

The 911 center received numerous calls about the incident, Campbell added. According to a press release by the Sykesville Police Department, the power failed at 2:36 a.m., and the worker was pronounced dead at 4:37 a.m.

Additional antennas to pick up signals in Sykesville to be routed to the Carroll County 911 center might not change the parameters of how calls are routed, Campbell said.

Still, he said he would follow-up on the Burns’ concern.

“We will, in fact, determine what AT&T sites are in the area,” he said. However, Campbell stresses that the situation is not unique to AT&T. It’s a wireless communications issue, he said.

The county does not have a 10-digit phone number to use for emergency calls to directly reach the Carroll County 911 center, Campbell said. He discourages calling the Department of Public Safety’s business lines, too, because of the tools that workers can use in the 911 system.

“Truthfully, to not use 911 would be usurping all of the 911-affiliated benefits of calling 911,” he said. “We would not be encouraging that at all.”

Burns lives above the sub-station on Spout Hill Road near Springfield Avenue and wanted to run outside and help the worker, whom she said she could hear crying for help. Her husband stopped her from proceeding for her own safety, she said, not knowing what exactly happened.

“I like to send my condolences for the family,” she said. “I was just scared for my own safety.”