11 Dayton Daily News investigations that had an impact in 2021

Early Thanksgiving Day editions of the Dayton Daily News are available now at locations including Dorothy Lane Market in Oakwood and Kroger on Wayne Avenue in Dayton. Staff photo by Barbara Kedziora.
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Early Thanksgiving Day editions of the Dayton Daily News are available now at locations including Dorothy Lane Market in Oakwood and Kroger on Wayne Avenue in Dayton. Staff photo by Barbara Kedziora.

Dayton Daily News reporters in 2021 provided oversight of government spending, spurred reforms and aid for crime victims, exposed environmental concerns, helped parents understand how schools were keeping children safe, revealed challenges and opportunities for the local economy, addressed racial inequities, and held public officials accountable.

Support from our subscribers made this work possible.

Below are some examples of the in-depth investigative reporting from the Dayton Daily News that helped shape 2021.

1. Rental assistance programs

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This owners of this duplex on Xenia Avenue in Dayton received $19,125 in rental assistance last year through a rental assistance program funded by federal CARES Act dollars. They claimed renters lived there, though neither unit had water service last year, and signs on the property say presence there is prohibited and the property is a risk to firefighters.

Credit: Josh Sweigart

This owners of this duplex on Xenia Avenue in Dayton received $19,125 in rental assistance last year through a rental assistance program funded by federal CARES Act dollars. They claimed renters lived there, though neither unit had water service last year, and signs on the property say presence there is prohibited and the property is a risk to firefighters.
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This owners of this duplex on Xenia Avenue in Dayton received $19,125 in rental assistance last year through a rental assistance program funded by federal CARES Act dollars. They claimed renters lived there, though neither unit had water service last year, and signs on the property say presence there is prohibited and the property is a risk to firefighters.

Credit: Josh Sweigart

Credit: Josh Sweigart

A federal investigation continues of the newspaper’s findings on how Montgomery County distributed federal CARES Act funds to landlords.

Our reporters scoured government records and went door to door in area neighborhoods to reveal that government funds were going to the owners of uninhabitable properties and landlords who allegedly didn’t pass the assistance along to their tenants.

Montgomery County officials immediately tightened program rules. Some landlords returned the funds after being contacted by the newspaper. An FBI investigation was launched.

Meanwhile, the Dayton Daily News monitored whether local agencies were getting assistance to local residents in need to prevent evictions. One agency at the forefront of the issue says it has made changes to address recurrent complaints This followed an Army veteran from Kettering being evicted, despite contacting the agency for help.

The Dayton Daily News will continue to report on how local agencies are spending tens of millions of dollars in rental assistance funds, whether residents in need are getting help, and the outcome of the federal investigation.

ExploreDayton Daily News investigates: Landlord received thousands in questionable rental aid

2. DeWine’s ties to company at center of corruption scandal

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Akron-based FirstEnergy and FirstEnergy Solutions donated more than $1 million since 2017 to help elect Gov. Mike DeWine.

A Dayton Daily News investigation this year revealed the utility companies’ at the center of a massive statehouse corruption scandal had ties to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

The newspaper reported that Akron-based FirstEnergy and FirstEnergy Solutions donated more than $1 million to nonprofit groups and political campaigns since 2017 to help elect DeWine.

The Dayton Daily News examined multiple campaign finance and IRS records to uncover the amount of the energy companies’ support for DeWine’s election efforts.

Federal prosecutors in July charged FirstEnergy with fraud and the company agreed to pay $230 million to avoid prosecution. As part of the deal, FirstEnergy acknowledged it paid millions of dollars to former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder through Householder’s alleged 501(c)(4) in return for a $1.3 billion energy bailout bill that was passed into law.

DeWine has not been named as a subject of the investigation, and the governor’s spokesman said he has supported the importance of energy long before FirstEnergy supported his 2018 campaign.

The FirstEnergy bribery case is the largest in state history, with Householder and his allies accused of accepting $61 million through dark money groups in exchange for passing and defending legislation benefitting FirstEnergy.

ExploreFirstEnergy pumped $1M into backing DeWine, records show

3. Probation officer stole restitution checks

The victims of a Montgomery County Municipal Court probation officer received restitution payments after a Dayton Daily News investigation found the payments were misplaced by the court.

The newspaper’s investigation found lax oversight by area courts allowed restitution money first to be stolen by the probation officer, then misplaced for more than a year. The court administrator apologized to the victims owed money.

The newspaper also reported that the probation officer, a former employee of the court, was sentenced to three weeks of probation as punishment for his crime, a term that the local public defender called “unusual.”

ExploreRestitution in local court cases was first stolen, then misplaced by the court, our investigation finds

4. ‘Horrific’ apartments

After the city of Dayton assisted some residents of an 18-unit apartment building to find temporary housing because of alleged unsafe conditions, the Dayton Daily News found a history of issues with the property management.

The Dayton Daily News reviewed hundreds of real estate, financial and court records, and interviewed Dayton and Milwaukee officials, tenants, the property manager and his attorneys.

The newspaper found that the company that had recently sold the apartment building owned other properties in Dayton with maintenance problems and had connections to properties in Milwaukee that allegedly racked up thousands of code violations. The property manager denied wrongdoing, said he improved his properties and that the allegations in Milwaukee were bogus.

ExploreInvestigation: ‘Horrific’ apartment latest in string of problem properties

5. The Path Forward: Jobs and the Economy

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Parents and employers face child care challenges

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Dayton Daily News reporters in 2021 dug into what obstacles existed to getting the region’s economy back on track after the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The newspaper revealed that the pandemic worsened a preexisting lack of affordable, quality child care and left a shortage of workers.

The Dayton Daily News interviewed dozens of child care experts, business leaders, educators, politicians and parents and analyzed reams of reports and data to study the child care crisis and explore possible solutions as part of our Path Forward initiative.

Our investigation found broad consensus that child care and preschool are crucial to families, children, businesses and the economy, and that it is time for solutions to be put into place to fix long-standing problems with affordability, access, quality and low pay for child care workers and preschool teachers.

ExploreChild care crisis: Costs, shortage of workers leading to ‘a situation that is untenable’

6. Staffing shortages

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Mary Johnson shakes the hand of Dayton Public Schools human resources partner, Andrae Hicks Wednesday Sept. 29, 2021. after a job interview. Dayton Public Schools held a job fair at Jackson Center on Abbey Ave. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Mary Johnson shakes the hand of Dayton Public Schools human resources partner, Andrae Hicks Wednesday Sept. 29, 2021. after a job interview. Dayton Public Schools held a job fair at Jackson Center on Abbey Ave. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
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Mary Johnson shakes the hand of Dayton Public Schools human resources partner, Andrae Hicks Wednesday Sept. 29, 2021. after a job interview. Dayton Public Schools held a job fair at Jackson Center on Abbey Ave. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Area employers struggled in 2021 to fill jobs as the economy improved from the pandemic-induced recession.

The Dayton Daily News interviewed 18 local and national career and human resources experts, companies, business leaders and job seekers about staffing shortages. Some said the biggest problem is a shortage of qualified applicants. Others say good candidates are ignored or offered inadequate pay, and many people who need jobs still struggled with access to affordable child care and fear of catching COVID-19 at work.

Some cited the “Great Resignation,” as a record number of workers quit their jobs amid a competitive job market.

In one industry important to our local economy, trucking, the newspaper looked at proposals to lower the driving age for big rigs and how the need for more drivers balances with safety concerns.

Another investigation looked at how a focus on job training can help match displaced workers with in-demand jobs.

ExploreThe ‘Great Mismatch:’ Why aren’t companies with record openings connecting with applicants?

7. The Path Forward: Race and Equity

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(Left to right) Mawuena Nenonene, Lily Chen and Marga Franz are all rising seniors at Beavercreek High School. In May, they and two of their classmates (Isaiah Franco and Trinity Myers) gave a presentation to school administrators on the discrimination and racism they regularly face in school from teachers and students.

Credit: Jordan Laird

(Left to right) Mawuena Nenonene, Lily Chen and Marga Franz are all rising seniors at Beavercreek High School. In May, they and two of their classmates (Isaiah Franco and Trinity Myers) gave a presentation to school administrators on the discrimination and racism they regularly face in school from teachers and students.
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(Left to right) Mawuena Nenonene, Lily Chen and Marga Franz are all rising seniors at Beavercreek High School. In May, they and two of their classmates (Isaiah Franco and Trinity Myers) gave a presentation to school administrators on the discrimination and racism they regularly face in school from teachers and students.

Credit: Jordan Laird

Credit: Jordan Laird

The Dayton Daily News in 2021 focused investigative reporting on how to address regional racial inequities.

One investigation explored ways to address the infant mortality rate among Black babies in Montgomery County — which is twice as high as the rate for white infants.

Another story found Black homebuyers are twice as likely to be denied loans, and revealed ways to address that disparity.

Other stories explored how we talk about and address historical and ongoing segregation, both in how local schools teach about race, and how transportation planners design our road system.

ExploreHow Dayton-area schools teach about race — or not

8. The Path Forward: Protecting our drinking water

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Sean Mormino, environmental education and animal care coordinator at the Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center, stands near jugs the staff uses to transport water for animals after PFAS was discovered in the facility's drinking water system. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Sean Mormino, environmental education and animal care coordinator at the Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center, stands near jugs the staff uses to transport water for animals after PFAS was discovered  in the facility's drinking water system. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
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Sean Mormino, environmental education and animal care coordinator at the Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center, stands near jugs the staff uses to transport water for animals after PFAS was discovered in the facility's drinking water system. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Dayton Daily News reporting in 2021 revealed the extent of threats to area drinking water supplies from so-called forever chemicals.

This includes contamination found in at least a dozen private drinking water wells in the area near the Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center.

Records also show crews at the Dayton International Airport disposed of firefighting foam multiple times — including accidental spills — in recent years, discharges which followed guidelines in place at the time but which introduced PFAS chemicals into the environment.

A report from a government and business panel assembled because of concerns about these issues found the area’s water quality is very good, but recommends extensive monitoring for the chemicals, known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS. The chemicals are the most immediate threat to the Buried Valley Aquifer, where the majority of communities on the region get their drinking water, the report says.

Explore‘Forever chemicals’ detected in at least a dozen private wells in Montgomery County

9. How schools handle COVID

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Hallways at Stebbins high school are less crowded because the students are on a rotating daily schedule. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

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Hallways at Stebbins high school are less crowded because the students are on a rotating daily schedule. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
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Hallways at Stebbins high school are less crowded because the students are on a rotating daily schedule. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

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Dayton Daily News investigations in 2021 helped parents understand how local school districts’ decisions affected their children’s safety and education.

The newspaper surveyed dozens of local school districts and schools to illustrate how they were handling requiring students to wear masks because of COVID-19 concerns. This included asking schools for mask exemption forms that families can fill out, as well as how many requests had been submitted and approved.

Our reporting found a Valley View school district parent advertised on Facebook that she was ordained online by the Universal Life Church and offered to sign religious exemption forms. She eventually signed for more than 150 students in Valley View, as well as students in Miamisburg, Springboro and other districts, our investigation found.

The Dayton Daily News continued tracking which districts required masks and which did not throughout the year, and revealed how state reporting on COVID-19 cases in schools was riddled with errors.

Our reporters will continue covering these issues throughout the pandemic.

ExploreSchool masks: Some districts approve hundreds of exemptions, others few

10. Payroll Project

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Every year, the Dayton Daily News creates a searchable database of area public employee salaries in the interest of government transparency and as a service to our readers.

Our Payroll Project this year found that local government pay swelled last year for the people making the highest wages — more than $100,000 a year — because of the global pandemic, social unrest and staffing shortages.

Our reporters obtained and analyzed payroll data for 29 local counties, cities, townships and other governments, such as the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority and Dayton Metro Library.

Other findings included that Kettering police and firefighters are among the highest paid in the region and state; that a bus driver shortage led to six-figure driver pay at the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority; and reported the highest paid employees in area governments such as Dayton, Xenia, Montgomery County and Oakwood.

Another Payroll Project investigation raised concerns about potential conflict of interest among area coroners, as the elected coroners of Montgomery, Warren and Clark counties all had side jobs for other counites that their offices do business with. The coroners said these arrangements happen because of a lack of forensic pathologists and places that can do autopsies.

ExploreCounty coroners’ multiple side jobs raise concerns

11. Air Force paid $549M for planes sold for scrap

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

As U.S. leaders orchestrated a controversial withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan this year, the Dayton Daily News investigated how Wright-Patterson Air Force Base official were involved in the Air Force buying planes for the Afghan Air Force that were later scrapped.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says Wright-Patt officials were involved in awarding the contract for the G222 transport planes, ending it and investigating what went wrong.

U.S. taxpayers spent $549 million on the aircraft, most of which were junked a few years later at a scrap value of $40,257. A federal watchdog agency concluded that no one was held accountable for that waste.

The contractor involved disputed the findings of the special inspector general’s report, calling it a faulty analysis and saying that it worked diligently to make the program successful.

ExploreUSAF spent $549M on planes for Afghan Air Force that were sold for scrap