Friday, November 09, 2007

Arrogance and Condescension in Lucas County

Well, there you have it. The voters in Lucas County rejected, for the second time, a levy to fund COSI. That means we're "unwise" if you listen to our mayor, or "nervous" if you listen to the editorial board of The Blade.

I prefer to think that the voters were neither. Just because we disagreed with you doesn't mean that we're wrong - unless you are so arrogant as to think that you always know best and those who fail to follow along are just in need of education. But this is an attitude we see so often from those 'in power' or considered 'elite.'

The Blade's editorial says "It's a mystery why Lucas County voters rejected COSI's request for nominal taxpayer support..." It's no mystery to anyone who bothered to actually talk to many residents - they don't want to be taxed for this. They don't want to increase their own property taxes and they don't believe this non-profit organization should be on the public dole. They obviously think that the Board wasn't responsible enough with the money they did have to give them any more, especially when Board Chairman Dave Waterman said that they've had a failing business plan for 10 years - but they aren't developing a new one or making changes in the failed one in anticipation of tax receipts.

Rather than wonder why we could have possible said no to this - The Blade and the Mayor should be asking why, in light of declining revenues and attendance, they said yes!

And calling the tax 'nominal,' 'mere' and other terms designed to makes us feel bad for being so 'stingy,' doesn't enhance the position any. In fact, I believe voters are beginning to see through this tactic and reject it.

The Blade says:

"Many complicated reasons can be involved when voters refuse levies. Maybe this one failed because it was a new tax, which makes voters nervous in wobbly economic times. Other levies - for Lucas County's public libraries, Metroparks, and TARTA - were successful, but they were renewals."

(Aside to the editorial writer: they weren't renewals - they were replacements. And if you can't get that right???)

Again, it's not complicated if you talk to people or pay attention to what is going on in the community. People are complaining about being overtaxed; we've got commissioners doing fake food stamp challenges because so many residents 'have to struggle just to eat'; commissioners give out gasoline cards because people can't afford the increased gas prices; and our welfare offices give out vouchers to pay for winter heating because it's too costly and our fellow residents just can't afford it. Of course, we also lead the state in terms of number of foreclosures and, according to these same elected officials, it's so bad we have to have a foreclosure task force! Plus, we lead the urban communities in unemployment - and our population is declining.

Yep - it sure is a mystery why we didn't vote to increase our tax burden! Actually, I think the real mystery is why, considering all of this, any of the levies passed.

But The Blade comes to at least one incorrect conclusion. They say, "It's hard to believe, though, that anyone would think COSI wasn't worthwhile." I didn't hear anyone say COSI wasn't worthwhile. What I did hear them say is that it shouldn't be funded with tax dollars - that if it's SOOOO worthwhile as supporters claim, it should be able to earn the donations and memberships of private individuals.

The incorrect conclusion is to assume an opinion of COSI based upon a rejection of a particular funding mechanism. But when you're trying to embarrass or shame the public into adopting your perspective on the issue, such reason and logic about funding mechanisms are intentionally confused with emotion over the product/services being offered in an attempt to persuade. (see also Emotion versus Reason)

To think that your opinion of 'worthwhile' is all that is needed to tax the entire public is yet another example of the arrogant and condescending attitude that is so prevalent in the area. But it's especially so when you consider the access that The Blade has to all their prior stories on COSI.

In a quick review of old Blade articles I found Brent Cousino, COSI board treasurer, saying that they lost money every year of operation. I found that, in May 2001, COSI's attendance was down 5%, even before the events of September 11th. Based upon the numbers in multiple articles, I found that their attendance, while averaging 250,000 per year since opening, was actually an average of 155,000 over the last 8 years. And considering other references to declining attendance, was probably much less than that over the last 4.

It's also a shame that our local newspaper intentionally ignored all the signs of trouble as well as the original promise COSI made to never go to the voters for support.

But the voters aren't the only ones being chided in the editorial.

"City officials say they are not writing COSI's obituary yet. That's encouraging, but we didn't notice much of a push from Government Center before the election, which might have meant the difference."

But, just wait. Now that said elected officials have realized that the voters have a different position than they do, they'll embark upon their own campaign to 'educate us' on the error of our ways.

In fact, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and our three county commissioners, Tina Skeldon Wozniak, Pete Gerken and Ben Konop, signed a letter sent to all 34 board members asking them to keep COSI open.

"On behalf of the citizens of the City of Toledo and Lucas County, we encourage COSI to stay open until a logical future-funding plan can be discussed. We will work to seek the help that you need in order to make this happen.

In the meantime, we encourage you to keep your doors open. We fear if you close, we may lose this valuable resource forever.

Yours from Toledo – a City of the Future! *"

First, you don't speak for me. You're supposed to represent me and the other residents of the city and county. You are NOT supposed to subordinate our demonstrated decisions to your own opinions. The voters have spoken - twice, and by a greater margin than the first time - that they do not want to fund COSI with tax dollars.

If - and I emphasize IF - you do anything, you had better not expend any public dollars on this failing entity. To go against the wishes of the voters in this regard would be tantamount to asking for an uprising - unless you think we're so dumb as to let you get away with that.

But, given the past actions of voters in this regard, you may have grounds to believe you will suffer no consequences. I believe, however, that times have changed and that the voters are wiser and more knowledgeable than they've been in the past. This COSI vote demonstrates that, and YOU would be 'wise' to consider this fact.

Sadly, the issue of voter apathy gets lost in these details about a specific levy. Less than 30% of the registered voters bothered to exercise their right on Tuesday. But when you consider comments by the mayor, letters urging the opposite of what voters decided and newspaper editorials telling us we're stingy for not increasing our tax burden - not to mention the arrogance and condescension so evident in these missives - is it any wonder why people think their vote doesn't matter?

Voters wanted to keep the old workhouse open but officials closed it anyway. Voters rejected (either two or three times) building a convention center, but officials built it anyway. While there may be some technical points, many Toledoans thought they voted to build a new arena on the East Side - but it's being built in downtown Toledo (and still without a solid funding stream to support the projected $100 million in costs). And the same entities who supported going against the voter wishes on these projects are now suggesting that it's time to do so again - this time with COSI.

And those same people wonder why so many don't bother to go to the polls??? It's no mystery to me.

As for the future of COSI, it seems obvious. There are bank presidents, accountants and corporate leaders on the board of COSI. If COSI came to them and asked them to invest their own monies, would they? Would Huntington, FirstMerit, National City, Bank of Maumee or Key Bank loan this business any money? Would any accountant or fiscal officer risk the funds they were responsible for in this institution with this kind of fiscal history? And if their answer is 'no' why do they expect the voters to be any different?

The voters have spoken - twice. It's time to abide by what they decided.

6 comments:

Christopher said...

If I recall correctly, voters of Lucas County rejected publicly funding a new baseball stadium and then the commissioners decided to do it any way.

I see the same scenario taking place with COSI.

Our honorable public servants say, "we encourage COSI to stay open until a logical future-funding plan can be discussed."

First, if COSI has no money, how can it stay open for any reason? Secondly, what does logic have to do with funding? If anything, logic would dictate COSI be closed already.

COSI says if its levy does not get approval, it will close. Levy does not get approval, COSI must close.

Never has logic entered the fray in Lucas County anyway. Logic would dictate that if the voters refuse public funding and an elected official grants public funding anyway, then voters should remove said elected official. When has that ever happened here? I can't recall a single case.

I remember the post-Portside, pre-COSI days when detractors of a proposed COSI said there is no way COSI doesn't seek (or obtain) public funding within a few years.

Here we are. Crossroads. The voters have spoken. C'YA COSI.y

Tim Higgins said...

Maggie,

It is apparent that these public officials only consider our votes to be worthwhile when it pusts them in office, hand over more more and power to government organizations, or agree with their pre-conceived notions. When they do not, there appears to be an assumption of a right to overrule those choices in order to do what they feel is best for the community and for "the people".

There are two quotes on my current page that seem to fit this situation, and they bear repeating here:

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.
- Ernest Benn

The difference between democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later. In a dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting.
- Charles Bukowski

Robin said...

I'm thinking that the COSI levy was rejected because no one wants "one more thing" added to their taxes. Once an entity gets on the tax roll, it will never get off. And we'd be stuck with increases every other year to keep up with their budget plan.

And I also remember the baseball stadium levy failing, and Carty pitching a fit and declaring that he was going to shift some other public funds to make it happen.

Robin said...

Archive of a story about 5/3rd Field from 1999

http://www.clipfile.org/1999/10/18/374/

Roo said...

I thought one of the purposes of an election was to have an informed public render a decision on matters that impact their lives. Perhaps I was mistaken.

COSI - while it may be a worthwhile project - is not something that Toledo cannot live without. I have never seen many people going in and out - ever.

I (and many others) am already paying huge taxes - property, income, sales, etc. And I'm still told that there is a shortage in police protection, the fire department needs personnel and equipment, our rivers need care, there is a huge mess on the bank of the Maumee that used to be a Steamplant....

But, hey! If I have a choice between placing tax dollars in the quest for more emergency services or a science museum - you can bet your last levy dollar it's not for the museum.

Frank said...

It never ceases to amaze me about our public officials.
When will they grow up?? If they think that COSI is so much of an asset to Toledo and Lucas County, then they themselves can foot the bill and keep it open!
I often wonder how well they budget their own finances? It would be a very interesting story to see how they operate their homes and family life compared to our government.
Note to any public official that might be reading this blog: Remember this, we can vote you in or out of office.

Maybe if the citizens of Lucas County continue to be educated, the turn out for the next election will have a higher turnout (maybe 60% or higher?).
Thanks again Maggie for the information!

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