Sunday, September 30, 2007

What good is a slogan?

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) recently sent out an email asking GOPers to vote on a slogan for the upcoming 2008 elections.

The choices:

* Has the Democratic Congress worked for you?

* Right a wrong. Fire a Democrat.

* Think locally. Think Republican.

* Optimism today for a better tomorrow.

* Get back to believing.

Unfortunately, I don't think they got the message from the last round of elections...

Slogans aren't any good unless there is action to back them up. Too many are disappointed because they think our congressional representatives have forgotten the core principles of our party. And sadly, these slogans are more about 'advertising' an election than they are about winning the hearts and minds of voters.

Perhaps the NRCC should take a different approach. Why not try something like this:

'We're sorry. We forgot our core principles. Between now and election day, our votes will once again reflect those core values of lower taxation, limited government, no unnecessary spending, and a belief in the power of the individual. And we promise that, once elected in 2008, we'll maintain these positions, voting accordingly.'

Republicans don't need slogans - they need action consistent with the core principles. Votes in congress will send a much better message than any slogan ever will.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Happy Birthday, Sam Adams!

No - not the beer! The founding father.

Although, you may be interested to know that he was a brewer, just not a very good one ... he actually struggled as a businessman and showed little interest in managing the brewery he inherited upon his father’s death. He was so bad at the brewery business, in fact, that he went bankrupt by 1760.

But he is well known for his political career. He was one of Massachusetts' representatives to the First and Second Continental Congresses and was a signer to the Constitution. He played a prominent role in the Boston Tea Party, even though he had, himself, been a tax collector. (He lost that job because he wasn't very good at actually collecting the taxes due.) He was Governor of Massachusetts from 1793 to 1797.

Some quotes for which he is known:

Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can.

How strangely will the Tools of a Tyrant pervert the plain Meaning of Words!

If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.

Our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty.

The Constitution shall never be construed... to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.

The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution, are worth defending against all hazards: And it is our duty to defend them against all attacks.

And my favorite, which I kept on my desk during my political career:

It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.

Happy Birthday, Sam!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Of Carnivals and George Orwell

I really admire the creativity of the four bloggers who put out the Carnival of Ohio Politics each week. As this is Carnival #84, it should come as no surprise that Scott, at Pho's Akron Pages, focuses on the Orwell's book, 1984.

There are lots of interesting links to the goings-on around the state, but my special compliments to how this blog's posts are introduced:

"...Maggie Thurber shares her Thoughts about the "food stamp challenge." First she outlines the many question about whether the challenge comes from the Ministry of Truth and and about the motivations of the people involved,..."

"Ministry of Truth" - definitely need to use that!


Another 'story behind the story'

It appears that the 'story behind the story' theme is going to be a recurring item in my posts, simply because so much goes on behind the scenes in our county and our city that never gets reported or is intentionally overlooked.

The recent dust-up (Blade article) over the LCIC between Commissioner Ben Konop and the LCIC Director, Shawn Ferguson, is one such circumstance that cries out for 'context.'

First, some background: The Lucas County Improvement Corporation has had significant changes in its structure, composition and membership since 2005. Prior to that, it was a little-known organization that served as a 'private' entity for purchasing/selling land on behalf of its public members (county, cities, townships) and was the administrator of certain government loan programs.

That changed in 2005-06, when two commissioners wanted to re-make the organization and designate it as the county's economic development entity. It is now a non-profit corporation with a 27-member board consisting of several private business representatives, elected officials from the county, cities and townships, and several city of Toledo staff.

At the time, I was opposed to turning over the responsibility for economic development to an independent corporation that would report to a board and not directly to the commissioners. I was also opposed to putting county employees under the direction of the LCIC because I believed that employees should not have two bosses - the LCIC and the Commissioners.

I was also concerned that there were no plans for financial stability for the organization, predicting that it would become a drain on the county budget. And, in light of this resolution to spend $108,000 in economic development grant funds for the 'operation' of the LCIC, in addition to the county's existing budget for their economic development project, it appears I was right.

(There's also the question of whether or not these grant funds, which are designed to be used for businesses locating or expanding in the area, should be used for 'operational' costs of this agency - but that's another question for another time.)

The organization is in the news these days because Konop has decided he's not happy with the performance of the executive director.

Here's the story behind the story:

1) According to this Blade article, Konop didn't think that Ferguson or the LCIC was doing enough to monitor companies who'd gotten tax abatements. Ferguson was appropriately discrete in his public responses, attributing Konop's comments to a lack of understanding and a 'new commissioner learning curve.'

What no one actually reported was that the County has had a review committee for years, specifically tasked with this duty. This committee included, among others, the county's directors of economic development and office of management and budget. Each year, they'd sit down with companies who'd gotten loans and abatements to track their compliance with the various criteria associated with their public monies. An extremely detailed report for the commissioners was compiled and presented. The report indicated the status of compliance, with the committee making recommendations for correction of any issues.

When the county established the LCIC as its economic development entity, it did not transfer this committee's responsibility, but maintained that authority within the board of commissioners.

The legitimacy of Konop's concern about monitoring notwithstanding, it was not the responsibility of the LCIC nor Shawn Ferguson. But you didn't know that, until now.

2) At Tuesday's commissioners' meeting, Konop "took issue with what he said was Mr. Ferguson's "lack of vision" to bring new jobs to the county."

I'm not going to debate Ferguson's vision, it's not relevant. The more important fact to point out is that it is not the responsibility of an executive director to provide 'vision.' That duty lies squarely on the shoulders of an organization's board members. The director is supposed to carry out said vision.

So, if Konop thinks the organization lacks 'vision,' he should be directing this concern to himself and his fellow board members. But no one pointed out this error, until now.

3) Ferguson does not work for the County Commissioners. His employer is the LCIC and he is responsible only to his board. While the three commissioners are members of that board, it is inappropriate, and certainly unprofessional, to expect Ferguson to cater to the needs of these three over the other 24 members and the municipalities and organizations they represent.

4) And then there is this, from the article:

"And Commissioner Pete Gerken said he understood why Mr. Konop was upset.

Mr. Gerken, who worked to create the LCIC and sits on its nine-member executive board, said Mr. Ferguson has refused to complete tasks given to him by Mr. Konop on multiple occasions."

Now we're getting to the core of the issue. If you read between the lines, it appears Konop has given direct instruction to Ferguson and he's mad that the tasks weren't done - and he's taking out his anger on Ferguson publicly.

My first question would be this: has this 'instruction' from Konop gone through the board?

While an LCIC board member can certainly make requests of the director, s/he has no authority to instruct completion of specific tasks outside the line of command - which would be the LCIC's executive committee. And Konop does not sit on that committee.

Second question: did any of the 'tasks' that Konop assigned conflict with other tasks assigned by the board or fall outside the scope of Ferguson's duties?

Third question: were any of these 'tasks' associated with Konop's individual initiatives - initiatives that the LCIC has not adopted?

These are the questions that should have been asked when reporting on the public exchange between the Konop and Ferguson. And Konop's fellow commissioners should have also pointed out these things - but that may be too much to ask of Gerken and commission president Tina Skeldon Wozniak.

5) Part of this exchange has to do with the relationship between the Commissioners and the LCIC. Transferring economic development responsibilities to the LCIC allows the commissioners to have a scapegoat for any lack - or perceived lack - of performance when it comes to economic development. This was one of my major concerns and it now seems that concern was justified. Nowhere is it reported that the Commissioner are taking responsibility, but you're beginning to see plenty of accusations leveled...and I expect more.

6) Commissioners represent 11% of the board, yet they provide the significant majority of funding for the LCIC. So, while they should have only equal representation and influence, controlling the purse strings gives them greater implied control over the organization. This was a major concern of the townships when the LCIC was reorganized. This financial hammer over the organization is what makes Konop think he can give assignments directly to Ferguson without going through the board or the executive committee.

But Konop is not alone in thinking this way.

""There happens to be a disconnect between Shawn and Ben, and it's Shawn's responsibility to make sure one of his major investors feels better about his job performance," Mr. Gerken said."

Gerken is wrong on two fronts. One, it's not Ferguson's responsibility to cater to a single board member. Ferguson is responsible to the entire LCIC board and Gerken should know that and explain this fact to Konop.

Two, Konop is not "one of his major investors." The citizens of Lucas County are. As such, Konop and Gerken should be cognizant of this distinction and should not expect that, simply because they cast the votes on the money, they have 'special privileges' that entitle them some sort of special treatment from the director.

7) Finally, you have Wozniak saying that the LCIC's executive board should come to the commissioners' chambers for further discussion on job creation in Lucas County. Don't get me wrong, I'm all in favor of further discussions on job creation in Lucas County - heaven knows we need more of it. But Wozniak is wrong to expect that such discussions should take place in the commissioners' chambers with three commissioners sitting up on a dais looking down on the executive board.

And make no mistake - this will not be a discussion. It will be the BCC giving this group of individuals 'instruction' and conducting their own political posturing while providing enough public evidence that the BCC 'tried to hold the LCIC accountable' for their performance.

The proper place for such discussions is in the full board meetings of the LCIC - or with Wozniak, as a member of the full board, addressing the LCIC executive committee at their meeting - perhaps with a public notice.

The LCIC is a separate organization and it does not report to the Board of County Commissioners, nor does it owe the BCC any special attention or deference. Any decisions about what direction economic development in the area is going to take should involve ALL the LCIC board members and not be determined by the three commissioners making demands thinly disguised as 'suggestions.'

Some may say that, because the county is the major funder, the commissioners have an obligation to ensure such tax dollars are generating results. This is always the 'reasoning' for granting elected officials power over outside organizations ... and it's also part of the philosophy associated, by some, with the uni-gov concept.

If, however, the main purpose is to ensure the commissioners have control over the county tax dollars expended in such efforts, then one of two things should have occurred:

a) either the commissioners should never have transferred their economic development responsibilities to the LCIC, ensuring their authority to control and direct such efforts stayed solely within the BCC, or

b) they shouldn't be subsidizing this organization's operational costs, as they are, using such subsidies to exert control that the organization would not normally grant to them.

These are the stories behind the stories - the facts (and some of my opinions) that you need to know in order to truly understand what is happening and why.

Let me know if you have questions...

UPDATE: In checking the actual expenditure of $108,000 referenced above, I found the following information:

The commissioners voted to give the LCIC up to $108,000 for their operational costs. The source of funding for this money is the Economic Development Grant fund - the fund the commissioners use for grants to companies looking to move here or expand their existing operations.

Interestingly, according to the appropriated budget that the county published, they only budgeted $50,000 into this account. Now, they may have had some carryover monies in this account...but why are we spending money which can be used directly for specific economic development to fund the LCIC operational expenses?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A BETTER Food Stamp Challenge

Well, I'm again writing about this bogus "Food Stamp Challenge" in which elected and community leaders are challenged to live on $21 per person per week, which is the average amount of food stamps that recipients receive.

(Background is available here, here and here.)

Sadly, as $21 is the average, it's nowhere near accurate to say that a person on food stamps ONLY gets $21 per week - as the challenge attempts to imply. In fact, an individual with no other sources of income actually would get $35.67 per week. But, to be honest about the challenge means that you might actually succeed in living solely on food stamps - and that wouldn't jibe with this national campaign to 'prove' that the food stamp program needs more money - as is being debated in Congress.

But the Toledo Blade, goes right along with the story, today devoting a significant amount of column inches in 'reporting' about how difficult our commissioners had it on only $21. While not actually issuing a correction to their original story, they did clarify the truth about the amount of benefits:

"Mark Lino is an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the food assistance program. He said that the $21 figure used in such challenges may be an accurate representation of the average received by food stamp recipients, but the figure doesn't include other income that would be used for food in such circumstances."

But even with clarification, they missed an opportunity to add context to a quote. They report:

"Mr. Lino said that the USDA estimates that, using national averages for food costs, it would take $126 per week to feed a family of four using a nutritious diet that conforms to the USDA's food pyramid."

But they neglect to state that a family of four, with no other sources of income, would receive $518 per month - $129.50 per week - which is more than the USDA estimates a family would need.

And the end result of this little experiment? Good question.

Rev. Kevin Perrine, program director of Toledo Area Ministry Feed Your Neighbor Program, said that they were trying to "make the leaders more aware of this issue, that it's in Toledo, and that it's something very prevalent right now." Which seems to imply that these three commissioners were not aware of the fact that many families in Toledo utilize the food stamp program through the county's department of Job & Family Services - a department they oversee. Or, if they were aware - which seems more likely, they've 'felt the pain' of living on a small amount of money.

In this respect, they were highly successful.

"If it wasn't for the generosity of others, we wouldn't have made it," Mrs. (Tina Skeldon) Wozniak said. "Two people invited us over for dinner. The neighbors across the street brought us fresh veggies from their garden. And later in the week, they brought us some bananas."

""I ran out of food," Mr. (Ben) Konop said yesterday. "I ran out of turkey. All I have left is granola bars." ... He ran out of food, he said, even though he fasted for 24 hours over the weekend for religious reasons."

And what happens now is that either they join in the effort to increase the funding for food stamps, and/or they go back to their normal buying habits.

Now, if they advocate for more funding, they can feel good about themselves for actually 'doing something' to help - but, with this scenario, they've "helped" by using other people's resources, as increased funding can only come from us, the taxpayers.

And what about those who use food stamps - or the individuals and families who don't use food stamps but do take advantage of the generosity of others when they visit their local food bank? Again, good question.

These individuals have no better idea (than they already did) about how to use their limited dollars efficiently or wisely to provide healthy and nutritious meals. And the food banks, while having this temporary blip in p.r., will still continue to struggle with meeting the demands of their clients.

But, to prove a point, here's a photo of the 31 food items I was able to purchase for $21.28. (I was a bit over, but figured that if a person didn't have an extra 28 cents, they could have purchased one less Jello.)
And just to prove my cost, here's a photo of the receipt. There's nothing special in my purchases, but I was able to get canned vegetables and fruit, plenty of pasta, spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, tuna fish, and even Jello. And, if I'd had the extra $14.67 that a food stamp recipient would actually have, I would have bought the following:

* whole chicken for $3.86 (good for several meals for one)
* one pound of ground beef for $2.79
* two pork chops for $1.50
* quart of milk for $1.49 (I don't need much)
* 5 bananas for $.88
* one head of lettuce for $.99
* one loaf of bread for $.92
* a dozen eggs for $1.49
* one pound of carrots $.75

...proving that one person can comfortably survive in a healthy way on the amount of food stamps benefits they receive. In fact, I'd have plenty of left-overs to allow me to shop for more fresh fruit, vegetables and cheese the next week. There's just no way that I'd use all of the pasta, mac & cheese, Jello, peanut butter or all-purpose flour/pancake mix in just one week.

And the fact that my purchases in the second week would give me greater flexibility in developing a healthy menu is a point conveniently overlooked in a one-week challenge.

So here's my BETTER food stamp challenge. If the government takes an additional, say $21, for lack of better dollar amount, of taxes from each of us and dedicates that to the food stamp program, the end result, after deducting for bureaucracy and processing through the federal government to the state government to the local county offices, would certainly be less than $21.

So I challenge each and every one of you - take $21 and purchase appropriate goods and donate them to your favorite food bank or similar program. And make a commitment to do so on whatever regular basis you can. That's what I've done. Instead of just 'struggling' through a fake challenge, put your money where your mouth is. That will certainly do more to help those in need than some silly publicity stunt.

Up is down in Toledo when it comes to eminent domain

Yes, up is down, black is white, and I find myself agreeing with Democrats on Toledo city council while wondering what's happened to the Republicans.

The issue? Eminent Domain for Southwyck Mall. (For complete background, read this, this and this.)

If you're not familiar with Toledo politicians - or even if you are - you might be surprised to learn who said the following:

"...eminent domain is a tool the City of Toledo can use to get Bill Dillard and Buddy Hering, who own parcels at Southwyck, to complete the deal with Larry Dillin, president of Dillin Corporation."- Toledo Free Press

or this:

“They [the owners of Southwyck] have a history of not cooperating and running Southwyck Mall into the ground. Those uncooperative owners are the reason we have to look at eminent domain. We can't let them hold us hostage.” - Toledo Free Press

or this:

"It really bothers me that we can't get a national company to be a responsible corporate citizen, and I think we need to take bold action." - Toledo Blade

Anyone familiar with the traditional stances of the two parties would probably guess these quotes came from the Democrats...but they didn't. The first quote is from Republican Rob Ludeman, District 2 representative. The other two quotes are from Republican George Sarantou, at-large member of council.

And the Democrats? They said this:

"Council President Michael Ashford questioned whether the administration has the legal justification for eminent domain, given recent rulings by the Ohio and U.S. Supreme Court on the use of eminent domain for economic development." - Toledo Blade

and this:

"Councilman Frank Szolosi said he has “a fundamental opposition to the city's use of eminent domain.”" - Toledo Free Press

Further, our Republicans are strangely silent about the revelation that the supposed 'public use' to justify eminent domain was never part of the plan for Southwyck - and, contrary to what the mayor said, was NOT requested by Larry Dillin, the proposed developer of the property. The city has decided a road right through the middle of the property is 'needed.' (Posts linked above show the planned road and the original - and still current - site plan presented by Dillin.)

According to this Blade article, "Mr. Finkbeiner said the road fits with the Village at Southwyck concept proposed by developer Larry Dillin.

“[Mr. Dillin] feels that it’s very important that that mall be broken up, that there be a connecting road running north and south, to link the beltway road,” the mayor said, referring to Southwyck Boulevard."

But this is directly contradicted by the developer, according to the Free Press article:

"“We feel very strongly about our plans to rejuvenate the Southwyck property and want to move forward with them,” said Bill Thomas, director of real estate services for Dillin Corp.
Thomas said the Dillin firm had nothing to do with the city's latest plans for a connecting road through the Southwyck property. If the city has plans that show a connecting road, “We were not involved in them,” he said."

So the mayor lied about the need for a road, the Republicans are supporting eminent domain because they don't like what a property owner is doing - legally - with their private property, and the Democrats are the ones asking questions about the legality and the costs.

Truly, up is down in Toledo.

BONUS ISSUE: The comment by Sarantou about being a "responsible corporate citizen," ties in with this quote, also from the Blade article:

"Dave Lemon, the volunteer leader of a citizens' organization in the Southwyck area, said Mr. Dillard shows no corporate responsibility for the area surrounding the mall, and is "stubbornly refusing" to sell a mall that he is neglecting."

Perhaps we're getting to the underlying message here? That you're only welcome in our community if your use of your private property corresponds to our determination of being 'socially responsible.' But that's another post for another time...

Monday, September 24, 2007

My, how things have changed...

The Patriot Post
Founders' Quote Daily

"The State governments possess inherent advantages, which will ever give them an influence and ascendancy over the National Government, and will for ever preclude the possibility of federal encroachments. That their liberties, indeed, can be subverted by the federal head, is repugnant to every rule of political calculation."

-- Alexander Hamilton (speech to the New York Ratifying Convention,
17 June 1788)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Interview with "Food Stamp Challenge" sponsor - pawns or partners?

As explained here, Fred LeFebvre, morning show host on WSPD, interviewed Reverends Kevin Perrine and Steve Anthony of Toledo Area Ministries' "Feed Your Neighbor" program regarding their sponsorship of the "Food Stamp Challenge" which our three County Commissioners accepted. (Here is the link to the full 16-minute interview.)

Before I go further, let me clearly state that Toledo Area Ministries is a terrific organization doing many good things in our community. While they have several outreach programs with records of success, the one I'm most familiar with is "Suitably Attired," a non-profit organization that provides clients with free interview or work appropriate attire. In collaboration with Monroe St. United Methodist Church, they also helped launch "Dress Right," a professional clothing closet for men. I have donated to both programs.

However, having transcribed the questions and answers from this morning's interview, when it comes to the Food Stamp Challenge, I cannot decide if they are pawns in this nationwide publicity stunt to generate emotional support for an increased food stamp funding - or knowing accomplices who didn't expect their data to be challenged and then underestimated the reaction when it was shown to be incorrect. I'd like to believe they are just pawns, but some of their answers indicate that they were well aware of the appeal to emotion in order to influence the national legislation.

They acknowledged that the idea for the local challenge came as a result of an email from FRAC (Food Research and Action Center). When asked about the source of the $21 per day per person amount, which is identified as the average that a person on food stamps receives in benefits, they agreed that it was an average, but said that the actual amount was $23, but "they lowered it...but that's not the point of the challenge."

(Aside: so they knew it was more than $21 but they lowered it by $2 for what reason?)

Fred followed up with a question about what the point was, then, considering that Commissioner Ben Konop said the "point fail." The reply was that the point was "to create empathy with those who do have to be on food stamps, number one, and number two is to call attention to the fact that after people are getting their food stamps we’re still seeing people come in – to the rate of 5-6,000 people a month - into our food pantries for additional assistance."

As for their second point, it is true and valid. Many individuals utilize our local food banks and the food banks, considering our local economy, are seeing more people than in the past as well as a reduction in donations. But, by saying that the point was to generate empathy, they are admitting that the underlying premise is to show this is not only difficult, but nearly impossible...which means that the challenge is designed for failure.

When Fred asked whether or not, then, the $21 was deceptive, they answered that the point with the commissioners was "to show them what they can do to get into action – what they can do with the farm bill at a national level and at a state level..."

So they acknowledge the purpose was to generate support for additional funding in the 2007 Farm Bill, and to enlist the help of the commissioners in doing so.

But just to be sure, Fred clarified the point. "So the bottom line is to get the commissioners involved … to petition the government to raise more money for the food stamp program?"

"Well, it’s not only that," was the answer, "but it’s also ... so they can also pass on what they see locally to the people they know."

So, again, we want the commissioners to prove this incorrect figure of $21 is just not enough and then tell their story to our Congressional representatives. Yes - it's all a well-coordinated national campaign to provide 'evidence' that the food stamp program needs more money.

When Fred asked them how they felt about being involved in program that would try to sway public opinion using lies and dishonesty as this one obviously does, they didn't answer the question.

They did say, " ... I don’t ... our motivation for doing this has nothing to do with deception or dishonesty – we’re calling attention to a problem and the problem is our food pantries are running out of food because the need is greater now than it has been and we’re just calling attention that."

In other words, don't question the facts, just look at the motivation...we're trying to do something good. Don't judge this by anything other than our intentions.

Then there is this exchange:

Rev. Anthony: "...we’re not asking for more money for the food stamp program – that’s not the point."

Fred: "Well, that’s what Kevin said just a minute ago – they want the County Commissioners to press the government to put more money into the Farm Bill for the food stamp program…"

Rev. Perrine: "well, yes…"

Fred: "Is that right or not? Did I misstate what you said?"

Rev. Perrine: "no – no you did not. But even though they can become – that’s what we want to do - we want them to be aware that that’s out there…to open their eyes to what’s going on in the community and so they know what they need to do ... so they can call the people that they know to help ..."

So 'they know what they need to do?' I guess the outcome is pre-determined - they are going to fail and then the only option will be to lobby for more money...because if these 'leaders' can't survive, obviously no one else can, either.

Of course, without a good explanation for the faulty and deliberately deceptive $21 amount, and with the entire premise of the challenge being false, they questioned Fred as to his 'empirical data' showing that no one is actually expected to live on just $21 per week. Rev. Anthony then concluding, "I don't accept your premise," and Fred responding, "I could say the same thing to you."

Fred believes they were somewhat duped. And that may be true. I think it's more likely that they understood the purpose was to influence Congress to put more money into the food stamp program, but they really didn't think about the political or public relations ramifications of someone pointing out that this was just a publicity stunt.

And then, when evidence was presented that the $21 amount was intentionally false in order to have more chance of failing the challenge, they did what most do when caught in a similar situation - they issued an emotional appeal to their INTENTIONS, implying that since the motivation was good, we should just overlook the falsities upon which the stunt is based.

Sadly, by not being honest about the intent and the goal of failing, and then asking us to just overlook those things because of the 'need,' they've done more harm than good to their stated intent of bringing attention to the plight of the food banks.

Further, we all know it's very easy to clamor for more money at the government trough. It's much more challenging to successfully identify actual solutions. Someone who truly wants to help the poor would be less concerned with suffering for the sake of suffering and, instead, focused on trying to find innovative ways to live on a meager budget. What the public is going to see from all this is 1) publicity for the Commissioners who 'feel the pain,' 2)a short-term media blip for the local food banks and pantries, and 3) the feeling of being used by a national organization in their own personal lobbying efforts. And that isn't going to do much for our neighbors who, when all is said and done, are still struggling.

We're experiencing a publicity stunt with a goal of failure instead of having meaningful conversations. Where is the discussion of subsidies for ethanol production? They're driving up the price of corn which is used in so many products, thus making those products more expensive and further stretching the budgets of all, but especially the poor. Or discussing recipes and cooking methods to make limited dollars go further. Or how to shop wisely to meet both your budget and your health needs. Or why 40% of eligible people don't enroll in the food stamp program. We're spending tax dollars in an effort to get them into a government dependency instead of learning and celebrating why they're doing okay without one.

I am grateful for the Reverends and the work they do. They agreed to come on the show and to explain the challenge. The Commissioners, however, wouldn't. I think they'd rather say they were 'just responding to the challenge' ... leaving TAM to take the full brunt of the rightful criticism of this publicity stunt. But if our Commissioners were a bit more attentive, they would have asked many of the questions we all have PRIOR to accepting - and the result would have been a more honest and open appeal to the public. But that may be expecting too much of them.

The Reverends are correct, however, that this has brought conversation about the issue into the limelight. I'm just not certain this is the conversation they expected - or the one we need to have.

In defense of the "Food Stamp Challenge"

Fred LeFebvre, morning show host on WSPD, had representatives from the Toledo Area Ministries' Feed Your Neighbor program as his guests this morning.

They accepted his invitation to come on air to discuss the "Food Stamp Challenge" they issued to our Lucas County Commissioners. (Background available here.) When the podcast is up, it will be available here. I'll be transcribing it and then will blog about some of their comments.

Sadly, it's plainly evident from their interview that they have been used as pawns in the wider political game of national politics, clearly admitting that the purpose of this stunt was to invoke sympathy and support for expansion of the Food Stamp Program, while failing to understand the implications of such a statement. They made several other statements which caused me concern, but I'll wait for the podcast before listing them, as I want to be sure of what I heard.

Unfortunately, by starting this 'challenge' with an incorrect premise (the $21 per week per person amount) and having failure as a goal, they've done more damage than good. Individuals who need this type of assistance - and there are certainly more than there should be, especially in Lucas County - don't need 'sympathy.' But making people comfortable in their poverty, rather than helping them with food plans and purchasing strategy, is what this mindset is all about...

More to follow.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Media blind to 'food stamp challenge' manipulation

On Tuesday, the Lucas County Commissioners decided to accept, from Toledo Area Ministries, the 'food stamp challenge.' Under this 'challenge,' elected and community leaders are encouraged to live on only $21 per week, which is the 'average' amount a person on food stamps receives in benefits.

Of course, our commissioners, Tina Skeldon-Wozniak, Pete Gerken and Ben Konop accepted the challenge - in front of tv cameras and assorted press.

But the problem is that the challenge is bogus. And because I'd read BizzyBlog's posting on this back in April, I knew that. And because I'd also read Ari and Jennifer Armstrong's debunking of the outcome of the challenge, I knew that it was possible to live on $21 per week.

But here are the facts. No one in the country is expected to live on only $21 a week. The maximum amount of food stamps a person can get - having no other income or resources - is $36.57. Those who get "only" $21 per week have been determined to need only $21 based upon a comprehensive formula which shows other funds (up to 30% of wages/other cash assets) available to be devoted to purchasing food.

But, knowing that this 'challenge' started some time ago, I couldn't help but wonder why our commissioners were just getting around to it. Having been in politics in Lucas County too long, I knew there had to be more to the issue than just their desire to "show empathy" for those less fortunate. So I did some research.

A simple google search provided enough links to connect the dots. The primary sponsor of the challenge is a group called Food Research and Action Center and they have several links on their website to the challenge, including all the media and internet coverage of those who've accepted the challenge. They even provide a toolkit, produced jointly by them and The Hatcher Group, a "a public affairs firm that connects nonprofits and foundations to policymakers and the media. We focus exclusively on progressive policy issues and work to advance our clients' agendas for social change."

Interestingly enough, under FRAC's legislation link is a letter to "anti-hunger allies" encouraging them to support two bills in Congress to increase funding for the food stamp program. Their letter even includes talking points reiterating the $21 per week figure.

So, curiosity getting the better of me, I wondered if there was any connection between our local organizations and this national group...and that answer was quickly found. The Toledo Area Ministries "Feed Your Neighbor" program website has a feature called "10 Food Stamp Outreach Ideas for Faith-Based Organizations" and, at the bottom of this list, are some links - including one to FRAC.

In case you're wondering, TAM was one of 14 organizations nationwide to receive a USDA grant for Food Stamp Outreach. The maximum amount an agency could get was $75,000 and TAM received $73,809 to train volunteers on how to pre-screen food stamp applicants and provide application assistance.

Those are the dots...connecting them leads to this:

A national non-profit begins a publicity campaign to draw attention to the food stamp program and calls it the "Food Stamp Challenge." National group links to local groups and pulls them into the stunt by getting them to enroll local elected and community leaders in the challenge. Local leaders 'prove' the point that you can't live on $21 a week and, even if you can survive, you can't do so in a healthy way. Local groups report back to National group who then uses all these local 'examples' and numerous media reports as evidence that the Food Stamp program needs more money. National group then testifies about the program and the need for more money, using the sympathy gained from 'challenges' across the country to urge Congress to act accordingly.

Connecting the dots wasn't hard to do...all it took was a couple of hours on the internet searching and reading. And it leads to several conclusions.

Our County Commissioners are either ignorant or deceitful. Either they were ignorant of the national publicity stunt and it's intended purpose or they knew the ulterior motive and failed to share it with the public when they accepted the challenge.

If they claim ignorance, it makes me wonder what else they're ignorant of and makes me question their ability to actually research issues on which they vote. If they knew the ulterior motive - to generate public sympathy for legislation and provide false evidence that $21 is not enough - they should have been honest about their purpose, admitting so upfront. But instead you have Comm. Gerken insisting 'it's not a publicity stunt.'

But this entire challenge isn't about honesty. It's about manipulation. It's about generating false data to prove a point. The $21 a week amount is so obviously bogus that there can be no excuse for our commissioners to not have questioned the amount. Such an error is further compounded by the fact that local Job and Family Services staff - who actually administer the food stamp program in Lucas County under control and direction of the commissioners - are participating. And they - more than anyone else - know that no one is expected to live on $21 a week for food.

Additionally, the challenge was accepted under false pretenses. They didn't accept the challenge with concept of actually succeeding. They're trying to prove it CAN'T be done. Commissioner Konop actually said, "The whole point ... is to fail." Well, obviously! Any success wouldn't look good to those using the 'failures' as justification for more funding. This was manipulation at its finest - or worst.

But the real tragedy is the media's reaction and coverage of this stunt. No one questioned the amount. No one asked why they're were using the 'average' or even what conditions would exist for someone to get just the 'average.' No one researched this to find out that such challenges were going on across the country, sponsored primarily by FRAC. And no one connected the dots to the overall plan of generating media stories to support a particular position regarding food stamp legislation in the U.S. Congress.

Except me, as part of my substitute hosting on Eye on Toledo, and WSPD's other talk show hosts, Fred LeFebvre and Brian Wilson.

All the other media did was record the press conference and then dutifully play the recordings or write the story. I even wrote an email to the reporter who covered the initial story for The Blade:

In today's story on the commissioner's food stamp challenge, you wrote:

"But for the next week, Tina Skeldon Wozniak, commissioner president, Pete Gerken, and Ben Konop have pledged to live as the least among their constituents do, spending the same amount - $21 a week per person - that the U.S. government believes is adequate to feed themselves."

However, this is not correct. The U.S. government does not believe that $21 is adequate to feed an individual. Actually, the amount a single person with no other resources can receive is $35.67. The $21 amount is the 'average' because most people who receive a food-stamp supplements have other income. In fact, food stamp recipients are expected to spend about 30% of their resources on food.

You, and The Blade, missed an opportunity to truly educate the public about this issue by accepting the information presented without verifying the actual numbers.

But it wasn't just The Blade, every outlet that has covered the issue, so far, has done so as presented - generating the 'appeal to emotion' so needed by the organizers to gain public support for increased funding.

Sadly, the lack of inquiry - or any simple investigation of what was presented - put them in the position of willingly, or ignorantly, perpetuating the manipulation.

The point now is to hold all of them accountable. Call the commissioners and your favorite media and ask them why they're reporting, falsely, that people are expected to live on only $21 per week. Ask them why they're not reporting that this 'challenge' is part of a national media campaign to push for more funding in bills currently under consideration in Congress. Ask them why the point of the 'challenge' is to FAIL rather than SUCCEED.

And while you're at it, you can ask the commissioners if any of their JFS staff explained to them that $21 might be an average but that no one in the county lives on just $21 per week. And you can also ask them how this helps economic development - a promise that all of them made when campaigning.

UPDATE: This morning, Fred LeFebvre, the morning show host on WSPD, detailed his shopping yesterday to prove that a single person could eat on $21 per week - if they had to. He put photos of the food and receipts on his WSPD page and detailed, in the show, how the food he bought could provide him with nutritious meals for a week. He then donated the food to a local food pantry.

Additionally, Tom at BizzyBlog has published his open letter to The Blade requesting a correction of their wording on the $21 per person per week amount. Check them out!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sen. Voinovich missed an opportunity

Sen. George Voinovich toured areas of Northwest Ohio yesterday, viewing flood damage and meeting with officials to discuss their response to the storms and their needs going forward.

According to this Blade article, Voinovich says our nation's spending priorities are wrong, bashing the spending in Iraq while criticizing the President for trimming "infrastructure-related budgets - those that deal with items such as rivers, highways, and bridges - because they are too costly."

Voinovich said, "he is frustrated because Americans don't realize how vulnerable the country's infrastructure is and how far behind improvements are.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which addresses flood control, is operating with less federal money and too few engineers, he said

Unfortunately, Sen. Voinovich seems to have forgotten that the President doesn't spend the money, Congress does. The President requests and submits budgets, but it's Congress who makes the final decision.

And the opportunity the Senator missed? His vote on the recently passed Transportation bill.

I've previously blogged about Sen. Tom Coburn's amendments to cut pork out of this bill. Sen. Coburn's amendment to halt earmarks until all deficient bridges and roads were repaired failed. His amendment to eliminate federal spending on bike paths also failed. His amendment to remove three specific earmarks (baseball stadium, peace garden and tourist 'discovery' center) totaling $1.35 million also failed. In fact, the pork in this bill totaled $8 Billion - yes, Billion with a B - and that's 13.5% of the Transportation Department's $63 billion spending plan.

According to all media reports I could find, Sen. Voinovich voted against these three amendments and then voted for the bill, basically agreeing that $8 billion in pork was more important than other priorities of the federal government - like the Army Corps of Engineers which he says is short money and engineers.

Sen. Voinovich certainly got good press coverage by comparing spending in Iraq to spending on infrastructure, especially in The Blade. But his complaint sounds a bit hollow when his actual votes are taken into consideration.

If it's true that Congress has their spending priorities mixed up - and I'm the first to agree this is the case - it's because of votes like those cast by Voinovich. Sen. Voinovich - if you're going to complain about lack of funds for priorities, you need to vote against non-constitutional spending like baseball stadiums, peace gardens and bike paths.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Constitution Day

Today is Constitution Day - or rather, officially it's known as Citizenship Day. Perhaps it would be a good day to actually read the Constitution and note the fact that our founders created a republic with limited powers.

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

And so much of what our federal government does these days has no basis of authority in the Constitution - even the designation of this day.

Specifically, nowhere in the Constitution does it give the Congress of the United States the ability to tell a state government what it must do. And that is what is happening today: the federal government has ordered us to celebrate the Constitution of the United States.

Now, the fact that we ought to be celebrating the Constitution without this order from on high is really beside the point. But, in issuing such 'instruction' to us, they violate the very document they want us to recognize.

And that's the problem. Those we entrust to guarding the very principles upon which we rely have no clear understanding of those principles - or if they do, blatantly disregard them. And shame on us for allowing them to do so.

Know your Constitution!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hypocrisy in Toledo

According to this Blade article, our mayor, Carty Finkbeiner, is dead-set to exercise the authority of government to take private property (Southwyck Mall) because he does not like what the owners are doing - or rather, not doing - with the property. (Background on the issue is here and here.)

Of course, the reason for taking the property is a newly-discovered need for a road to go directly through the property, thus making the 'taking' necessary to meet a 'public use.'

The hypocrisy is overflowing, especially in this statement from the article:

"Mr. Finkbeiner said the road fits with the Village at Southwyck concept proposed by developer Larry Dillin.

“[Mr. Dillin] feels that it’s very important that that mall be broken up, that there be a connecting road running north and south, to link the beltway road,” the mayor said, referring to Southwyck Boulevard."

Unfortunately for the mayor, the site plan shown below (readily available here at the time of this posting), shows NO ROAD through the middle of this property.

(This image is shown with north on the right, and the beltway road surrounding the property running from the left - south - side to the right - north side. Reynolds road accesses on the bottom of the image.)

Of course, I'll admit it is possible that Larry Dillin has changed his site design, but I'd find that to be highly convenient to the city, considering that this site plan is the one he's been showing everyone since 2003.

And then we have the comment from our Republican representative of that district, Rob Ludeman, who says:

"“This is to move Mr. Dillard and Mr. Herring off dead-center. This is the step we need to take to bring [Southwyck revitalization] to fruition. It is blight, and it has had a residual effect on all the surrounding area, residential and commercial,” Mr. Ludeman said."

...admitting that the true purpose is not because they need a road, but because they want to redevelop the property and the property owner isn't interested in doing what they want.

And then Ludeman mentions that dreaded term - blight. However, Mr. Ludeman might want to read last year's Ohio Supreme Court ruling in Norwood v. Hormey which said that communities should not be targeting buildings in good condition and whose owners were not property-tax delinquent and declaring them blight. The Supreme Court also said that communities cannot claim 'deterioration' of a property as a reason for a taking.

From the summary of the case:

"The use of the term “deteriorating area” as a standard for a taking is unconstitutional because the term inherently incorporates speculation as to the future condition of the property to be appropriated rather than the condition of the property at the time of the taking.

Courts must apply heightened scrutiny when reviewing statutes that regulate the use of eminent domain powers."

It's the last sentence which is going to come back to haunt Toledo politicians. Any heightened scrutiny of this eminent domain action will show that they never intended for a road to be built through the middle of this property, that they've been frustrated by the owners' lack of interest in selling or redeveloping the property, and that they've come up with a thinly-veiled excuse of a sudden 'public use' in order to justify their actions.

And the cost to the public for this will be enormous, considering the projected budget deficit for 2008 and the fact that we have a half-built bridge in the downtown which has no source of funding for completion of the work.

Further, the intangible costs associated with this idea are immeasurable. The anti-business message alone could be the final nail in the coffin for many. And the precedent this would set for residential property owners is scary. After all, if they can do this with a mall, what's to prevent them from deciding any neighborhood is ripe for re-development and, when you don't want to sell, they just decide to build a new road and then take your home via eminent domain?

There's a public hearing on this scheduled for Monday, Sept. 24, 2007, at 4 p.m. in city council chambers. Newly-elected president of council, Michael Ashford, indicates that council would like to see plans for the road - and an explanation as to why this recently-discovered 'need' for a road through the middle of the property is more of a priority than other roads in the area.

You need to show up to this hearing and tell city council that such takings are, in the mayor's favorite words, "just not right."

Random Thoughts

* Indian Governor Mitch Daniels recently refused to extend an executive order that had forced state employees to pay union dues. Once the dues became voluntary, 85% of the state work force stopped paying. Wonder what would happen in Ohio if any governor were to do the same???

* As an update to the pork-laden Transportation Bill, is this comment from talk show host Neal Boortz:

"Here's a government outrage. Your tax dollars are funding the transportation and housing bill, which is expected to be ripe with funding for new bridges and infrastructure. Wrong. How about increasing funding by $8 billion for a North Dakota peace garden, a Montana baseball stadium and a Las Vegas history museum.

"Are you getting it, folks? Spending more money on pork like this is not going to prevent incidents' like the Minneapolis bridge collapse. It will, however, buy votes. Government will always find other ways to spend your money. Face it...we've lost control of these people in Washington."

* The Associated Press is reporting that Justice Department is now competing with the Pentagon for ridiculous spending:

"An internal Justice audit, released Friday, showed the department spent nearly $7 million to plan, host or send employees to ten conferences over the last two years. This included paying $4 per meatball at one lavish dinner and spreading an average of $25 worth of snacks around to each participant at a movie-themed party.

"There was plenty, too, for those needing to satisfy a sweet tooth. More than $13,000 was spent on cookies and brownies for 1,542 people who attended a four-day 'Weed and Seed' conference in August 2005, according to the audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine. And a 'networking' session replete with butterfly shrimp, coconut lobster skewers and Swedish meatballs at a Community Oriented Policing Services conference in July 2006 cost more than $60,000."

It's the spending, stupid.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pork versus Bridges

Chuck Muth (Citizen Outreach: The Blog), in his 'News & Views' brief, has been keeping track of Sen. Tom Coburn's anti-pork efforts in the Senate.

Coburn had proposed several amendments to the Transportation Bill currently being debated.

One amendment was designed to halt spending on earmarks until deficient roads and bridges are repaired.

It failed.

Another amendment would have eliminated federal spending on bike paths, arguing that federal transportation dollars shouldn't be spent on such local amenities before correcting deteriorating bridges.

It failed.

A third amendment would have removed three specific earmarks from the bill:

* $500,000 for a new baseball stadium in Montana,
* $450,000 for the International Peace Garden in North Dakota,
* $400,000 to construct a "Discovery Center" for tourists in Louisiana.

Now, certainly these are not transportation projects and really don't belong in a transportation bill, if they need federal funding at all.

It failed, too.

On the third amendment, 32 senators (31 R's and 1 D) voted to remove these specific projects - which means about 1/3 of the senate agreed that such projects don't belong in the transportation bill.

On the second amendment, only 18 senators (all R's) indicated that they believe bike paths aren't as important as infrastructure.

On the first amendment, Coburn got only 14 senators (12 R's and 2 D's) to support prioritizing deficient bridge and road repair over their own self interests of pork projects.

As Muth says: "The problem is spending. The problem is Congress. The problem do you stop them?"

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Southwyck Mall and Eminent Domain

Tonight, during my guest hosting stint for Eye on Toledo on NewsTalk 1370 WSPD, we discussed the pending Toledo city council resolution to begin eminent domain procedures against the two owners of the Southwyck Mall property.

During the discussion, I mentioned that the city's new plan for a road going through the middle of the property is their new, and thinly-veiled, "public use" excuse for a reason to exercise eminent domain. Further, I said that the plans shown to the public, so far, by Larry Dillin (who the city has picked to redevelop the property) don't show any such road.

The best photo of the planned road is available in this WTOL 11 story from August 30th: City Council Discusses Major Changes at Southwyck.

To see the drawings Larry Dillin has presented for his idea of how a re-developed Southwyck property would look, you can go to this link and view the site plan. (This is a large pdf file that may take a moment to download.) Other views of his plan are also available at his website,

If you'd like to weigh in on the issue of eminent domain actions against the Southwyck property owners, Toledo City Council will have it on the agenda for their Environment, Utilities & Public Service Committee meeting on Monday, September 24th at 4 p.m. They'll also discuss the appropriation of $2.7 million from the Capital Improvements Budget for infrastructure improvements in and around Southwyck. This would be the time to make your opinions known!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Common Sense from Sen. Tom Coburn

"The 1981 transportation bill contained only 10 earmarks. President Reagan vetoed a transportation bill in 1987 that contained 121 earmarks, saying, 'I haven't seen this much lard since I handed out blue ribbons at the Iowa State Fair.' In 2005, Congress passed a transportation bill that included an astonishing 6,371 earmarks at a cost of $27.3 billion.


The American people understand that transportation earmarks often have more to do with a politician's re-election campaign than the true priorities of each state's department of transportation. While proponents of raising the gas tax are right that 'we can't have a bake sale for bridges,' we can have a pig roast. Spending less on pork will go a long way toward improving the safety of our roads and bridges. If Congress had directed the money we spent on pork in the 2005 highway bill to maintenance we could have repaired more than 30,000 structurally deficient bridges."

- Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, 9/7/07

Friday, September 07, 2007

On the radio!

Yes, I'm going to be guest hosting on NewsTalk 1370 WSPD again (kindof getting the hang of that phrase - it's all about branding, you know - lol).

I'll be doing Eye on Toledo on Tuesday and Wednesday, the 11th and 12th. We'll be talking about - yes - politics and the primary elections and results.

I'll also be on the following week, Tuesday through Thursday, Sept. 18-20.

I do hope you'll tune in, or listen live on-line, and join the conversation as we discuss the news of the day!

Quote of the Day

As I see many of the Founders' Quote Daily from The Patriot Post, I cannot help but be struck by how far we've come from our founders' intent.

"It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow."

-- Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (Federalist No. 62, 1788)

Thursday, September 06, 2007


I've been rather busy this past week and weekend as I worked on the committee for my 25th high school reunion - and then as we celebrated a friend's 36th wedding I've been a bit remiss in my postings.

Several thoughts while I work on a post about flood insurance and the new FEMA flood maps that are soon to come out...

* Rep. Paul Gillmor will be missed by many. Since part of his district included small portions of Lucas County, he and his office staff always kept me informed about issues and projects he was working on. Whenever he was in the area, he'd call to see if there was anything needing attention.

He was kind, diligent and very capable. He exuded intelligence, but in a quiet way. I'm reminded of the phrase, "still waters run deep." He was also funny with a very quick, dry wit.

He represented all his constituents well - balancing the various interests within his district. He wasn't one for big headlines, but he was certainly one for hard work. And he was consistently rewarded for his efforts by his re-elections.

My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his staff.

* I understand why elected officials always want to encourage people to 'buy local' but I can't help but be struck by the hypocrisy of the same people enacting laws and regulations that add to the prices of local products, making them less competitive in a global marketplace - necessitating the need for local preference legislation. But the headlines look good - at least for those not paying attention.

* GOP candidates are coming to Michigan! An October 9th debate at the Ford Community Performing Arts Center will be sponsored by CNBC and The Wall Street Journal. The two-hour debate will air live at 4 p.m. EDT on the cable channel and be rebroadcast on MSNBC at 9 p.m.
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