Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

As you celebrate the start of a New Year, may you be able to do so with family and friends - in a way that brings you joy and a good start to the New Year!

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
~ T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"


We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day. ~ Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Sunday, December 30, 2007

TPS Board has lost sight of their duty

According to this article in The Blade, the Toledo Public School board wants to make sure that the banks and financial institutions they do business with have proper diversity programs.

Excuse me? Since when did it become the role of the TPS Board to monitor, supervise or direct the employment practices of financial institutions? Answer: it didn't.

Unfortunately, for the public and the students, the board seems more interested in such social issues than they do the students they're supposed to be serving.

To say that they're wasting their time would be charitable. Ohio law requires the board to take the highest interest rates for their investments. If a bank without any 'diversity program' offers a rate of 5% and bank with a 'fantastic' (in the eyes of the school board members) diversity program offers a rate of 4%, the diversity program doesn't matter one iota. The board has to take the 5% rate.

So why in the world are the board members and staff of Toledo Public Schools meeting with banks in order to examine their diversity programs? You'd think they had enough problems to focus upon considering our test scores, schools in academic emergency for over five years, financial issues and looming contract negotiations.

The data being requested from the banks are public information that the district has requested at least twice before — May, 1998, and November, 2002.

It's not clear how the district has used the information in the past.

The board now proposes to amend contracts with the banks to include a yearly reporting schedule of this information.

Do not think for one minute that the banks are not aware of the implied threat of these meetings and the possible inclusion of this clause in future contracts.

This borders on extortion - do what we want in terms of diversity or risk that we'll find a way around the law to penalize you by withdrawing 'our' money if you don't. (Forgetting, of course that the TPS money doesn't belong to the board, but rather to the people of the district.)

So even though the board has no authority in this area, they're going to try and exert influence on a social issue - and one that has no relevance to their duties and responsibilities to provide a quality education for the district.

This is part of what's wrong with this area - we elect people to fulfill specific responsibilities and then allow them to use the power of their office to try and effect social policy changes in unrelated areas. The truly sad part of this is that many in the community will praise them for what they're doing.

TPS should stop focusing on diversity programs of banks and start worrying about how they're going to improve test scores - which is what they promised to do.

Related: Tim at Just Blowing Smoke has a great post on the educational system in general. While it doesn't address this topic, it has some points which are certainly more important that the diversity programs of banks who hold TPS funds.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Some facts you should know about NORIS

NORIS, the Northwest Ohio Regional Information System, is the agency that provides computer services to almost all criminal justice agencies in our region. My recent column in the Toledo Free Press on the "Importance of NORIS" gives you the background of the agency and what they've done over the years for law enforcement, corrections and courts.

They're in the news because Mayor Carty Finkbeiner wants to 'freeze' their funding for 2008 - except he's forgotten that the City used NORIS reserves to offset how much they paid for the services in 2007.

As the battle over their funding heats up, here are some facts you should know.

* NORIS's budget in 1989 was $1.81 million. Their 2008 request is $1.83 million. They're basically charging the city the same as they did 18 years ago.

* Since 2004, the City of Toledo has used $1,150,296 in reserves to offset how much they pay for the services received. The 2008 budget compares only the actual amount paid by the city - not the additional funds they used to meet their obligation.

* In 1989, the full-time equivalent staff at NORIS was 27. Today it is 27.45.

* Since 1989, NORIS has created and maintained 43 new computer applications to serve the various agencies.

* City of Toledo computer charges for their various departments have increased 140% since 2003. City of Toledo is projecting a 3.51% increase in 2008 over the 2007 figures. But they don't want to plan for any increase for NORIS.

* The paperless warrant system NORIS created and maintains saves about $880,000 a year (over doing the warrants by hand). And that's just one of the applications they run.

Considering these facts, why does the mayor think the NORIS budget needs to be cut????

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Spending and studies - do both need to stop?

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner wants to spend $100,000 to do a study of the entire city, "looking for a way to kick the city into a full growth mode."

He wants to hire Social Compact, Inc., to do a neighborhood market analysis, like they've done in nine other cities across the country (Chicago IL; Cleveland, OH; Detroit, MI; Washington DC; Jacksonville, FL; Santa Ana, CA; Harlem, NY; Houston, TX; and Oakland, CA).

According to the report in The Blade, Carty believes this type of study will show that Toledo has a higher population than census trend projections predict. But that's not the only benefit, according to the Mayor:

"We're going to do it not only for the census … We are going to do [the analysis] in terms of examining the targets - the targets for economic development in Toledo that haven't been tapped," Mr. Finkbeiner said last week. "In Houston, Texas, they came back and said you could do a central-city mall and it will work."

"Nobody thought that would work, and now it employs, I'm told, 2,000 people full and part-time," he said.

Except, according to Social Compact's website, it wasn't the non-profit company who recommended a central-city mall in Houston. It was developer - Ed Wulfe of Wulfe & Co., who decided a mall might make sense after the study revealed 25% more people in the shopping area than the census trends had predicted.

Interestingly, in every study Social Compact has done, they've found that
1) aggregate household income,
2) number of households, and
3) number of residents
were higher than census trend projections indicated. So, it actually makes sense that Carty would expect a study of Toledo to show the same things. However, this is probably an indication that census trends are projected incorrectly, more than some new-found cure-all for growth within a city.

Social Compact's market study (called a DrillDown) takes a look at the markets, not at the geographic boundaries of an area – like council districts or zip codes. Primarily, they evaluate income, population, buying power, etc. The studies provide business-oriented data and market ‘insights’ – they didn’t take the next step to recommend how the data should be used.

But private companies, using the market data, made decisions about whether or not they should provide services within the studied areas. The major changes made in the neighborhoods were new bank branches, ATM machines and check cashing services (because many of these areas rely primarily upon cash transactions and a cash economy), a grocery store and a Target, and entertainment venues.

The problem with these types of 'new' businesses is that it was all re-directed spending. The people in these neighborhoods certainly weren't going without groceries, they were just getting them from another area. They were obviously shopping and enjoying various entertainment, but in other parts of the cities. By adding these types of businesses in the neighborhoods, they allowed the residents to obtain services within the neighborhood, and that was probably a smart business decision for many of the companies.

But there wasn't NEW spending as a result of these studies - or if there was, it isn't documented on the website.

So how might Toledo benefit from spending $100,000? Don't we already acknowledge the need for a grocery store in the central city/downtown area? Well, Carty thinks it all starts with correct population counts - and with higher population counts, he believes we'll be able to get more money in federal grants.

But Carty should be careful what he wishes for. Many federal grant programs rely upon more data than just population. In testimony before Congress in October, 2007, the General Accounting Office – GAO – found that 85% of federal obligations in grants to state and local governments are distributed on the basis of formulas that use data such as population AND personal income.

If the study shows increased population AND increased incomes, we may gain because of the population, but lose as a result of the higher median incomes. It’s likely that gains in grant monies because of higher populations are OFFSET – or even REDUCED - as a result of gains in median incomes, which EVERY report by Social Compact has shown.

The GAO analyzed Social Services Block Grants and how they’d be distributed using differing methods for calculating population. They looked at two different counts and found that the differences in grant monies between the two methods was only a quarter of a percent. Washington DC would have gained the most by switching to a different method of population count - but only $67,000. Minnesota would have lost the most due to the different population count - $344,000. Under the different method, Ohio would have lost .79% of its funding ... less than 1%, but still a decrease rather than an increase in funds coming to the state.

HUD – which give us the CDBG grants is based upon:
- percentage of low and moderate income persons compared to the national percentage
- percentage of pre-1940 housing units compared to the national percentage
- population growth/loss compared to all CDBG-eligible communities.

So, if we do a study that shows our incomes are higher, and our population growth is higher than other CDBG-eligible communities, this could negatively impact the amount of our CDBG funding.

The problem is that Carty probably read somewhere about the mall in Houston and thought – hey, why don’t we do that here? That’s what he does – he reads about something someone else is doing and then ‘decides’ to do the same thing here – incorrectly assuming that the same action will produce the same outcome in both Houston (in the mall example) and Toledo.

Would such a study be helpful to Toledo? Maybe. I'm confident the private sector would know how to use the data, but I'm pretty sure the city wouldn't. Perhaps Carty should listen to the man he's hoping will save the city:

"Developer Larry Dillin, creator of the Levis Commons outdoor mall who has been tapped by Toledo to revitalize Southwyck and the Marina District, said he generally relies on what retailers tell him instead of studies.

"There have been a couple of studies done, not on the city as a whole, and I would say that kind of information is a benefit for someone thinking of making a financial investment in the community," Mr. Dillin said. "We study those kind of things in market analysis very carefully. It doesn't mean we always agree with it.""

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!!!!

I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, filled with family, friends, food and fun!

One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don't clean it up too quickly. ~ Andy Rooney

Were I a philosopher, I should write a philosophy of toys, showing that nothing else in life need to be taken seriously, and that Christmas Day in the company of children is one of the few occasions on which men become entirely alive. ~ Robert Lynd

When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things - not the great occasions - give off the greatest glow of happiness. ~ Bob Hope

Even as an adult I find it difficult to sleep on Christmas Eve. Yuletide excitement is a potent caffeine, no matter your age. ~ Carrie Latet

He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree. ~ Roy L. Smith

Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind. ~ Mary Ellen Chase

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other. ~ Burton Hillis


Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ~ Norman Vincent Peale

Instead of being a time of unusual behavior, Christmas is perhaps the only time in the year when people can obey their natural impulses and express their true sentiments without feeling self-conscious and, perhaps, foolish. Christmas, in short, is about the only chance a man has to be himself. ~ Francis C. Farley

Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall. ~ Larry Wilde, The Merry Book of Christmas

[I]t is the one season of the year when we can lay aside all gnawing worry, indulge in sentiment without censure, assume the carefree faith of childhood, and just plain "have fun." Whether they call it Yuletide, Noel, Weinachten, or Christmas, people around the earth thirst for its refreshment as the desert traveller for the oasis. ~ D.D. Monroe

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. ~ Dr. Seuss

Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen. ~ Author unknown, attributed to a 7-year-old named Bobby

Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time. ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

Christmas - that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance - a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved. ~ Augusta E. Rundell

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Readability level

In case you were wondering...
cash advance

Screwed up priorities!

We don't have enough police officers to 'patrol' convenience stores where illegal activities occur in a parking lots which - of course - means we have to license them, but we have enough police to send nine officers (yes, NINE) to a 'gentleman's club' in order to ask for IDs of people who are smoking??????

You've got to be kidding me!

More anti-logic from Columbus - SCHIP and Medicaid

Here's what I don't get:

Gov. Ted Strickland is upset because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rejected Ohio's plan to expand Medicaid eligibility to more families in Ohio. In fact, the state's plan would have increased the eligibility threshold from 200% of poverty level up to to 300%, meaning that families of four earning $62,000 per year would be eligible. In fact, he said he was 'appalled' by the decision.

He now plans to revise the request, increasing the eligibility threshold from 200% to 250% of poverty level. If the request is funded under SCHIP, the state would have a 30% match requirement. If the request is funded under Medicaid, the state would have a 40% match.

But then, there was today's Blade article in which the state's Medicaid struggles are detailed:

"...the governor who made expanded health care a priority angered supporters by delaying plans to restore promised dental Medicaid benefits to low-income adults that were eliminated two years ago.

As Medicaid rolls increase at a clip faster than expected, the governor also delayed promised fee increases for medical professionals providing Medicaid services.

And on Friday, the governor learned that the state likely will have to spend $207 million more for Medicaid than the budget anticipated, indicating that even more belt-tightening is to come."

So, if we've cut Medicaid services like dental benefits, delayed fee increases for medical providers and will have to spend $207 million MORE than budgeted, why are we asked the feds for permission to expand eligibility?

People making $62,000 per year are, according to IRS data, at the top end of the definition of middle class. Only 25% of wage earners make more than that - meaning that Strickland's rejected proposal was NOT covering 'low-income' families, but was, in fact, a request to cover all middle-class families - some of whom already have private insurance. And he wanted to do so while keeping cuts in services to people already enrolled in Medicaid.

The state cannot afford to meet its current commitments as budgeted, but they want to add more people onto the Medicaid rolls. Where is the logic in this?

Police car ads - are we surprised they didn't sell?

Well, as many fellow Toledoans predicted, the concept of selling advertisements on police cars didn't result in the hoped-for income.

According to this Blade article, of the 2,500 solicitation letters, only 25 - or 1% - expressed any interest and only four actually made a commitment to place an ad on a car.

Those four companies - Toledo Mud Hens, Promedica Health Systems, Mercy Health Partners and Yark Automotive Group - did so more to support the police department rather than expect this to be an effective form of advertising.

"Joe Napoli, general manager of the Mud Hens, said he was in favor of supporting the police department through advertising. A Mud Hens' logo branded on the side of a police car could have potentially prompted thousands of people to buy tickets to a game, he said."

Come on, Joe - you really didn't expect that seeing the Mud Hens logo on a police car would prompt "thousands" to buy tickets, did you?

"ProMedica made a monetary donation in support of the police department, said Tedra White, spokesman for Toledo Hospital. She declined to disclose the amount of the donation."

Well, Ms White, the amount of the donation is a public record, so everyone who wants to know will be able to get that information. (On Wednesday, after the holidays, I'll ask and then update this post as soon as I get the amounts.)

The sad part of all this is that the police department didn't purchase any vehicles last year because of budget issues, so they're behind in the much-needed replacement of cars. But we did get new bike paths ... talk about priorities!

Friday, December 21, 2007

The importance of NORIS

That's the title of my Eye on Toledo column in this week's Toledo Free Press, and I hope you'll take the time to read it. Vallie Bowman-English, the Clerk of Toledo Municipal Court, will be my guest on Eye on Toledo Thursday, Dec. 27, and we'll discuss just what NORIS means to her and her office. I believe that NORIS is vital to community safety - every bit as
important as police or fire departments - and the mayor should fund this
before he wastes tax funds on his various pet projects.

Also in this issue of the TFP is a great article on Camp Adventure and a must-read by Justin Kalmes which focuses on comments by city of Toledo staffer Andy Ferrara about Citifest and the Erie Street Market. Interestingly, what Ferrara says now seems to conflict with earlier statements about the ordinance on council's agenda for January 2, 2008, not including any 'public funds.'

Enjoy!

'Not business friendly' - post #7

According to this Blade story, November personal income tax collections in Toledo are down, but business tax collections are up.

So, they're celebrating the increased taxes paid by our job providers.

Some would say that the businesses should pay the taxes rather than the individuals. I'm one of those who thinks that both businesses and individuals pay too much in taxes. I also recognize that businesses pass along such tax burdens to consumers in the form of increased prices, or cut other expenses (like wages, employees, benefits) in order to pay such tax bills.

Relying upon increased taxes from businesses to offset a lack of earnings from citizens will only drive businesses to other cities ... sort of like what's happened with Toledo's population. And without those job providers in the city, we'll have even LESS earnings from citizens. It's a vicious downward spiral - and it's not business-friendly.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

TPS levies

Today Toledo Public School Board members voted to put a renewal levy on the March 4th primary ballot.

As a renewal, it will collect the same amount in taxes as it currently does. It's 6.5 mills (effective rate of 3.8 mills) and would expire at the end of this year with collections ending at the end of 2008. It provides about $16 million per year to TPS and costs a $100,000 home about $117 per year.

We'll be discussing this tonight on Eye On Toledo, so I thought you'd like to see all the TPS levies that you currently pay:

Total TPS levies: 63.50 mills voted (28.08 effective rate)
* 44.80 mills is a continuous levy and is not voted upon
* 6.50 mills General (this is the one they voted to renew in March)
* 4.90 mills General (emergency levy approved in November 2004 - expires in 2008 and will stop being collected in 2009)
* 2.50 mills Permanent Improvement (defeated May 2005 as a substitute levy, passed in November 2005 - expires in 2009 and will stop being collected in 2010)
* 4.30 mills Construction Bonds (expires in 2029 with collections ending in 2030)
* 0.50 mills Classrooms (expires in 2024 with collections ending in 2025)

(cross posted on Eye On Toledo blog)

Oh - how far we've come...

From The Patriot Post:

"Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own." ~ James Madison (Essay on Property, 29 March 1792)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Carnival Time!

The 96th Carnival of Ohio Politics is up! I recommend all the linked articles, but especially the ones on education from OhioDave's "Into My Own," Kelly Boyer Sagert's "Word of Mouth," and "The View from Out Here".

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The RGP is at it again!

There they go again! The Regional Growth Partnership, as part of their national editorial marketing program, has another success to add to their list of accomplishments.

I was reading my Wall Street Journal during lunch and found this story on the front page of the second section, Marketplace.

In October, the RGP hosted Jim Carlton, for a two-day visit, setting appointments with appropriate businesses and entities and accompanying him throughout his trip. This story is the result of that visit.

The article takes an objective look at the area from our 'Glass City' reputation, tough economic times and our potential with new companies like Solar Fields, Xunlight Corp. and First Solar.

"But clean tech isn't necessarily a panacea. Only about 5,000 solar jobs have been created in the last five years in Toledo. Meanwhile, the number of manufacturing jobs lost since the 1980s is in the tens of thousands.

Cities like Toledo may also have trouble competing with domestic clean-tech hot spots like Silicon Valley, which are in closer proximity to venture capital sources. In addition, Toledo is competing against cheaper overseas locales. First Solar, for instance, is building four manufacturing plants in Malaysia. Company officials say the Perrysburg plant remains "critical" to the firm's future success.

Still, Toledo has come a long way. Stricken by manufacturing declines in the automotive and other big glass-consuming sectors, the city has been in an economic malaise for much of two decades. Its population loss in the 1990s was one of the fastest in the U.S.

Toledo acquired its Glass City moniker because of a long history of innovation in all aspects of the glass business. Owens-Illinois, Owens Corning, Glasstech and Tempglass have extensive ties here. As the traditional glass industry slowed, executives explored other uses for the material."


Kudos to the RGP for the great work the private sector is doing in promoting this region!

High-speed internet - is this the government's job?

Maybe it's just me - but I don't understand why the state government has to spend $6.8 MILLION in order to provide high-speed internet to all areas in the state.

And do we really need state-ordered committees in each county to determine how much unmet demand there is locally for high-speed service? Don't internet service providers already have a good understanding of whether or not there is 'market demand' in various locations?

In July, Gov. Ted Strickland signed an executive order creating the Ohio Broadband Council and the Broadband Ohio Network.

The order directed the Ohio Broadband Council to coordinate efforts to extend access to the Broadband Ohio Network to every county in Ohio. It also allowed public and private entities to tap into the Broadband Ohio Network while directing state agencies to use the Broadband Ohio Network rather than the public and private networks agencies currently used.

Personally, I like the competition in the market right now and, despite some economies of scale, I'm not sure putting everyone into a state network is the best approach. The critical point is to ensure everyone can communicate, regardless of the system used. As it is now, a glitch in one system doesn't take everyone down. Is that a consideration in a state-wide network? (I'm not enough of a techie to know the answer.)

But that was July...and on December 4th, the new council met for the first time.

Now, in this initiative, the Governor wants to show what demand exists for broadband and, hopefully, encourage private providers to expand high-speed Internet service.

According to numerous press reports, the money will be used to create and staff a new nonprofit corporation called Connect Ohio Initiatives LLC that would be a subsidiary of Connected Nation, of Kentucky, that has worked on such projects nationwide.

The Columbus Dispatch reports:

"Officials couldn't say yesterday what percentage of Ohio may not have broadband access, and providers have been reluctant to share information about their service areas for competitive reasons, Strickland said.

The first task of the initiative will be to map where those gaps in the state are, said Brian Mefford, president and chief executive of Connected Nation.

Connect Ohio will hire staff members, including regional program managers, to set up "e-community leadership teams" in all 88 counties consisting of leaders in government, business, health care, education and other areas to develop customized plans for broadband service in each county, he said.

Strickland said he hopes the federal government will provide additional funding, and Internet providers also are expected to help pay for the initiative and other things such as computers for areas that need them."

Telecommunications companies are supportive of the measure - obviously, as the government is going to do their market studies for them. But Jonathon McGee, executive director of the Ohio Cable Telecommunications Association, has said that cable service is offered in all 88 Ohio counties and that high-speech cable mobile service is offered in 95 percent of "cable's Ohio footprint."

If this is accurate, why do we need to do a study to see who doesn't have access? Does everyone need - or want to pay for - a high-speed service when cable service may meet their demands?

So here are my concerns:

* internet access is important for many reasons, but is it the role of government to spend limited tax dollars to do the market research and then provide (in one way or another) such service in areas where the demand may not be high enough to justify the cost?

* do we now expect the government to take on all kinds of roles simply because it may be classified as 'economic development'?

* do we really need a committee in each county? Lucas is pretty well served in terms of availability of access. But the City of Toledo's proposal to have a company provide discounted or free WiFi service to city government and 'underserved' populations has gone nowhere - especially in light of the numerous problems encountered by other cities who've tried this venture.

* while it's being billed as a public-private partnership, the first $2.9 million is 80% of the initial costs and the remaining 20 percent — about $750,000 — is supposed to come from cable and telecommunications companies and other private businesses. The Governor then wants another $3.9 million in the 2009-11 budget.

* even if this is a good project that government should undertake, should we do so at the expense of other funding priorities?

These are my questions - what are yours?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Chuck Muth on Ron Paul and the Libertarian Party

The following is a column by Chuck Muth - very interesting scenario on the 2008 presidential election...

Libertarians Rising
By Chuck Muth
December 16, 2007


Personally, one of my favorite Ronald Reagan quotes is this: "If you analyze it, I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom - and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is. I think that libertarianism and conservatism are traveling the same path."

With the limited-government philosophy in mind, people coming across libertarianism for the first time often ask what the difference is between the two. The cynical answer, especially when you look at the last few years of GOP control of government, is that libertarians really believe it. That's why they refer to themselves as The Party of Principle.

Another thing the average voter doesn't usually know is that there are two political "libertarian" entities. There's the "small l" libertarian governing philosophy referenced by President Reagan, and the "big L" Libertarian Party.

The limited-government, leave-us-alone "small l" philosophy is clearly the one closest to the heart of Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the Founding Fathers - with the notable exception of Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first big-government liberal. There is much to recommend in said philosophy, and it's shared by many folks in varying degrees in both the Democrat and Republican parties.

On the other hand, there's the "big L" Libertarian Party (LP), the nation's oldest and largest third-party. Alas, the primary purpose of political parties - which, by the way, the Founders called "factions" and disdained with a passion - is to elect its members to political office. To that extent, the LP has been woefully unsuccessful at the ballot box in its 36 year history.

All of which could change this election cycle. Dramatically. Indeed, both the philosophy and the party are enjoying a bounty of riches as Democrats and Republicans continue running the country into the ground with their efforts to increase the size, scope and expense of the federal government.

Small "l" libertarianism as a philosophy is suddenly "cool," thanks in large part to the Republican presidential campaign of Congressman Ron Paul of Texas. And while Paul is currently a registered Republican running for the GOP presidential nomination, he is also a card-carrying member of the Libertarian Party - and was that party's presidential nominee back in 1988. Most voters don't realize you can be registered to vote with one of the two major parties, but also be a dues-paying member of the LP. Kinda like eating your cake and having it, too.

The most controversial issue surrounding Paul's campaign is his anti-war message, which many perceive as being dangerously naïve in this modern era of terrorism, jihad and dirty bombs. But even as you may disagree with him on Iraq, you can't help but acknowledge that his position is rooted squarely in line with the nation's first president, George Washington, who famously cautioned against involving ourselves in foreign entanglements.

Also, Paul's biggest problem with the "war" is that it's not really a war unless Congress fulfills its constitutional responsibility of declaring it a war. Congress has thus far ducked that responsibility. So let's not shoot the messenger.

The bottom line here is that the war issue among libertarians is about as controversial as the abortion issue is among Republicans. That's actually a sign of philosophical rigor, not weakness. It's a legitimate issue where limited-government believers of good conscious can agree to disagree.

Such intellectual constitutional debate is exactly the fire Ron Paul's candidacy has lit under a significant and growing number of American voters. People are rediscovering the Constitution. They're discussing the proper role of the federal government. They're pulling a page from Sen. Barry Goldwater's book (you know the one I mean) and are asking not whether bills are good ideas, but whether or not they're constitutional. Indeed, people are embracing an idea being put forth by Congressman John Shadegg which would require that every piece of federal legislation include "a concise and definite statement of the constitutional authority relied upon for the enactment." Amen!

Now here's where all this gets complicated for the Libertarian Party.

An important rule of Politics 101 is that you win races by addition, not subtraction. Whether identified as "conservative" or "libertarian," Republicans lost enough of the limited-government vote in 2006 to lose its governing majority. Deservedly so. To the extent that the Libertarian Party can pick up sizable chunks of that disenfranchised vote, it could enjoy ballot-box success at the presidential level in 2008 beyond its wildest expectations.

Those expectations aren't the same for the LP, however, as for the two main political parties. For the LP just snaring over one million popular votes in the presidential election nationwide would be unprecedented and a clear sign that they are finally making a difference in the minds of the electorate.

Yes, those million-plus votes could definitely result in swinging the race to Hillary (if nominated). But it's not the obligation of limited-government voters to vote against Hillary; it's the obligation of Hillary's GOP opponent to earn the support of limited-government voters. If the GOP candidate does so, he can win. If not, he could very well go down in flames next November, ushering in The Horror. And if the Arkansas Hill-Bill'ies return to the White House, don't blame the LP; blame the Republicans who blew off the "small l" libertarian vote and sent it to the Libertarian Party.

But how, pray tell, could the LP possibly exceed its historical track record at the polls next November? Simple. By nominating Ron Paul, again, to be its presidential nominee.

As Yogi Berra might say, while such consideration may be premature, it's not too early to think about. And the LP leadership is clearly thinking about it. Hard.

First, of course, Ron Paul would have to lose the Republican Party's nomination. Not much of a stretch there. I know it drives the Ron Paul crowd nuts when I say he's not going to win the nomination, but the problem isn't Ron Paul. The problem is the Republican Party primary voters. Way too many of them are, in fact, big-government "compassionate" conservatives who believe government can "do good" for the people as long as they're the ones running the government. That kind of thinking is what brought us things like No Child Left Behind.

On the other hand, Paul has raised a tidy amount of money for his presidential run - and will likely pocket a few million more today with his "Boston Tea Party" online fundraiser. And he isn't spending it like, well, a drunken Republican or a Democrat. If his campaign continues to spend conservatively, if you'll pardon the pun, he could still have a sizable war chest at his disposal after Super-Duper Tuesday in February, when the GOP nomination could well be wrapped up.

At that point, Paul will have a tough choice to make. Will he continue campaigning for the already-decided GOP presidential nomination in order to continue getting his limited-government message out, or will he switch tracks and consider running again as the Libertarian Party candidate?

Indeed, that's a very real possibility since the LP provides another have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too opportunity here. While the Democrat and Republican nominees will probably be chosen in February, the Libertarian Party won't choose its nominee until May at their national convention. So even if he loses the GOP nomination, Ron Paul would still have the opportunity to pursue the LP nomination and thereby continue campaigning all the way through the general election.

Clearly, this should be attractive to Paul. After all, the man is no spring chicken. The reality is that this is his last presidential hurrah. After 2008, it will be time for Paul to turn the pro-liberty banner over to a new generation of candidates and activists. So taking his message all the way to November rather than hanging it up in February is not something he can dismiss easily. And the calls for him to do just that by the growing legions of Ron Paul supporters could prove to be too strong to resist.

Obtaining the Libertarian Party nomination for president this year would be good for Ron Paul, but it would also be extremely beneficial to the Libertarian Party and its future viability.

Never has the LP enjoyed having a nominee with such high public name recognition. Never has it had a candidate with such national real-life campaign experience. Never has it had a candidate with such credibility, rooted in Paul's long experience as an elected member of Congress. Never has it had a candidate capable of mobilizing such a huge army of grassroots supporters. And never has it had a candidate capable of raising as much money from small-dollar donors. A Ron Paul candidacy as the Libertarian Party nominee would be manna from heaven for the Libertarian Party.

In the past the Libertarian Party has acted much like the Republican Party under such circumstances, never blowing an opportunity to blow an opportunity. But the LP has "grown up" considerably in recent years and appears ready to "play the game" without compromising its philosophical principles.

The transformation started a few years ago when a guy named Joe Seehusen was hired as executive director of the Libertarian Party. Seehusen systematically began to do "political" things which the LP hierarchy had heretofore avoided like the plague. He started attending and even sponsoring various conservative events - such as the huge Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in DC - in an effort to elevate the LP's profile and image, showing folks that Libertarians weren't just a bunch of dope-smoking, open borders, hippie peaceniks. Joe's efforts bore much fruit; and Joe's successor, Shane Cory, has continued the successful outreach.

In addition, the LP recruited former Republican Congressman Bob Barr over to their side. Barr is now a member of the LP's national committee - and to a lot of Republicans, if someone with the "street cred" of Bob Barr can find a comfortable home in the LP, why not them? Convincing Barr to join their party was a major coup for the LP last year.

That being said, the Libertarian Party is the party of liberty, and so is Ron Paul. Philosophically, they are of the same mind - kinda like Spock and Dr. McCoy at the end of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.

The problem for the LP is that Paul, at least at this time, is a registered Republican seeking the GOP nomination for president. And, well, it's just not generally allowed for one party to nominate as its candidate for president the candidate of another party. Especially when there are other candidates of their own party running for the nomination. It's just not done. However, exhibiting a high level of political maturity and street sense, the Libertarian National Committee last weekend unanimously adopted the following resolution:

"In the event that Republican primary voters select a candidate other than Congressman Paul in February of 2008, the Libertarian National Committee urges Congressman Ron Paul to seek the presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party to be decided in Denver, Colorado during the Memorial Day weekend of 2008."

Smart. Very smart.

But that presents another potential problem for the LP, and here's the Root of that problem.

The Libertarian Party already has an unusually charismatic and energetic leading candidate running for the party's presidential nomination this year. His name is Wayne Allyn Root, a very successful businessman, author ("Millionaire Republican"), sports handicapper and television personality. He's also a dynamic speaker who "wowed 'em" at this year's Conservative Leadership Conference in Nevada.

Root - one of those disenchanted former Republicans - is much younger than Ron Paul and represents the next generation of Libertarians and libertarians. Would the LP's invitation for Ron Paul to seek their party's nomination alienate their leading candidate already in the race? Nope.

In fact, in an exceptionally classy move, Root sent out a press release this week in which he stated that he "wholeheartedly supports" the LP's invitation for Ron Paul to join the Libertarian presidential race. "Libertarians believe in competition," Root wrote. "Just as in business, life and education, competition in politics brings out the best in all of us. Competition breeds success."

Indeed.

Root and Paul may have some disagreements on certain issues which deserve debate and discussion in an LP competitive nomination race. But in the end, the older, more experienced, better funded, better known Paul would likely win the presidential nomination. At which point, he and the party would be well-served in selecting Root as their vice presidential nominee. This would be a dynamic pro-liberty ticket, combining youth with experience, which would certainly capture the nation's attention, even if not the White House.

Such a ticket would expand and add to the LP's numbers, as well as give Root a level of experience at Paul's side which would prove politically invaluable for a future run. This is a golden opportunity to build not just their party, but their philosophy as well. And if the GOP doesn't get its limited-government act together soon, the party that replaced the Whigs could well end up going the way of the Whigs.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

SNOW!!!!!

Lazy Sundays ... random thoughts

Snow, cold weather, Christmas tree with lights atwinkle, hot chocolate, good movies, staying in your pjs all day long ... these things have converged to give me a lazy Sunday.

Yes, I'll probably have to go out and shovel the driveway at some point, but considering that we're still expected to get some snow until around 5 p.m., it might be better to wait until tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, some random thoughts.

* I like Roberta de Boer's column on the budgeting survey Toledo City Council approved this week.

"Market research tells us what consumers want.

A political visionary reveals to us something about ourselves, about hopes we never knew we had. A political visionary gets us excited about traveling to a destination we have longed to visit, even though we never realized it existed.

In theory, anyway, I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to have some inkling about the vision of political leaders before we elect them."

* Area birders are out and about to do the annual Christmas Bird Count. I'm hoping the Snowy Owl is still about so he can be counted. I haven't seen him lately, but I have seen quite a few people driving up and down the streets looking for him.

* The Blade doesn't get it - again. They take exception to the President's description of a Portuguese language program as a 'wasteful project' that reflects the irresponsibility of Congressional spending. What the editors don't understand is that it IS a wasteful project because it's not something the federal government should be funding. Education is supposed to be a state issue, but the Congress, and even this President, seem to have forgotten that.

So when Congress spends federal monies to fund pork projects, it is a 'wasteful project,' even if it just happens to be tied to 'educational' purposes. We'd all be much better off if all the monies the feds spent on education was allowed to stay in the states in the first place.

But then there was this: "The amount of the earmark was a mere trifle in a multi-billion dollar bill." Yes, the age-old, "it's only" as an excuse for frivolous or unnecessary spending. Perhaps they should have gone back to read their first paragraph in which they include this quote about the bill: "nearly $10 billion over budget and filled with more than 2,000 earmarks." The problem, as this bill clearly shows, is that eventually, those "it's only's" add up to significant amounts - even for the federal government.

* It's currently 27 degrees, but it feels like 15...winds are gusting up to 20 mph and all my north and east windows are frozen over making it impossible to see outside. Time to see if there's a good movie on TV. Enjoy your day!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Kudos to Carty

Yes, he does do some things right - and when he does, we should acknowledge it.

Details available here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

TMC Judges and Clerk don't work for the mayor

As the former Clerk of Toledo Municipal Court, I'm well aware of the distinction between the judicial branch and the legislation/administrative branches of government.

And since I was elected the same year as Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, I had this discussion with him on numerous occasions during his first two terms as mayor. Apparently, he doesn't remember too well.

The Judges and Clerk of Toledo Municipal Court work WITH (not for) the mayor and council for the City of Toledo, the mayor and council for the Village of Ottawa Hills and the three trustees in Washington Township. They are not a department of the City of Toledo, as Carty so often chooses to believe.

Additionally, Carty should remember that since the Clerk of Municipal Court doesn't work for him, he can't dictate that one of her staff members will assume responsibility for pre-trial services, something that the Clerk has no authority to do under Ohio Revised Code.

Furthermore, case law in Ohio is strongly on the side of the Judges and Clerk to determine their budget and to require the local municipalities to fund their budget.

But here's the kicker - that council and the mayor would be wise to remember: In determining the budget for the Clerk and Judges, the burden of proof is not with the Judges and Clerk. It is with the municipality - and the municipality, in denying the budgetary requests of these two entities, must prove that such budgets are 'unreasonable.' And that's a pretty high burden of proof for the city to undertake...especially when courts have ruled that the financial condition of the city is not an excuse for not funding the 'reasonable' requests of the Clerk and Court.

This gives the Judges and Clerk the ability - and obligation - to develop a budget that accommodates their statutory responsibilities but is also responsible in light of the economic condition of the region in which they are located. And there is nothing in the budgets requested by the TMC Judges and Clerk to suggest that they have done anything other than this.

Besides, if the Judges and Clerk file a mandamus action to force the city to fund their operations as they've determined, do you think another judge is actually going to find against them????

The Mayor's lack of understanding specificaly about the Toledo Municipal Court and NORIS (the entity providing computer systems for all criminal justice in the area), and the entire criminal justice system in general, is long-standing and well-known. But his spokesman's comments, reported in The Blade, are ridiculous, especially considering Carty:

"Brian Schwartz, spokesman for Mayor Finkbeiner, last night said Judge Kuhlman's statements about the destruction of the system have been an obvious and intentional exaggeration.

"I think it's a little hyperbole on Judge Kuhlman's part because the city law director wouldn't do anything to endanger the criminal justice system in the city," Mr. Schwartz said.

"While we have a great deal of respect for Judge Kuhlman, I think it is a bit of hyperbole."

(Aside - what does the city law director have to do with the mayor's budget recommendations or with running the Court or Clerk's Office????)

Neither Schwartz nor the Mayor understand the implications of their recommended cuts and they are dismissing the implications by trying to make Judge Kuhlman look bad in calling his claims 'hyperbole.' Most Toledoans will, however, think more about a pot calling a kettle black when it comes to the use of this word - and that's something both individuals should remember, as well.

I predict that the Judges and Clerk will get their budget requests. And then the bigger question will have to be discussed. If Carty's 2008 budget is only 1.7% over 2007, and they're recommending cutting $4.6 million from criminal justice costs, where, exactly, are they spending all our money?????

UPDATE: My Eye On Toledo column in next weekend's edition of the Toledo Free Press will focus on NORIS - what it does and why it's so important to Toledo and the entire Lake Erie West region.

Lead paint lawsuit dismissed

The Blade is reporting the dismissal of the City of Toledo's lawsuit against paint manufacturers who legally had lead in their products in the past.

I'm pleased about this outcome for a couple of reasons:

1) I don't believe that companies who do something legally should be sued to cover negative consequences of such legal activity decades into the future. It makes sense that companies would WANT to help with such issues as part of a successful public relations campaign. But for a municipality to sue to force such action seems like a waste of municipal resources, especially in Toledo when those legal resources can be focused on more important things like finding legal reasons to justify allowing the mayor to bring his dog into a state-owned building that has rules against that sort of thing...

2) The ruling in terms of what our laws currently are regarding product liability makes sense:

"In her opinion, which was released Wednesday, (Common Pleas) Judge (Ruth Ann) Franks agreed with the companies' contention that the city's claim of public nuisance "is actually a claim under Ohio's Product Liability Act."

Based on that decision, Judge Franks said that the claims are barred by the statutes of limitations.

"The court has found that [the city's] public nuisance claim against the [companies] must fail as it was filed outside of the applicable statute of limitations. [The city] has not asserted another theory upon which [the companies] are liable to [the city] in tort. Accordingly, [the city's] claim for punitive damages fails," the opinion said."

Yes - punitive damages ... trying to extract a punitive judgment for doing what was legal at the time ... again, has common sense just flown out the window? Oh - sorry, forgot we're talking about Toledo city government.

3) I don't understand why the city incurs the cost of lead paint abatement in the first place. Homeowners should do that on their own. Besides, it's not the paint that's a problem, it's when the paint flakes and then is ingested - primarily by children. So...if you've got lead paint in your house and it's flaking - take care of it! And if you've got children in your house - don't let them eat flaked off paint chips, whether they've got lead in them or not!

4) Finally, if the city was so concerned about lead paint dust and flakes, you'd think they would have handled the sandblasting of the lead paint on their bridge(s) a bit differently - don't you? How much lead dust did that release into the air to be absorbed by all the people living downwind of the activity?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mayoral spin on Citifest audit - UPDATED

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner had requested an audit of Citifest, a non-profit agency charged with putting on various events in the downtown area and, for the last several years, with managing the city-owned Erie Street Market. (background on the issue is here)

Yesterday, he issued a press release on the outcome of the audit, saying "While there is no evidence of wrongdoing or misappropriation, it is clear that CitiFest did not meet their managerial or fiduciary responsibility to the City of Toledo in managing the Erie Street Market."

Now, there's no explanation of why the Mayor believes this and there's nothing in the audit report accompanying the press release to indicate such responsibility had not been met. Interestingly, the big question prior to beginning the audit was whether or not the expenses/losses at the Erie Street Market (ESM) are what caused Citifest to run out of money. That issue isn't even addressed.

What is addressed are the following with the auditor's comments in italics:

* were monies for electricity costs properly allocated to ESM? We noted no exceptions and electricity income appears to be properly allocated to ESM.

* was reimbursement for security services properly allocated to ESM? The amount of the security reimbursement income is $7,497 for the nine months ended September 30, 2007 which appears to be properly recorded and allocated to ESM.

* were payroll expenses for Erie Street Market personnel appropriately reflected in the books and records of Erie Street Market? All allocations were consistent and appear to be reasonable.

* were professional fees for services to or at ESM properly allocated to ESM? After review of all legal invoices by CitiFest representatives, the allocation of legal fees to ESM was increased by $2,559. ... Based on additional analysis by CitiFest representatives, professional fees allocated to ESM were increased by $5,276 from $13,897 to $19,173 for accounting and legal fees which had been previously allocated to CitiFest. After adjustments, all allocations appear to be reasonable and calculated consistently.

* were insurance expenses properly allocated? There were some adjustments to the liability/property insurance allocations, but it doesn't say if the adjustments were up or down. Under health/dental/vision insurance, "appropriate payroll deductions from one of the employees for this additional coverage had not been made and ESM was owed $355 which was not reflected in the September 30, 2007 financial statements. However, all amounts owed are expected to be ultimately collected."

* were advertising expenses properly allocated to ESM? One invoice was billed to ESM Catering and should have been billed to ESM. It appears that the advertising charges reviewed were related to ESM activities and properly allocated.

* were bank service charges appropriately and consistently allocated? Total bank service charges allocated to ESM, Antique Mall and ESM Catering were $8,637, of which approximately $6,750 resulted from bank overdraft fees. Bank service charges have been allocated consistently under this policy.

* determine the basis of the $2,500 per month general and administrative fee that Erie Street Market pays to CitiFest and determine what services Erie Street Market receives in consideration for this payment. ... we understand this charge was an administrative fee for the estimated time spent on ESM matters by the following employees of CitiFest: Executive Director, Executive Assistant and Special Events Coordinator. The monthly amount of $2,500 for the services of those individuals has remained the same since 2004, when it was approved by the Board of Trustees of CitiFest as part of the annual budget process. There is no written agreement between CitiFest and ESM to support this amount.

For the nine months ended September 30, 2007, the amount charged by CitiFest to ESM for these services was $22,500. This amount was approximately 19% of the total salary, payroll tax and employee benefit costs of the individuals who held these positions in 2007.

We examined the invoices from DTID (Downtown Toledo Improvement District) to ESM for September, October and November 2006 all of which were paid in 2007 and we noted no exceptions. These expenses were appropriately allocated to ESM.


So that's what the report said, but somehow I wonder if Carty actually read it. His press release also says:

"Due to the commingling of funds, it was impossible to determine if overdraft fees were charged to the Erie Street Market for expenses incurred by the Market or by Citifest."

Now, the audit says "Total bank service charges allocated to ESM, Antique Mall and ESM Catering were $8,637, of which approximately $6,750 resulted from bank overdraft fees." So how can Carty make the claim that it was impossible to determine? He can't.

Finally, his press release says:

"Finally, as managers of the Market, CitiFest leadership had an obligation to report operating losses so that staffing or other expenses could be adjusted. They made no such effort despite the fact that members of my administration and I met with CitiFest leadership regularly through 2007. CitiFest officials never indicated that there were financial difficulties until they ran out of funding in November, and had incurred in excess of $40,000 in bad check fees."

I'm not sure what Carty's expecting in this regard. Two representatives from the city sit on Citifest's board and both were present at the meetings over the last year where the financial issues/problems were discussed. One representative works for the City Auditor and appears to report to City Council. The other works for the Mayor.

So, Mayor, who's at fault for you not knowing about the financial difficulty - Citifest or your own employees who should have been sharing this information with you and their superiors on a regular basis? Personally, if I were to send a rep to sit on a board, I'd expect some kind of report monthly following each board meeting - and I'd read them. Perhaps Carty's employee did make regular reports but they never made it through the bureaucracy? Or maybe they did and were ignored until it was too late? Who knows?

But, the ESM has never made a profit and has traditionally required financial support from the city. Such monetary support was not provided in 2007, and, as a result, Citifest expended money to run the facility and is now closed. But ESM is still open.

Per the press release:

"The City of Toledo has assumed management of the Erie Street Market and is in the process of developing a business plan to ensure the Market’s su "

I believe the last word is supposed to be 'success,' but this is copied as received.

Unfortunately, Carty's actions have resulted in the closing of Citifest while a consistently failing ESM is going to get a new business plan from the city, despite the city's proven inability to provide a successful plan in the past.

Just a question, Mayor. When ESM continues to fail, who will you blame then?

UPDATE: Here is The Blade's take on the press release sent out (which, remember, included the letter from the auditors to the city). 13ABC had a blurb in their morning headlines section. NBC24 comments on the audit and not the Mayor's press release - they also have a copy of the audit report available. And here is the Fox 36 Toledo coverage. Also, here is WSPD's coverage and sound clips from Citifest Board Chairman Brian Epstein.

'Not business friendly' - post #6

Well, just when you thought it couldn't get any worse in terms of sending messages to the business community that they're just not welcomed, Toledo City Councils passes a new Convenience Store Licensing Law with 'minor tweakings' per Councilman Joe McNamara.

There were some positive changes made:

* eliminating the requirement to have VHS tapes for surveillance in favor of just providing some tasks a surveillance 'system' must be able to do;
* eliminating the need to pick up trash and litter from property other than your own;
* changing 'may' to 'shall' issue a license if your application is complete and you've met the qualifications;
* reducing the administrative fine for non-compliance from $200 per day to $100 per day;
* removing the provision that you can be charged criminally for non-compliance of this law;
* allowing yearly renewal without going through the whole application process again if no 'material' changes have been made by the owner;
* in the provision that says the owners has to maintain and operate the business in compliance with all applicable laws and ordinances, they removed the phrases 'environmental health' and 'environmental management';
* and they changed how a license has to be displayed, by saying it must be in a conspicuous place, rather than 'clearly visible' by someone standing in the entryway and with nothing else within 12 inches of it.

All these changes were a result of the complaints and questions raised on Eye on Toledo.

However, some of those 'minor' things, aren't so minor when they include a provision that says you can still lose your license if, after taking all reasonable efforts to be in compliance, one of your customers does something illegal in your parking lot.

Complete details are available on my Eye On Toledo blog.

While the Mayor can veto this, he's not expected to. Sadly, this is the way our elected officials define 'business friendly.'

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

COSI: 'everything's on the table'

According to the report on Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's 'working lunch' with COSI supporters, "everything is on the table" when it comes to finding a way to save COSI.

While the COSI board has given up on the idea of keeping it open, they've decided to close as of Dec. 31 while working on various options under which it could re-open.

Neither David Waterman, COSI board chairman, nor the mayor ruled out another levy request in 2008. (No mention was made in the article about the private fundraising effort being led by Jerry Jakes.)

Hopefully, they won't go the levy route - or any route that expends public dollars on this failed enterprise. The COSI business plan wasn't good, as Waterman said, and the public has twice rejected funding a failed plan. The idea of spending Toledo Public School monies on a school in that facility also did not get a good reception, so any such proposals need to have solid, sound and supportable business plans ... something Toledo government doesn't do well.

Cheers and boos to Toledo City Council - UPDATED

I discussed the City Council votes on numerous issues on Eye on Toledo last night (listen here), and today's Blade also has a recap. So here are the cheers and boos:

CHEERS to Michael Ashford for voting no on the $7.8 million Southwyck buyout plan.

"We are on the hook for $7.8 million, and he (Larry Dillin) wants the city to help him with a $17 million plan. We can't afford that," Mr. Ashford said. "He wants a commitment for 2008 and 2009 [capital improvements for the $4 million], which we don't even know yet."

He also questioned why the city of Toledo is the "middleman" buying private property, doing asbestos cleanup, and then selling it to a private developer.

That's a great question, Mike, and it's one I bet didn't get answered. But I - and I'm sure many others - appreciate your take on this one. NBC24 has a good explanation of the requirements the city agreed to - and a copy of the letter of agreement on the deal from Larry Dillin.

BOOS to the rest of council, especially the Republicans, who seem to think this is what constitutes economic development while they perpetuate other policies and taxation that make this city 'not business friendly.'

CHEERS again to Michael Ashford for voting against spending $35,000 to hire a company to survey 800 Toledoans about their budget priorities, especially considering the fact that both the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University have the ability to do the same thing for considerably less.

BOOS to the 10 council members who voted in favor of the new convenience store licensing law (background here, here, here and here.) According to an email from one of my WSPD listeners, Councilman Joe McNamara called the proposed legislation 'Draconian' and was going to meet with Councilman Rob Ludeman (the sponsor of the legislation) Monday to see about making some changes. Changes were made - some good, some not - and McNamara urged passage of the law which reflected 'minor tweaking.'

Some of the 'tweaking' was not 'minor' and I'll be discussing this tonight on Eye on Toledo at 6 p.m.

CHEERS to Betty Shultz and Joe Birmingham for voting against this.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rich States Poor States - Ohio at the bottom

I've added a link to the American Legislative Exchange Council's report of the 2007 Economic Competitiveness Rating. My first post on the report did not include a link, as it wasn't yet posted on their website. It is now and is available here. This is a 114-page, 3.61 MB .pdf, so it may take a bit to download.

Ohio ranked 47th out of 50 states in terms of our overall ranking (1 was the best) and 49th in the Economic Performance Ranking, which was based on the state’s performance (equal-weighted average) in the three important performance variables highly influenced by state policy: personal income per capita (47th), absolute domestic migration (45th), and non-farm payroll employment (48th).

Maybe they're finally getting it!

During a committee hearing yesterday, Toledo City Council President Michael Ashford was not convinced that it was a good idea for the city to purchase a portion of the Southwyck Mall property. And kudos to him for what he said, as quoted in today's Blade!

"The City of Toledo in this deal has become the middleman of buying private property, doing the cleanup, and then turning around and selling it to a private developer," he said. "That's not our role and responsibility."

But that's not the only news that came out of the committee meeting - the actual costs are closer to $2.6 million ... not the $1,095,000 that was originally published. The extra $1.5 million is to pay for the removal of any asbestos in the building, though Councilman Betty Shultz thinks the costs could be higher.

And the city plans to give itself a no interest loan from its revolving loan fund in order to cover the outlay. While city officials say that the purchase price and 80% of the clean-up costs would be repaid by Larry Dillin when he purchases the property from the city, the remaining 20% wouldn't be repaid until Dillin has all his private financing in place and his tenants lined up...and who knows when that could be, considering his other major commitment to the Marina District.

And that $1.5 million loan the city is going to make to itself is money that won't be available for other purposes in the meantime.

The fact that Michael Ashford believes this is not a proper use of public funds is terrific. Hopefully, he'll be able to convince his fellow council members of this(including the Republicans who've lately been more interested in agreeing with Carty than in standing for Republican principles) and the city won't interject itself into what should be a private transaction between the owner(s) of the property and Larry Dillin. Let Dillin purchase the property, clean it up and then develop it as he wants...and let the city focus on its statutory responsibilities.

(If you'd like background on the Southwyck Mall issue, type 'Southwyck' in the Search This Blog box in the left-hand column and you'll find seven other posts on the topic, including what appears to be a now defunct plan to take the mall by eminent domain.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Should we be surprised? Taxes are anti-growth

From the National Center for Policy Analysis - Daily Policy Digest


THE (TAX) WAR BETWEEN THE STATES

An economic rating of the 50 states shows that those with the lowest taxes, government spending and regulatory burdens attract the most newcomers, say Arthur Laffer, president of Laffer Associates, and Stephen Moore, senior economics writer for the Wall Street Journal.

According to a study by the American Legislative Exchange Council:

* Over the past decade, the 10 states with the highest taxes and spending, and the most intrusive regulations, had half the population and job growth, and one-third slower growth in incomes, than the 10 most economically free states.

* In 2006 alone 1,500 people each day moved to the states with the highest economic competitiveness from the states with the lowest competitiveness.

Of all the policy variables examined, two stand out as perhaps the most important in attracting jobs and capital. The first is the income tax rate:

* States with the highest income tax rates -- California and New York, for example -- are significantly outperformed by the nine states with no income tax, such as Texas and Florida.

* As a study from the Atlanta Federal Reserve Board put it: "Relative marginal tax rates have a statistically significant negative relationship with relative state growth."

The other factor for attracting jobs and capital is right-to-work laws:

* States that permit workers to be compelled to join unions have much lower rates of employment growth than states that don't.

* Many companies say they will not even consider locating a factory in a state that does not have a right-to-work law.

The study also finds that states with antigrowth tax and spending policies don't just lose people. Noncompetitive states like New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois and New Jersey are plagued by falling housing values, a shrinking tax base, business outmigration, capital flight and high unemployment rates, and less money for schools, roads and aging infrastructure. These factors of decline hurt the poor the most.

Source: Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore, "The (Tax) War Between the States," Wall Street Journal, December 10, 2007.


Note - According to the WSJ, Ohio was in the bottom 10. While there are news stories about the report, I could not find a complete copy of the study.

$35,000 to do budget survey and the question they should ask

Yep - that's right. Mayor Carty Finkbeiner is proposing to spend $35,000 to conduct a survey of Toledoans to find out their thoughts on the budget.

How much do you want to bet that the #1 response is to stop spending money on surveys?

But seriously...

In the April edition of Toledo's employee newsletter, the Mayor said he was going to do the surveys as part of the performance-based budgeting process (or outcome-based budgeting) he wanted to implement. The original plan was to do such outreach in the late summer and to have the departments use that information in formulating their goals for their 2008 budget. Obviously, that didn't occur.

But the city appears to be pursuing this type of a budgeting process and that's a really good thing. It's proven to be an inclusive and good method of budgeting in other cities. How inclusive such a process would be here would depend upon how involved they want the public.

So far, from what I've read and heard of this particular proposal for a survey, I'm not happy. In a city of 298,446 (July 2006 estimate), I don't think that a survey of 400, 800 or 1,200 will give you a comprehensive understanding of what the public wants.

I understand fully the methods by which such small numbers are surveyed and then extrapolated to 'represent' the viewpoints of the large numbers. I also understand that selecting such small numbers, in a way that gives a good representation of the large group is a skill and can be costly. So while it is important to get a good sampling, it's also important to provide an opportunity for all interested citizens to participate.

But, considering the current budget issues within the city, I'm not convinced that spending $35,000 to survey .1-.4% of the population is the most cost effective method - at least, not when other options for reaching more people are available.

Could we pay a significantly lesser amount to develop a survey and then put it on the city's website and make printed copies available in the libraries, police and fire stations, or even mail them out with our utility bills? What about public forums - the mayor holds them regularly. Wouldn't these options allow for more public input? And, isn't that what it's all about? Getting feedback from the community about their desires for the priorities in the budget?

Frank Szollosi had a suggestion for the poll as well.

"I'd also like to include a question on how people feel about their tax burden."

Personally, I'd like a poll that would ask me my top five priorities for spending. But, knowing only the top priorities doesn't help an elected official make good decisions. A critical question to ask is "what five programs or spending priorities would you cut in order to have your top priorities?"

If you don't ask this question, you'll get a list of things people want. And that's okay, but if you ask enough people, you'll find that everything government does is wanted by someone. So it's not enough to just ask for the top priorities.

If you ask this question, you'll get a good idea of what citizens DON'T want their money spent on - and that will give city council and the mayor good guidance for where to start reducing ... guidance they definitely need considering the reduction in criminal justice services that the mayor is proposing for 2008.

And the questions should be developed without 'control' of the elected officials. I don't want a question that asks "do you think flowers make the city look nice?" Most would answer yes to that question - but that doesn't mean that they want money spent on flowers versus something like roads or police cars or jails. I want questions measure intensity in addition to interest. I'm interested in flowers, for example, but my intensity for them is certainly far less than for other items.

Hopefully, if the city goes forward with this survey, they won't be limited to a very small targeted number of people - but will offer the survey to anyone willing to take it. And the questions will be such that you'll get good guidance - and not just what elected officials hope to hear. And, finally, they will actually use the information to formulate the goals and the budget for the city. And that would be a very good thing.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sunday Night Radio

Yes, there are radio shows on Sunday night - and tonight, I'll be on one of them!

It's called "Sunday Night Wrap w/ Andrew Z" and features Andrew Z, and his two co-hosts on the 92.5 KISS FM morning show, Jimmy Hamm and Michael Checkoway. It airs from 7-9 p.m. on NewsTalk 1370 WSPD and is a recap of the top news stories of the week - as voted on by news personalities within the area.

Each week, they like to invite a guest to join in the discussion and this week, that guest is me. It should prove interesting and entertaining, as they said I may be the only one who really knows what they're talking about...lol.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to it and, since there's not much on TV on Sunday nights (the football game doesn't start until 8:15), I hope you'll tune and see how your picks for the top 10 news stories match up.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Eye On Toledo interview with Rob Ludeman

Friday I did an interview with Councilman Rob Ludeman about the convenience store licensing law scheduled to be voted on by Toledo City Council on Tuesday, December 11th. I've posted some thoughts about the interview on my Eye on Toledo blog, and I'd appreciate your comments here.

If you've not heard about this issue, you can listen to the pod cast of the show by clicking the link on the left. For background on the issue, you can read my previous posts here, here and here. And you can read my column on the issue in the Toledo Free Press.

Saving COSI????

The Toledo Free Press is reporting a private effort to save COSI.

"Retired management consultant Jerry Jakes is summoning his inner Santa by organizing an effort to save the Downtown science and technology museum. He said COSI could be saved if each family in what he calls “Lake Erie West” donated $5.

The burden shouldn't be left to Lucas County; Jakes said COSI is a regional asset. Families in Bowling Green, Perrysburg, Sandusky and even Monroe, Mich., are encouraged to send money. The 76-year-old Sylvania resident is asking households to help raise $1 million before the museum closes Dec. 31.
...
His campaign is off to a slow start. Jakes has tried to get the word out, but he's one person counting on others to help. The Toledo Community Foundation has agreed to collect the money sent by COSI supporters, but details need to be finalized."

COSI Chairman David Waterman, while appreciative of the effort, doesn't think it will be enough - or soon enough - to change the plans to close down the facility at the end of December. And, according to today's Blade, "he has heard no proposals that would keep the lights on past year's end - or avoid a third levy request to Lucas County voters in March."

But local 'leaders' aren't letting two defeats at the ballot box stop their efforts to find a way to keep COSI open. Fourteen 'members of the community' sent a letter to Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak and Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, saying they stand 'ready, willing and able to work with you and others to do what it takes to keep COSI Toledo alive in our community.' (italics were in the letter)

Those leaders are: Richard Anderson, Chairman of The Andersons; Bruce Baumhower, President UAW-Local 12; Jim Hoffman, President of Key Bank; Billie Sewell-Johnson, President/CEO of the Area Office on Aging; Steve Mickus, President/CEO of Mercy Health Partners; Fr. Ron Olszewski, President of St. Francis High School; Rev. Willie Perryman, Jr., Jerusalem Baptist Church; Thomas Brady, President of Plastic Technologies, Inc.; Jack Ford, member of Toledo Public School Board; Jimmy Jackson, President of The JAJ Company; Francine Lawrence, President of Toledo Federation of Teachers; Pat Nicholson, President of N-Viro Energy Systems, Inc.; Thomas Palmer, Managing Partner of Marshall & Melhorn; and George Tucker, Executive Secretary AFL-CIO.

Now, why Billie Johnson is a signer, I don't know. Her agency, the Area Office on Aging, is funded primarily (if not solely) by public dollars, including a levy in Lucas County. Of the signers, James Hoffman and Jack Ford are members of COSI's board.

The mayor, who thinks the voters didn't act 'wisely' in defeating the COSI levy, has scheduled a 'working lunch' for Tuesday with the authors as well as the addressees in an effort to see if funding can be worked out. (Wonder who's paying for that - Carty out of his personal funds? or you and me, from city tax dollars?)

But Waterman is not optimistic.

"...everything that had been discussed so far about preserving COSI would involve a "post-closing" reopening and public funding - the latter being something Lucas County voters have rejected twice.

"We're continuing to proceed in our orderly shutdown. … Nothing has happened yet to stop that in the short term," he said. "But we continue to meet with officials and other interested parties. We have had good support from everyone except the voters.""

And that's the problem. Jerry Jakes understands that the private sector is what can - and should - save COSI, and I hope he's successful in his fundraising drive. I only wish it'd been started earlier, with the enthusiastic support of the COSI board.

**If you would like to donate to the 'SAVE COSI' effort, you can do so here, but putting 'SAVE COSI' in the gift purpose field.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Pearl Harbor Day


As today is December 7th, also known as Pearl Harbor Day, I thought it appropriate to remember the events of that day in 1941 and the impact the attack on Pearl Harbor had on our Nation. The photo is the wrecked destroyers USS Downes (DD-375) and USS Cassin (DD-372) in Drydock One at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, soon after the end of the Japanese air attack. Cassin has capsized against Downes.

"The Pearl Harbor attack entered the consciousness of contemporary Americans more forcefully than any other single event. Regarded as a dastardly "surprise attack" and an act of "infamy", during the Second World War every effort was made to keep its memory bright. Posters, popular songs and other media were staples of wartime popular culture, regular memorial services were held to commemorate the dead, and flags that had flown at the Capitol and White House on 7 December 1941 were raised over fallen enemy capital cities.

Even after the conflict ended, the Pearl Harbor "surprise" helped shape a generation of National defense policy and was not forgotten by those who had lived through the war. Monuments, large and small, were erected on the battle sites. Around the country, veterans' reunion groups met regularly to keep the memory alive."


Of course, things are a bit different today, when many news outlets and people mention this only in passing. But not here.

The Naval Historical Center website has some terrific links, including this:

"The 7 December 1941 Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor was one of the great defining moments in history. A single carefully-planned and well-executed stroke removed the United States Navy's battleship force as a possible threat to the Japanese Empire's southward expansion. America, unprepared and now considerably weakened, was abruptly brought into the Second World War as a full combatant."

Read the complete article here.

"I had just had breakfast and was looking out a porthole in sick bay when someone said, "What the hell are all those planes doing up there on a Sunday? " Someone else said, "It must be those crazy Marines. They'd be the only ones out maneuvering on a Sunday." When I looked up in the sky I saw five or six planes starting their descent. Then when the first bombs dropped on the hangers at Ford Island, I thought, "Those guys are missing us by a mile." Inasmuch as practice bombing was a daily occurrence to us, it was not too unusual for planes to drop bombs, but the time and place were quite out of line. We could not imagine bombing practice in port. It occurred to me and to most of the others that someone had really goofed this time and put live bombs on those planes by mistake."

Oral histories from people present during the attack are here.

National Geographic also has a good page on Remembering Pearl Harbor.

From the President's 2007 proclamation:

"On December 7, 1941, our Nation was viciously attacked at Pearl Harbor, America's Pacific Fleet was battered and broken, and more than 2,400 American lives were lost. On National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, America honors those brave individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our homeland, and we recognize those veterans who with strength and resolve defended our Nation and advanced the cause of freedom during World War II.

When it mattered most, an entire generation of Americans stepped forward to protect our freedom and to defend liberty. Their devotion to duty and willingness to serve a cause greater than self helped secure our future and our way of life. Liberty prevailed because of the sacrifice of these courageous patriots, and America and her allies preserved a world where democracy could flourish. Our Nation remains forever in the debt of these brave Americans.

From the unprovoked attack at Pearl Harbor grew a steadfast resolve that has made America a defender of freedom around the world, and our mission continues as our men and women in uniform serve at home and in distant lands. Today, as we defend our Nation's founding ideals, we pay special tribute to those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor, honor our veterans of World War II, and celebrate the liberty that makes America a lasting symbol of hope to the world
."


Thank you to our Veterans!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

RGP gets $139,500 grant

I received the following press release from the Regional Growth Partnership:

TOLEDO, Ohio – For the second time since the program began, the Regional Growth Partnership (RGP) has received grant approval to help in promoting a statewide marketing campaign aimed at attracting new jobs, business and capital investment to Ohio.

Through the Ohio Business Development Coalition’s (OBDC) state matching grant program, the RGP was awarded $139,500 to support its business development and marketing initiatives. Some specific programs under the grant include the outreach to site consultants, print advertising and direct mail.

“The RGP has implemented an aggressive marketing campaign designed to promote the successes, resources and assets of our region as an ideal location for new business,” said Steve Weathers, president and CEO of the RGP. “The OBDC has done an outstanding job creating and selling the Ohio brand, and we are eager to continue our efforts on behalf of northwest Ohio to complement that state message.”

In September 2006, OBDC unveiled a new Ohio brand, summed up for the business community in the brandline, “Build Your Business. Love Your Life.” The new brandline communicates that Ohio offers balance without compromise; everything businesses need to thrive and provides ample opportunity for executives and employees to achieve their personal aspirations as well. As part of its proposal, the RGP will promote how the Toledo region uniquely delivers the Ohio promise.

Assets such as an educated and trained workforce, logistics, infrastructure and transportation capabilities, and expertise in alternative energies, all exemplify the region’s ability to deliver on the needs of businesses. In addition, cultural recognitions in northwest Ohio, including the city of Toledo’s Liv Com award, a nationally acclaimed zoo, museum and library, all demonstrate the opportunities being promoted through the Ohio brand, “Love Your Life.”

“Northwest Ohio possesses many of the resources businesses need to be successful, as well as the cultural amenities that enhance quality of life,” said Jim Hoffman, president of KeyBank and a member of the RGP Board of Directors. “This grant will help our region tell that story on a national level to site consultants and targeted industries.”

The Ohio Business Development Coalition (OBDC) is a nonprofit organization that is responsible for creating and sustaining a strong Ohio brand capable of attracting, retaining or expanding capital investment. The work of the OBDC supports the Ohio Department of Development, Ohio economic development community and Team Ohio. For more information on the Ohio Business Development Coalition visit www.ohiomeansbusiness.com.

The Regional Growth Partnership is a private nonprofit development corporation dedicated to fostering local, national and international economic growth opportunities for Northwest Ohio.

Who will do the follow-up???

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has decided that our water meter readers will, indeed, begin to report housing code violations to the Department of Neighborhoods.

They're only going to cover issues outside of the home, he says, hoping to alleviate some of the concerns residents expressed about letting 'inspectors' inside a home...

But, the city only has eight inspectors, as two positions are vacant due to a lack of funding. Rumor has it, from anyone who's asked how long it will be for a complaint to be addressed, that these eight inspectors already have a huge backlog of work - and today's newspaper article says the city gets about 100 complaints a day through the 'call city hall' phone line.

So who is going to follow up on all these new complaints that these 13 meter readers are going to generate? Well, that's a great question - and one that, if asked during the Mayor's press conference yesterday, didn't get covered by the news outlets.

Inquiring minds want to know...

A great start for Toledo School Board

The Blade is reporting the goals that the Toledo Public School Board members have set for the superintendent - and they're a great start!

Finally, it appears that there will be definitive and measurable goals by which to judge the performance of the superintendent and the schools themselves. All that's left to do, it seems, is to establish the things to be measured and what the standards of those measurables will be. When this is done, I hope the board will share them with the public so that we can watch the progress they're hoping to achieve.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

'Not business friendly' - post #5

Here we go, again ... another act by Toledo City Council that falls into the 'not business friendly' category.

The latest is proposed legislation to add a new chapter 721 to the Toledo Municipal Code, entitled "Convenience Stores," with the purpose of placing onerous and costly requirements upon this particular type of business through the guise of 'licensing' them.

We had a lively discussion about this during the Eye on Toledo show last night and you can listen to the reaction here.

So what exactly is this all about? Well, that depends upon whom you ask. Some will say it's to provide a safer environment for employees and customers of such stores. Others will say it's a way to relieve the police of their duty to enforce laws by requiring store owners to assume that responsibility. Some will say that it's a way for the city to generate additional yearly income. Others will say it's a way to remove 'problem businesses.' Whatever one says about the law, no one is saying that it's business-friendly or that it will lead to growth of the city.

And the 'not business friendly' aspect starts immediately with the cost and the anticipated application process. It's a $250 fee every year, but there is some discussion of making the initial cost only $100 because it will be for only a portion of the year.

The anticipated process is this: Get packet from office on 20th floor and fill it out; take tax compliance form to Taxation Department and get sign off; take zoning form to 16th floor to get sign off; take inspection form to different office on 16th floor and get proof of an occupancy permit; go to another office on the 17th floor and obtain, at additional cost, a criminal history background check; return to 20th floor with all completed documents and turn in application and fee.

Isn't that ridiculous? Whatever happened to the concept of a one-stop shop?

And in the application - you have to give your life story. Well, not exactly, but almost. You have to list the name and address of the applicant, which seems logical. But if the owner is more than one person or any entity or firm, you have to list the full name of all parties interested and their addresses. If it's a partnership, corporation or LLC, you have to provide a complete list of the officers or members with the name and addresses of the officers, the state in which the entity is organized and the names and addresses of people designated as managers. Oh - and also the name of the owner of the property and whether any involved parties have been 'engaged in the operation of a convenience store' and, if so, when where and how long in each place.

Then there is the nice little provision that if the application is complete and the applicant 'qualifies to engage in such business,' the Department of Finance may grant the application and issue the license. Note the 'may'? After going through all this stuff, and qualifying, you are not assured of getting your license. The 'rejection of application' portion of the law says applications can be rejected if a person fails to qualify or if the premises don't comply with all applicable laws.

So, if your application is complete and you 'qualify,' why wouldn't the language say that the license shall be granted, instead of 'may' be granted?

Now, if you'd like to sell your business, the new owner needs to go through the same process and get a license in their own name which, in effect, restricts your ability to sell to whom you want since the city can decide not to issue a license to your buyer.

Of course, there's also a section about revoking a license for 'disorderly or immoral conduct therein.' Guess the government is now going to be responsible for determining if you're behaving in a 'moral' way ... and who gets to determine that definition???? Well, it doesn't say.

Then there are the conditions. Every convenience store will now be required to have and maintain a surveillance camera system. But the law doesn't stop there - they even detail the operation of such a system, including signage, inspections and the stipulation that it operate 24 hours per day without interruption. Failure to meet these requirements means you're subject to administrative fines and/or criminal charges, with fines beginning at $200 per day accumulating for each day of non-compliance.

As if this isn't bad enough, the law specifies not just the needs such a system must meet, but what kind of system you install. The licensee must ensure that the camera system contains a full roll of film and is working properly. It must record and produce 'color, retrievable, enlargeable and reproducible photographic images ... of sufficient clarity to be used for suspect identification in investigations or criminal proceedings.'

They even specify the tapes used in such a system:

"A. Each business shall maintain a supply of 32 videotapes. 31 tapes shall be numbered 1 through 31 and used on the corresponding day of the month. In the event licenses (stet) or the Toledo Police Department needs to take one of these tapes as evidence, the extra tape will be used as a replacement.

B. Videotapes shall be used a maximum of 12 times. One per month for a period of one year.

C. Under no circumstances should a videotape be reused for a period of more than one time per month."

Further, the vendor has to "maintain all equipment, assure accuracy of time keeping, and log tape reuse and schedule immediate repair if necessary." (emphasis added)

Guess you're going to have to keep a log of your tapes and which ones you use - and you'll have to incur the cost of replacing all of them each year, regardless of need.

Haven't these people ever heard of digital???? In fact, a caller to the show last night said that most security companies don't even use tapes anymore and most expect them to be completely obsolete within two years. And this is why it's ridiculous for the law to specific such conditions in light of how rapidly technology changes and how better systems are quickly available. But, to create a law that allows for such innovations would require council members to be cognizant of continuing changes in a business owner's resources - and they're not. This legislation clearly demonstrates that fact.

Here's an interesting question: Do you think anyone bothered to ask how much it was going to cost for business owners to comply with these provisions, outside the costs of the application itself? Our local government complains of unfunded mandates pushed upon them all the time - you'd think they'd be at least curious about the financial impact of their own laws. But, then again, this is Toledo.

But that's not the end of the expectations. Most businesses police their own property in terms of litter and debris. This law requires owners to also inspect and remove litter and debris from all adjacent streets, sidewalks and alleys adjoining their premise AND within 100 feet of their lot lines.

The obvious assumption for this requirement is that such owners are responsible for people who litter and should be required to clean up everyone else's property - rather than to expect the other property owners (including the city) to be responsible for their own clean up. You know, with all the new fees and enforcements the city's pushing on its residents, you'd think they'd find a ready supply of violations and ticketable offenses at such convenient stores. After all - it seems less costly to have a cop hang out and write tickets for littering than it would be to institute the aerial enforcement for speeding that they've included in the 2008 budget. Talk about a return on investment!

But again, the fallacy is that this law makes the owner of a business liable for the illegal activity of customers who patronize the business - something no business owner should have to be responsible for.

And there's more!

The licensee is directly and vicariously responsible for any violations on their premises and parking areas by any employee or independent contractor working under their supervision or management. They will be required to pay all delinquent court judgments arising out of their business and business operations. They have to make sure that any area of their property that is not regularly monitored is not accessible to customers or the public. They can't have vending or coin-operated machines available when they're not open.

The law says "all solid waste and recyclable materials shall be stored in refuse containers made of metal or approved plastic." Does this means they're being forced to recycle? I think a legal argument could be made for that point based upon the current wording.

But the most troublesome aspect of this law, for me, is the requirement that such owners are to act as de facto law enforcement officers and can lose their new license if they don't prevent people from committing certain crimes on their property. This is the topic of my Eye On Toledo column in this weekend's edition of the Toledo Free Press.

After detailing all these conditions, it's clear to see that this is not business friendly. It's a new law designed to placate certain neighborhoods who don't like convenience stores. In fact, in response to public demand, City Council recently denied a special use permit for one such store. However, the store sued and the judge found in favor of the store, calling stories of criminal activity 'anecdotal' and ruling:

"In this case, a review of the entire record in no way supports the decision of city council. The opponents of the [permit] expressed many unsubstantiated concerns regarding the carryout, and most of these were in regard to the sale of alcohol."

City Council had to grant the permit - and you would think that they'd learn a lesson from this experience. But no - this law is the result, and it took them a year to come up with something this bad!

The problem is that such a law is never going to stop people from doing illegal things - only a police presence to deter such actions and swift enforcement when they do occur will solve that particular problem.

But it's so much easier to pass feel-good legislation that gives the appearance of doing something about a problem, while perpetuating false expectations that the problem is now solved.

In the meantime, business owners - those individuals who invest their own funds to start a business and provide much-needed jobs in this city - will bear the burden and will react accordingly. This sends a terrible message to the vast number of convenience stores, as defined by the law, who are and have been good business members of our community.

And this false solution to what is, in reality, a lack of police staff and enforcement, will not go unnoticed by other businesses in the city, who will rightly be concerned that, if council gets away with this, they may expand such laws to others. And that doesn't even touch on the impact it can have on those considering establishing a business here.

It's not business friendly and is certainly not the way to go about building a community of growth and opportunity.
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