Monday, June 02, 2008

Does Lucas County need a 'sweatshop apparel' policy?

According to today's paper, our commissioners have nothing better to do than to outlaw the purchase of products made in sweatshop conditions with taxpayer money.

Is the County actually purchasing products made under such conditions? Well, they don't know for sure.

Lucas County spent $40,000 on prisoner uniforms, socks, and slippers in the last five years, much of it bought from contractors suspected of using sweatshop labor, Mr. Konop said.

Don't you think you'd find out for sure if you were so concerned with the possibility?

Corrections Administrator Jim O'Neal said he hadn't heard any concerns about the labor practices of the jail's contractors until plans for Mr. Konop's policy were brought to his attention.

He said he's concerned about a possible increase in the cost of corrections system apparel.

"As long as we can find another supplier, and as long as [the commissioners] give us the funds to pay the extra cost, it will have no impact on us," Mr. O'Neal said.

"Ultimately, the effect will be on the county budget," he said.

But the actual cost of the goods won't be the only cost taxpayers will incur:

As a member of the consortium, the county eventually would have to pay 1 percent of its annual apparel budget to the coalition for its enforcement costs.

Although Mr. Konop said he didn't know exactly how much the county would need to spend in future years, he estimated that the enforcement payment wouldn't amount to more than a few hundred dollars a year.

Konop doesn't know ... don't you think he should? Isn't it prudent to know how much a new policy is going to cost the taxpayers before you even suggest it?

There are a lot of problems with this policy, but here's the biggest one:

Under Ohio law, counties have limited authority. If state law says a county must do something, it must. If state law says a county may do something, there is an ability for a county to decide yes or no. If state law is silent on an issue, counties have no authority and are prohibited from acting. This is because counties are, technically, an arm of state government and not subject to 'home rule authority' like cities and villages in Ohio.

Because of this limited authority, counties cannot embark upon 'set-aside' policies for minority contractors, they cannot order the dog warden to address feral cats and they can't create laws. Additionally, the bidding and procurement process is clearly defined and doesn't allow for 'social engineering' as a criteria.

With this mind, I sent an email to John Borell, an assistant county prosecutor in the civil division who often handles commissioner issues, to ask where in the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) the commissioners get the authority for such a prohibition.

I presume, perhaps mistakenly, that if they are to the point of introducing such a resolution and saying publicly that they support it, they've already checked to be sure they have the legal authority to do it. And that legal authority will be clearly identified in the ORC.

When I was a commissioner, I got tired of asking where, in the ORC, we got the authority for many things and asked that our resolutions include the applicable ORC reference. If the commissioners put their agenda on line more than one day prior to the meeting, I'd be able to check to see if this resolution had such a citation. However, in checking resolutions over the past several months, it appears this line is often left blank. So even if the resolution is listed on the agenda when it is finally published, it may not include the ORC reference, so I sent the email to Mr. Borell.

I'll keep you posted as to the answer, when received. In the meantime, share your thoughts with the commissioners:

Tina Skeldon Wozniak: twozniak@co.lucas.oh.us
Pete Gerken: pgerken@co.lucas.oh.us
Ben Konop: bkonop@co.lucas.oh.us
Phone number: 419-213-4500

2 comments:

Tim Higgins said...

Maggie,

Is this not a classic case of county commissioner legerdermain? Now that the first numbers on the arena are out there and being questioned, now that the LCIC is no longer front page news now that the arts program is no longer worthy of a press conference; we get an accusation like this.

With no facts to back uphis charges, no idea of the ramifications to the county if true, and no clear authority to intervene, young Ben starts his next self-aggrandizing "campaign de jour".

Congratulations Ben, on making yourself the center of attention again.

navyvet said...

Toledo is burning.....but....

Young Ben won't put down his fiddle.

I wish he would find something constructive to do.....

What a joke he is....

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