Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The politics of division

As a Lucas County Commissioner, I was opposed to taking policies and programs from Toledo and Toledo city government and copying them as county programs. I viewed it (rightly so, I believe) as exporting the failed policies of Toledo into the county as a whole.

One of the things I objected to was the expansion of the Toledo Housing Trust Fund into the Toledo-Lucas County Housing Trust Fund. I didn't object to the idea of the organization expanding its services (as an independent organization that was their prerogative), but I did object to the REASON - which was to get more money for what they do, this time from the County.

From a July 19, 2006 Blade article, "Expanded housing fund proposed - Toledo considers including county":

"A proposal presented yesterday to Toledo City Council would expand the Toledo Housing Trust Fund to include Lucas County as a partner - hopefully, a partner with some money to contribute.

A goal of some members of the trust fund board is to get the Lucas County commissioners to increase the county real estate conveyance fee from $3 for every $1,000 of a property's sale price to $4, and use the revenue to promote market-rate housing .

Two members of the county commission yesterday endorsed the creation of a joint fund , but said they haven't agreed to raise the conveyance fee. The third member said she would oppose such an increase."

So far, the organization has expanded, but no increase in the conveyance fee has been approved for this purpose, though the commissioners did, in 2007, give the Housing Trust Fund $50,000.

And, as part of the creation of this new board, they list 'establishing a revenue stream' as one of their priorities. In fact, the revenue was so important that it was listed three times in the Commissioners' resolution.

Yesterday, the Commissioners approved a 'disabilities commission.' According to today's paper,

"County commissioners voted unanimously yesterday for a new 21-member Lucas County Commission on Disabilities to replace the Mayor's Commission on Disabilities, which has 17 seats and was established in 2004 under then-Mayor Jack Ford."

If a commission on disabilities is so important, don't you think that our surrounding cities would have one as well? Or is such a commission just a way for some elected officials to 'show' that they cater to a specific special interest group? And did any of our three commissioners ask any of the other cities, villages and townships if this was something they thought the county should do on their behalf? Or did they just assume that 'county commissioners know best'?

The goals of the newly-formed commission are to "influence public policy, evaluate public programs and provide a greater voice for members of the disabled community." When I was a commissioner, I didn't need a special commission to do this for me - I just asked any of the myriad groups that already exist to service this particular group of people.

And county government really can't create it's own policies since it is, technically, an arm of state government. County government can only do what the Ohio Revised Code dictates, so if this new commission wants a certain policy, it's either something the county is already doing because of state law, or it will need a state law to allow such a policy.

Then there is the whole discussion of why people with disabilities get to have a commission while other 'special interest groups' don't. Will every specialized demographic need their own government-designated commission to speak for them?

I despise the fact that elected officials believe they need to create such commissions in order to tell them what members of certain groups want or need. It removes the responsibility of representation from the elected official and abdicates it to a group named by the same elected officials.

And once such commissions are created, the request for funding inevitably follows, with increased funding year-to-year as a goal.

Additionally, such commissions divide us and our communities - pitting groups against each other for policies and funding - and that's not good for anyone.

Sadly, our current crop of elected officials know only this. They know how to cater to specialized interests with such feel-good actions. And they use such groups in their re-election bids, counting on rewarding them with public dollars and expecting support at the ballot box in return.

Despite all the talk of unity from the Democrats, their actions show they rely upon division. In this 'divide and conquer' approach, they cater to specific interests and make promises to all. And then, when money is tight, like it is now, all those groups find they might not get what was promised and they begin fighting among themselves for what is available, pressuring elected officials to keep their promises. In doing so, they argue against other groups in favor of their own. That's division - not unity.

Unfortunately, elected officials here know it works, which is why we now have a Lucas County Commission on Disabilities.

5 comments:

Tim Higgins said...

Maggie,

Rather than bore you with words of my own (something that I am not normally reticent to do) I will instead regail you with the wisdom of my betters:

A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.

- Sir Barnett Cocks

Jay Ott said...

How about this complimentary quote?

There are certain unavoidable consequences which arise as a result of the failure to keep government in its proper place. These consequences are economic hardship, increasing hatred and discord in society, and the loss of freedom. -- Paul A. Cleveland, Professor of Economics and Business Administration at Birmingham-Southern College.

Kadim said...

Random question Maggie: was it fun being a county commissioner?

Maggie Thurber said...

Yes and no...some of the things I enjoyed very much - others I hated.

I despised being on the Plan Commission because there was never any way that two opposing groups would leave equally unhappy/happy. That was a tough job.

I loved the people I worked with and for. I miss the individuals more than anything.

I didn't always agree with my fellow commissioners, and we didn't always get along, but I have fond memories of many times we spent together.

I found the work rewarding and frustrating at the same time...being in the minority wasn't fun and I often say that my biggest accomplishment was that really bad things weren't 'as bad' because of my input...

I wouldn't have changed it, though...good times or bad, they made me what I am today and I like me...

Hope this answers your question ... so why do you ask?

Kadim said...

I think I became curious as I read posts of yours referencing issues that came up when you were commissioner, and so I guess I wondered how much you liked the job. I appreciate the extra background I have now in understanding your time there.

And of course (reflecting my generational sensibilities) if something isn't fun, why do it? :-)

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