Sunday, August 31, 2008

Intellectual honesty in campaign news coverage

While I shouldn't be surprised, the main stream media (lame stream as a fellow blogger called it) exposes their bias in the way the selection of running mates for this presidential election are covered.

After Sen. Barack Obama selected fellow Sen. Joe Biden, the media was aglow with praise for the wise selection, chronicling Biden's career and 'extensive' foreign policy experience. (Now, I've never really understood how serving on senate committee on foreign relations actually gives you foreign policy experience, but I'll save that question for another day.) While the blogosphere included a review of Biden's plagiarism issue, the MSM took a while to even mention the hint of controversy in his background.

But following Sen. John McCain's selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, it wasn't even two hours before the criticism started. In those two hours, I knew more about an investigation into her staff regarding the firing of an individual than I did about anything else, including her fiscal policy, her confrontation with fellow Republicans over ethics issues and even her family.

In our local paper, The Blade, the headlines for the news stories were the same: 'Obama taps Biden to be running mate' and 'Governor of Alaska chosen as John McCain's running mate.'
The first paragraph of the Biden story:

Barack Obama named Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware as his vice presidential running mate early Saturday, balancing his ticket with a seasoned congressional veteran well-versed in foreign policy and defense issues.

The first paragraph of the Palin story:

In a surprise move to bolster his "maverick" credentials and directly appeal to disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters, John McCain yesterday picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as history's first Republican woman vice presidential candidate.

Obama is 'balancing his ticket' while McCain is trying to 'bolster his credentials.' Biden is 'seasoned' and Palin is 'a woman.'

In the 21st paragraph of the Biden story, you get the first criticism of the selection:

No sooner had word spread of his selection than McCain's campaign unleashed its first attack. Spokesman Ben Porritt said in a statement that Biden had "denounced Barack Obama's poor foreign policy judgment and has strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realizing — that Barack Obama is not ready to be president."

Note that the McCain spokesman used Biden's own words against him. Also note the choice of words: 'no sooner,' 'unleashed,' and 'first attack.'

In the Palin story, it only takes seven paragraphs to get to the criticism:

"The pick of Ms. Palin brought raves from anti-abortion groups. But Democratic nominee Barack Obama's campaign immediately questioned her resume.

"John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency," Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said."

Notice the attack is twisted by focusing on Palin's time as a mayor without mentioning her time as governor?

Also note the choice of words compared to the coverage of Biden's criticism. The Obama campaign's reaction was almost immediate and the term 'no sooner' could certainly be applied. And 'unleashed its first attack' would be as appropriate to the Obama campaign reaction as it was to the McCain campaign reaction. However, the stories portray the McCain camp as 'attacking' while the Obama camp is only 'questioning' a resume.

Furthermore, in the Biden story, the comment from the McCain camp is the only criticism, other than a couple of references to how people found out about the choice. In the Palin story, there are three other references critical to her, including a quote from the Ohio Democratic Party and from a female attendee at the announcement.

Finally, there is the conclusion of the stories - the clincher, if you will - that leaves you with your final impression.

""Obviously, the most important question is: Is this person ready to be president?" Obama told "The Early Show" on CBS. Second, he said, was: "Can this person help me govern? Are they going to be an effective partner in creating the kind of economic opportunity here at home and guiding us through some dangerous waters internationally?"

And, he added: "I want somebody who is going to be able to challenge my thinking and not simply be a yes person when it comes to policymaking."

This is a positive, reassuring quote - designed to support the selection.

"Tricia Bowcher of Maineville, about an hour from Dayton, attended the rally at the Ervin J. Nutter Center on the campus of Wright State University. If Mr. McCain were intent on picking a woman, she said she would have preferred Ms. Hutchinson.

"She's more experienced than what this woman is," she said. "To be honest, I would have preferred Mitt Romney over everyone really, because he's conservative and just embodies the Republican base.""

This isn't positive and is designed to prove the point that others would have been a better selection.

While editorials are clearly opinion - and every paper has one - the choice of words are in stronger contrast. This is certainly the place for opinion, but both presidential candidates selected individuals as running mates for the same reasons: they bring a different perspective, they are strong where the candidate is weak, they appeal to targeted voters and are, hopefully, going to help the candidate win. That is, after all, the goal.

But while Obama's selection is praised for doing this, McCain's selection is called 'machination.' They're both doing the same things, but one gets positive words and the other gets negative words for the exact same thing.

According to the paper, Obama's selection might seem odd but makes good political sense. The exact same could be said of Palin, but it's not. McCain's choice "represents a maverick's gamble if ever there was one."

Overflowing with praise, the editors opine:

To those who think that the Obama candidacy is a lightweight craft sailing in rough seas, Senator Biden brings a heavy keel of experience to solidify the Democratic boat.

While McCain, with his lengthy resume needs no such steadying, gets this:

He has gone with a candidate who makes Mr. Obama's resume seem substantial by comparison. Ms. Palin is only 44 and has been governor for less than two years. Before that, she was mayor and a member of City Council in Wasilla, a small Alaskan town. She reportedly served with distinction, but she has not served long.

"Reportedly served with distinction"? No attempt at denigration, there.

Obama's selection answers his critics over his "alleged shortcomings in experience." With Palin, McCain's campaign "is making a calculated gamble that she will be as much help as hindrance."

Actually, Palin's selection answers the critics as well, especially when it comes to McCain's age and his lack of appeal among the conservative base. Biden's selection is truly a calculated gamble in that his penchant for 'opening mouth and inserting foot' could seriously hamper the Obama campaign. Biden's own words, used strategically by the McCain campaign, are not complimentary to Obama and picking someone who made such comments is more of a gamble than Palin. And with Obama's claim for 'change,' picking someone who represents the status quo and business as usual in Washington, certainly qualifies as being 'as much help as hindrance.'

News stories should be objective and fair. If you're going to do a straight story on the selection of the Democrat VP, you should do the same for the Republican VP. If you're going to get opposing commentary on the Republican VP, you should do so with the Democrat VP. That's what's missing in our local coverage of the news of the selections.

In the editorials, you expect a bias. They are designed to be opinion with persuasive words. However, the intellectual honesty is missing. The criteria for opinion isn't the same. You cannot honestly call one selection a gamble while failing to acknowledge that the description applies to both campaign decisions.

You cannot honestly emphasize one person's experience level while calling the other's inexperience 'alleged.' At least with the Republican ticket, the experience is at the top of the ticket, where it belongs, rather than in the second place.

If Biden can make a pitch to blue-collar voters, shouldn't the same be true of Palin, who was a union member and is married to one? Biden's never been in a union, but that's not ever pointed out. If you're going to compare the two choices fairly so you can make a good decision, knowing these things is critical.

Even if you are trying to persuade people that one choice is better than the other, the most effective way to do so is to be honest about their backgrounds, experience and policy - and then demonstrate why one is better than the other. To leave out key information opens you up to criticism that you are only telling others what you want them to know.

And that's the difference. I've tried to follow the rule that if you give people all the information and present them with facts, they'll agree with your conclusion - if you've made good one. I've always been comfortable in arguing a point, not just because I believe it to be correct, but also because I believe most people with all the data will agree that it is correct. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen much in the MSM - and it's certainly an anomaly in Toledo.

If you're hiring a team to do a job for you, you'd first examine the job description and decide on the skills necessary to perform the tasks and duties. You'd take a look at the experience in doing those tasks and you'd make a decision. Electing a president and vice president - or any other office holder, for that matter - is no different.

The key is to be honest with yourself while doing so. It's okay to pick the less-qualified candidate because you think they're a better fit. But don't claim they're less-qualified when you do so.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Palin and oil and drilling - oh my!

Have you thought about the issue of oil and drilling in ANWR in conjunction with the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as Sen. John McCain's running mate?

I think her positions on oil and drilling are a big component of the decision to select her - and I think she's got a good reputation and position on the issue.

We'll see how the campaign goes, but it will be hard to challenge her position on drilling when she's the governor of the impacted state - and a governor with one of the highest approval ratings in the country.

Let the games begin!

Palin it is!

Hooda Thunkit and Lisa Renee both commented on my GOP VP prediction post that they liked Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as the vice presidential choice for Sen. John McCain. Turns out, so does McCain.

I think she's a better choice than Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and she's got her own 'maverick' streak like McCain. She adds an important aspect to the ticket - the administrative experience of a governor and mayor, having actually run a large organization - that the Sen. Barack Obama/Sen. Joe Biden ticket lacks.

I think she'll appeal to disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters, especially women, and to the dissatisfied portion of the conservative base.

All in all, a good choice.

Obama: taxes only for the top 5%

Last night, presidential candidate Barack Obama said he was only going to tax the top 5% of earners. So I thought I'd share with you some information about who pays taxes. From the National Taxpayers Union for the Tax Year 2006:

The top 1% threshold is $388,806 AGI and they pay 39.89% of all federal personal income tax.

The top 5% threshold is $153,542 AGI and they pay 60.14% of all federal personal income tax.

The top 10% threshold is $108,904 AGI and they pay 70.79% of all federal personal income tax.

The top 25% threshold is $64,702 AGI and they pay 86.27% of all federal personal income tax.

The top 50% threshold is $31,987 AGI and they pay 97.01% of all federal personal income tax.

The bottom 50% threshold is less than $31,987 AGI and they pay 2.99% of all federal personal income tax.

(Note: AGI is Adjusted Gross Income)

Since Democrats, and liberals in general, are all about fairness, how is it fair that the top 5% pay 60% of the taxes? Shouldn't we all be paying a 'fair' portion? If we were really being 'fair,' wouldn't they have to pay only 5% of the federal income taxes?

And do people actually understand that if you make more than $64,702, you're in the top 25% of taxpayers? With this threshold, most public employees are 'rich.' And those good factory workers, like at Jeep and Hydromatic - good UAW union jobs - are probably in that group, especially if there are two wage earners in the family. These are the people who are already paying the vast majority of the taxes. So is it fair to make them pay more so that people who make less than $31,987 can pay less than the 3% they're currently paying?

Of course, Obama and Sen. John McCain were asked how much you have to make to be rich - neither of them were very accurate when it comes to how the tax code defines 'rich.' But then, if they keep talking about the rich as people who make more than half a million a year, you'll keep supporting them, not realizing just how many of YOU actually end up footing the bill based upon the tax code.

Pay attention, people, because if those nasty Bush tax cuts expire, you can expect to pay more regardless of how much you make. A married couple making $60,000/year would see their tax bill go from about $9,000 up to $16,800. A single person making $30,000/year would go from $4,500 up to $8,400. But Obama, who wants to let those taxes expire, only wants to tax the 'rich.' I suppose that if you let tax cuts expire, you're not really raising taxes, even though the result is the same.

Don't be swayed by the words, especially when the speaker is counting upon your definition rather than the government's. Do the research yourself and make an informed decision.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

FOIA Friday - August 29, 2008

The City of Toledo still can't get it right when it comes to the Erie Street Market. Yesterday, I requested a public record - a copy of the rental agreement for Bay 4 of the ESM for the event scheduled this weekend. Robert Croak is running the event, but the rental agreement is a simple letter, hand delivered and signed by him and Connie Hoffman, the manager of the Market.






















Here is a copy of the agreement for the Chiodos Concert scheduled for 4 p.m. - 1 a.m. But note the text of the letter says the rent is for the date of August 16, 2008, even though the money is due the day of the event, August 29, and the bay has to be cleaned up the following day, August 30.

With all the attention focused on the mismanagement and mishandling of the renovations to Bay 4, you'd think they'd be extra careful to ensure that all things were done correctly. But since they're not using any type of normal contract for the 'rental' of this area, it should come as no surprise that they're just inserting each week's event into a form letter and printing it out. However, they've obviously missed changing one of the dates...and neither Hoffman nor Croak noticed the error. Croak also didn't mind that his company name became 'Enterproses.'

Sometimes, having access to public records tells you more than you want to know.

Suspensions without pay recommend for Erie Street Market spending

According to numerous media reports, three City of Toledo administrators are facing possible discipline over the spending for renovations at the Erie Street Market.

Chief of Staff Robert Reinbolt is recommending five days without pay for Andrew Ferrara, a city economic development specialist; three days without pay for Paul Ringlein, the city's facilities administrator; and one day without pay for Ken Neidert, commissioner of the division of fleet and facility operations.

The charges are 1) failing to communicate (with the mayor, chief of staff, other superiors, and city council about the type of work and the use of multiple subcontractors for less than $10,000 each) and 2) failure to use proper procedures for disbursing city funds, maintaining proper control of the costs, and documenting the scope of work. There will be a hearing for these administrators and I'll be watching to see if they just accept the responsibility or if they offer any defense.

Interestingly, in emails made public during the whole fiasco, there are plenty of references about expediting payments to keep contractor and promoter Robert Croak from complaining to the mayor. So I can only wonder why it is that these employees had the impression they needed to skirt the rules to keep both the promoter and mayor happy? Perhaps the problem isn't that these individuals didn't follow the proper procedures, but that the mayor engenders such behavior among his subordinates?

The atmosphere created by Carty Finkbeiner is not one of responsibility and accountability - or even one of trust and competence. Don't get me wrong, there are excellent people in Toledo's city government who are responsible, accountable, competent and deserving of trust.

Carty's only 'job' was a football coach and he uses the same approach and governance as he used with his players. Unfortunately, he doesn't realize that city employees are professionals, not high school or college students, and should not be treated as children on a playing field. The mayor does not encourage people to disagree with him or present alternative views. Despite saying otherwise, he gives the impression that his opinion is all that matters. Employees walk on pins and needles to avoid experiencing his wrath, deserved or not. As a result, if they think Carty wants something, they make it happen in any way possible. To do otherwise would risk their jobs and that's not something most can afford to do, especially in Toledo's economy.

So in their effort to accommodate the boss's instructions, they didn't do all they should. That is their fault and they deserve part of the blame. But the use of discipline is not supposed to be 'penalty,' rather it should be modification of behavior, especially with individuals who've not had previous problems following the rules and procedures.

If you truly want to change the behavior that led to this error, you need to change the way the mayor manages. It's his management and personality that have caused this environment and it is the only change that will effectively prevent such problems in the future. Sadly, the person who needs the modification in behavior the most thinks he's done no wrong and that offering up the heads of his subordinates (figuratively, though some would say Carty's capable of doing so literally) will be the end of the issue.

Only 490 days until his term is over.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

You're too mean to give to charity so government has to tax you to do it instead

I just listened to an interview on NewsTalk 1370 WSPD with Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern.

When morning show host Fred Lefebvre used his board operator, Don Zellars, as an example of someone who wants to know why he has to pay for other people's homes and food while struggling to pay for his own, Redfern's comment was that Don must feel really good inside knowing he's helping so many people.

Redfern explained that America needs to tax people to provide charitable services through the government because, without forcing people through taxation, most Americans wouldn't help take care of the 'least among us.' When Fred pointed out that Don would be happy to help 'the least among us' if government weren't taking so much of his money first, Redfern said:

"I suspect Don would, but unfortunately, most Americans would not - and if we remove that kind of support, strategem, then you remove the entire reason for having any kind of projects, programs, initiatives..."


UNBELIEVABLE!

Here is the chairman of a state political party who thinks government needs to take money by force from you and give it to others because you can't be trusted to do what he thinks is the 'right' thing with your funds. And if they didn't take your money and, instead, relied upon you for charitable actions taking care of your fellow man, there'd be no reason for the government program to exist. Duh! Isn't that the point?

America is the most charitable nation on the earth. We are the ones who give millions of dollars to charities - voluntarily - and who speed to provide material and funds whenever a tragedy hits here or in another country. Interestingly, conservatives are more likely to give money, time, etc... than liberals. Perhaps that's why Redfern thinks it needs to be forced - because he knows his fellow liberals, not Americans in general, won't donate?

Of course, Redfern tries to justify the concept by equating taxation for spending on charitable functions with taxation for national defense and police/fire protection locally. Not surprisingly, he fails to grasp the concept of statutory authority and limited government. That national defense is a Constitutional authority but paying for another's housing or food is not is conveniently ignored. Instead, Redfern advocates the concept that government - specifically a Barack Omaba government - better knows how to spend your money than you do.

In February 1887, President Grover Cleveland, upon vetoing a bill appropriating money to aid drought-stricken farmers in Texas, said:

"I find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and the duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit.
...
The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood."

In 1854, after vetoing a popular appropriation to assist the mentally ill, President Franklin Pierce said:

"I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity."
...
(to approve such spending) "would be contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution and subversive to the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded."

James Madison, the father of our constitution, irate over a $15,000 congressional appropriation to assist some French refugees, said:

"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."

(source for quotes)

And there is the "Not Yours To Give" story of Colonel David Crockett, who reminded Congress:

"I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money."

Our founding fathers would be appalled - and we should be, too!

Congrats to Toledo Free Press

This just in:

2008 Ohio Society for Professional Journalists Awards Winners (announced Aug. 27)

Best of Show Newspapers

1. Best Weekly Newspaper
First: Cleveland Scene.
Second: Toledo Free Press.

2. Best Columnist in Ohio
First: Terry Pluto, Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Second: Connie Shultz, Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Third: Michael S. Miller, Toledo Free Press.

3. Best Media Criticism
First: “High-School Newspaper's Sex Issue has Caused a Stir,” Dana Wilson, Columbus Dispatch.
Second: “As Snow Returns, So Does Hyperbole,” Jeb Phillips, Columbus Dispatch.
Third: “Stockholm in the Rearview Mirror,” Michael S. Miller, Toledo Free Press.

Our household income ranks us at the bottom

According to the Census Bureau, Toledo made it into the top of 10 large cities (based on population) with the lowest median household income in 2007 - despite the fact that our income was up .5% over the previous year.

Here's the list:

Detroit $28,097
Cleveland $28,512
Miami $29,075
Buffalo $29,706
Pittsburgh $32,363
Cincinnati $33,006
St. Louis $34,191
Newark, N.J. $34,452
Memphis $35,143
Toledo $35,216

While elected officials and media bemoan the fact that our city is not gaining like other U.S. cities - and we have increasing needs as a result of higher prices, they are all supporting increased property taxes in the form of new and replacement levies on the ballot in November.

Does anyone else see anything wrong with this picture?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gold medalist Anna Tunnicliffe at North Cape Yacht Club

I've posted about Anna Tunnicliffe, the former Perrysburg sailor who competed in the Olympics in the women's solo dinghy - and won the Gold!

She's coming home for a visit and will be at North Cape Yacht Club sometime Wednesday. Since her travel plans are a bit sketchy, we do not yet a final time for her visit, but we do know it will be tomorrow. Obviously, we intend to help her celebrate her success!

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Mobile Meals - 21st Annual Wine Gala

Last year, many of you read my post about the Mobile Meals annual Wine Gala and asked that I write about it far enough in advance that you could get tickets and participate. So here you go:

Mobile Meals 21st Annual Wine Gala
Saturday, November 1, 2008
$125/ticket


There will be tons of appetizers and numerous wine distributors will offer many of their wines for a tasting. This is followed by a sumptuous sit-down dual entree dinner with wine on the table to complement the meal. There is a live band for entertainment and dancing pleasure.

Throughout the evening there is a silent auction and, following dinner, a live auction of exquisite wines - some not found anywhere other than at this event.

Note: So far there are 14 wine vendors and they usually bring more than 5 different wines to taste. Appetizers are too numerous to mention and are better than most events that feature only appetizers. I do not yet know the wine for dinner as that is being selected at a tasting tonight. We usually select both a white and a red to complement the meal. I'll update you later tonight or tomorrow with the selection and can give you my impression of the meal to be served. (Obviously, we eat the meal during the selection of the table wine - yum!)

This event has something for all tastes and the auction items contain items to fit all budgets. Not only is this one of the best wine events in Northwest Ohio, but it also benefits a terrific cause: Mobile Meals of Toledo. All auction items, appetizers and wines for tasting are donated. The proceeds all go to fund Mobile Meals programs.

Click here for ticket information.

Quote of the Day

From The Patriot Post

"At the establishment of our constitutions, the judiciary bodies were supposed to be the most helpless and harmless members of the government. Experience, however, soon showed in what way they were to become the most dangerous; that the insufficiency of the means provided for their removal gave them a freehold and irresponsibility in office; that their decisions, seeming to concern individual suitors only, pass silent and unheeded by the public at large; that these decisions, nevertheless, become law by precedent, sapping, by little and little, the foundations of the constitution, and working its change by construction, before any one has perceived that that invisible and helpless worm has been busily employed in consuming its substance. In truth, man is not made to be trusted for life, if secured against all liability to account."

-- Thomas Jefferson (letter to Monsieur A. Coray, 31 October 1823)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

GOP VP prediction

Now that the 'big reveal' has taken place on the Democrat side, I can only wonder if as much attention will be paid to whom John McCain picks.

While I don't normally do this, I will make a prediction: I think it will be either South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford or Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

While this is partly wishful hoping, these two individuals have excellent conservative credentials AND they've got the administrative experience McCain lacks. They also provide a significant contrast to the Democrat ticket which now consists of two legislators.

My hope is that Sanford is selected as I think he's the best choice for McCain - and the country. Sanford's success as a governor, his reputation for keeping his promises, his youthfulness, his education and background (grew up on farm, has an MBA), and his conservative vote record - all join together to provide a good compliment to McCain.

Additionally, Sanford was often a second 'no' vote while in Congress, often joining with Rep. Ron Paul on issues of pork and unconstitutional expenditures. That reputation could help McCain reclaim some of the conservatives (Republican and Independent) who are leaning toward a third-party candidate.

But his biggest asset is that he knows how to govern - not just legislate - and he's proved it. That's something the Democrats, and even McCain, cannot claim.

Of course, I could be completely off in left field. Your thoughts?

UPDATE: my husband has suggested I might be off in RIGHT field...LOL!

Friday, August 22, 2008

More missing pieces in news articles on the Arena

On Monday's Eye On Toledo, I documented a report prepared for the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission (OCFC) on the arena financing. I also did a blog post detailing how the report says the county plans to use public funds for the arena.

I'm glad the paper has caught up to me on the issue, but have to question the omission of key information.

They write:

"The county commissioners have said the project will be paid for by its own revenue and the increased hotel-motel tax.

But the report says the county should have done more to document funding for the arena. To release $7.7 million in state funds, the commission wants:

•More documentation of funding sources.

•An executed lease agreement with Toledo Arena Sports.

•A signed agreement with an Arena League Football team.

•Documentation of expected revenue from nearby parking."

Here's the actual language from the report, starting on page 28:

Based on all of the analysis outlined above, the Consultant recommends the following conditionso f approval of State funding for the Project:

�� Demonstration by the County of full funding for the Project through the identified sources. Full funding would include:
• The sale of the planned taxable and tax-exempt general obligation bonds at interest rates equal to or lower than those included in the provided project documentation;
• Verification of the anticipated investment income;
• Documentation of the receipt of the anticipated hotel tax equity
• Executed luxury suite leases under the Founders Program; and
• A commitment from the County to allocate $12.0 million in capital funds.
�� Execution of outstanding legal agreements, including the Facility lease with TASI and the management agreement with SMG with terms equivalent to or better than those included in the draft materials.
�� Acquisition of an af2 franchise or revised operating projections that consider the operation of the arena by SMG with only an ECHL team as a sports tenant.
�� Documentation of formal agreements that ensure the collection of parking revenues from 1,000 spaces by the Facility.

Why would they write of the commissioners' contention that only hotel/motel tax and revenue from the arena will be used for the project and then omit the criteria relating to the Capital Improvement Fund dollars?

They do mention the $12 million later in the story, with the explanation that those CIP funds will be repaid from the loans. If that were clear in the information submitted to the OCFC, why would it be a separate requirement? Wouldn't that be covered under the requirement for the issuance of the bonds?

The Blade article says:

"The report also implies the county will be using general operating fund dollars to finance the project, but county officials strongly deny they plan to dip into that fund."

However, the actual wording from the report's page 11 states (not 'implies'):

It is also important to note that the Project Sponsor intends to utilize other sources of funds, completely unrelated to the financial performance of the Facility or its tenants, to service bond obligations. Components of the financing plan include General Obligation Bonds secured by Hotel / Motel Tax revenues (see Section C.3, below) and annual County commitments from the general fund. (emphasis added)

Tom Chema, a consultant to the commissioners for the arena, was interviewed by Fred Lefebvre about this, but never really answered the question - first saying the reference to the general fund was the hotel-motel tax and then saying it was the capital dollars. However, those are three separate funds: general, hotel-motel tax receipts, and capital improvements, and Chema knows that. I'm certain that both the report authors and the OCFC understand the distinction between the separate public account funds, which is why the items are identified separately in the report.

This is a question that must be answered: why did the the county tell the OCFC that they intend to make annual contributions from the general fund to help supplement the financing if they have promised the arena must pay for itself???

What will it take to get the paper to ask this question and actually dig to be sure they're getting a truthful answer and not just a 'you'll have to trust me' response?

"County officials said they've complied with many of the requests. Since the report was issued, the county has borrowed $90 million in "bond anticipation notes," or brief, one-year loans with small interest rates."

Issuing notes in anticipation of bonds is not the same as issuing bonds. While the action of issuing the notes is probably best in this market, as it will allow the county to hold off on the permanent bonds to see if they can get a better interest rate, the county cannot say that they've met the threshhold requirement of the OCFC. The issue of uncertainty exists until the permanent bonds are actually issued, the interest rate set and the ability of the county to meet the debt obligation is proven to the OCFC.

All along, I've said that there are numerous fiscal questions that need to be answered and serious financial risks that must be considered. Commissioner Pete Gerken is fond of saying that you have to take risks if you want the rewards (though I question the responsibility of taking such risks with money that is not your own...). The problem here is that we've begun the project without calculating the risks and sharing those risks with the public so they could make an informed decision. As the OCFC report says, Lucas County is at a greater risk because we began the project without having the funding in place, leaving the only option, should any funding stream not be met, of dipping into the public's general fund dollars to make up the difference.

Lucas County citizens may have supported that risk - if they'd known about. But in this political environment, you're not supposed to ask such questions and demand such accountability - you're just supposed to accept that you don't 'need anything other than their word' and then dutifully fork over the dough when the time comes.

More drama in the GOP/Scotland saga

Yesterday, I blogged about the conspiracy theories surrounding the failure of the local Republican Party to file paperwork filling a vacancy in the commissioner race with candidate Jan Scotland.

I said the theory of keeping Scotland off the ballot so that Comm. Tina Skeldon Wozniak could run unopposed did not hold water, as The Blade likes contested races. That is confirmed by their editorial today.

"An uncontested election is a miscarriage of the democratic process, and the same would be true if the incumbents were Republicans, and the Democrats were on the outside looking in."

Another theory was that this failure was all about the Board of Elections and GOP Party Chairman Jon Stainbrook's efforts to make the current Republican board members, Patrick Kriner and Lynn Olman look bad. While there are other problems with this conspiracy, it certainly has a high degree of plausibility. However, I don't think this theory represents Stainbrook's plan - rather, his attempt to mitigate and deflect blame for his own failings.

"...if Stainbrook's goal was to make the current board members look bad, he's failed miserably. He may have thought he could spin the missed deadline as being their fault, especially when he's friends with a man who buys ink by the barrel."

The spin has begun with the help Stainbrook gets in today's editorial.

"As to who is responsible for this sad state of affairs, voters have only to look in the direction of Lynn Olman and Pat Kriner, the Republican members of the elections board, who have been in vendetta mode ever since Mr. Stainbrook ousted the local party establishment in June."

Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true. It's not Kriner and Olman in vendetta mode - it's Stainbrook. Stainbrook sat down with one of them in an effort to patch up differences and begin working together. I understand that a phrase similar to 'there aren't enough of us to be fighting each other' was actually used by the BOE member.

However, the response from Stainbrook was that he believed in the Old Testament's "eye for an eye" and he was going to bury the two BOE members. Who, exactly, would be holding a grudge?

"If they truly had the interests of the GOP at heart, rather than an intense desire to see their adversary fail, Mr. Olman and Mr. Kriner could easily have helped to ensure that the nominating papers for Mr. Scotland were filed in time."

Again, the Blade gets it wrong. It's not the duty of the Board of Election members to look out for the best interests of the Republican NOR the Democratic Party. Their obligation upon assuming the office of board member is to ensure that fair and accurate elections are held. Their obligations are to the sanctity of the elections process. If they are putting the interests of the party ahead of the sanctity of elections, imagine what kinds of unscrupulous actions could result.

Additionally, for any board member to do as the editorial suggests would require them to go against the Ohio Revised Code and the rules/directives issued by the Secretary of State. Is The Blade advocating that they go so far as to violate state law in order to cover for Stainbrook's error?

Why isn't The Blade asking about the chairman's role in this matter? Is Stainbrook somehow immune to any responsibility? I guess so, according to the editorial.

In 2002, the Republican candidate for county commissioner withdrew from the race. I was recruited to fill that vacancy. The party chairman, in preparation for filling the vacancy, had numerous phone calls with the Ohio Secretary of State's office to ensure all aspects of the process were followed perfectly. Everything from the mailing of the notice of a special meeting of the central committee - including the proper wording - to the proper method of making the motion, to the wording of the forms to be filed with the BOE. On the night of the meeting and endorsement, we all signed the forms and they were delivered to the BOE the next morning.

So why isn't the current chairman expected to do the same thing to ensure that the party's replacement is properly on the ballot? And why, when he failed in this regard, is the paper covering him by assisting in the spin that this is somehow the fault of the BOE?

As I said in my conspiracy post, the relationship between Stainbrook and Blade Publisher John Robinson Block - and the penchant for the paper in their editorials to take the same positions as Stainbrook - are the facts that lend credence to the conspiracy. But as many people said when Stainbrook first announced he wanted to be party chairman, why would the Republican Party want, as chairman, someone who's close friend is the publisher, a person who has NEVER had the best interests of the GOP at heart? That issue, too, contributes to the plausibility of these conspiracies.

Thankfully, there are numerous other sources of information that can give you a complete picture so you don't have to rely solely upon the opinions of our local paper.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

UPDATED - Governor says no to so-called Healthy Families Act

Gongwer News Service is reporting that Governor Ted Strickland and Lt. Governor Lee Fisher declared their opposition to the labor-led Issue 4 that will appear on the November 4 Ohio Ballot. They described the proposed statute as "unworkable, unwieldy," and detrimental to the state's economy.

This is terrific news. Kudos to them!

UPDATE: Here is the text of their press release:

Columbus, Ohio – Governor Ted Strickland and Lt. Governor Lee Fisher today issued the following statement regarding their opposition to Issue 4, the proposed paid sick-day initiative, on the ballot this November:

“While important members of the business community and SEIU participated in good faith discussions, it was, unfortunately, not possible to achieve a compromise acceptable to a sufficient portion of the business community and the proponents to cause its removal from the ballot. We regret that a reasonable compromise was not possible. This reality means that there will be a hard fought campaign centering on this initiative in the coming months. During that campaign, we call upon both sides to avoid portraying Ohio as unfriendly to business and economic development.

“We also recognize it is important to make clear our thoughts on important public policy issues and today are announcing that we cannot support the paid sick-day ballot initiative. While we would hope that all Ohio businesses would make paid sick days available to their employees whenever possible, we believe that this initiative is unworkable, unwieldy and would be detrimental to Ohio's economy, and we will be opposing it and asking Ohioans to oppose it as a result.”

Lucas County conspiracy theories

With the news that the Lucas County Republican Party Chairman, Jon Stainbrook, failed to meet the deadline for putting Jan Scotland on the ballot as a replacement in the commissioner's race, the rumors, speculations and conspiracy theories are rampant.

Let's take a look at some of them - and their plausibility, recognizing that any good conspiracy has to have some level of plausibility.

Block didn't want Tina Skeldon Wozniak to have an opponent

Under this theory, 'Block' is Toledo Blade publisher John Robinson Block, who has a close friendly relationship with Stainbrook. The plausible portion of this theory is that many people believe Stainbrook does whatever Block wants, so if Block didn't want Wozniak to have an opponent for the commissioner seat, all he'd have to do would be to tell Stainbrook to make it happen.

There are two problems with this theory. One, The Blade likes to have contested races because it generates news and stories for them to cover. It also gives them the ability to claim a bit of the credit when one of their endorsed candidates actually wins. A contested race is good for the paper, so long as the 'right' candidate wins. In this case, despite Scotland's strong candidacy, his chances of winning with such a late start are not as good as Wozniak's. It's not an impossible task (having done it before, I would know), but the odds are not with Scotland, so there'd be no reason to keep him off the ballot.

The second problem with this is that if Block didn't want Wozniak to have an opponent and if he wanted Stainbrook to ensure that fact, Stainbrook never would have recruited Scotland in the first place. Stainbrook could have easily - and more plausibly - announced he was not able to find a replacement prior to the deadline.

This conspiracy theory is fun, but not likely.

The missed deadline has nothing to do with the commissioner race and everything to do with the Board of Elections

With this theory, the idea is that Stainbrook set up the candidacy and the missed deadline in order to make the current members of the board of elections look bad enough to force their resignations. Stainbrook could then take one of the positions himself, earning the wages/benefits/retirement as a board member and putting himself in the position to fire some of the workers against whom he's held a grudge for years.

This is certainly highly plausible. Stainbrook holds grudges forever and doesn't forget. He lives for getting even, often quoting the Old Testament adage of 'an eye for an eye.' He covets the BOE position and has, since becoming chairman, tried to find a way (unsuccessfully) of getting rid of the two Republican board members.

There are problems with this theory, though. One, if Stainbrook's goal was to make the current board members look bad, he's failed miserably. He may have thought he could spin the missed deadline as being their fault, especially when he's friends with a man who buys ink by the barrel. But there's too much ability these days to search the Ohio Revised Code, read the law, and find that the responsibility is with the party - not the BOE. He's also facing two Republican board members who have a reputation for fighting such attacks and allegations with facts. In Lucas County, Patrick Kriner and Lynn Olman, the two board members, have much more credibility than Jon Stainbrook when it comes to such matters.

The second problem with this theory is that it requires the new party chairman to fail to get his personally recruited candidate on the ballot. Even if he could spin the actual filing as the fault of the BOE, the next question would be - why, as chairman, have you not made peace over this issue so the party could work on electing Republicans? Again, Stainbrook would be on the defensive.

The final problem with this theory is the lack of documentation to support Stainbrook's claim against the BOE. To say he called there and somebody told him something just doesn't hold up as a reason to blame the board and not the chairman.

This theory is plausible enough, but if it were really true, it would have been executed better and Stainbrook wouldn't sound like an idiot in his interview this morning on NewsTalk 1370 WSPD.

There's something in Scotland's background that would embarrass the party and they had to find a way to keep him off the ballot.

I'm sure everyone has something they've done in the past that might cause embarrassment, but Scotland is a well-respected individual in the community, in the business world and in the Republican Party. He's been around for a while so any 'surprises' would have come up already.

But the problem with this theory is that IF there was anything there to be found, it will come out regardless of his being on the ballot. Furthermore, IF there was anything, it would call into question the ability of the GOP and Stainbrook to properly vet a potential candidate. This, too, would have backfired and come back on Stainbrook. So I doubt this was the reason the filing deadline was missed.

Stainbrook is incompetent

This last theory isn't a conspiracy, though it's what many people are thinking. Stainbrook has many talents, mostly dealing with volunteers and recruitment, but administration and clerical-type skills are not part of them. Unfortunately, he hasn't surrounded himself with people who possess skills he lacks. My opinion is that he is blinded by his need to get even with those he thinks have wronged him. So he's not paying as much attention to the administrative functions he has as the party chairman. I'm also of the opinion that he's finding the job to be a bit different from what he expected.

This last idea is the simplest and probably the most likely. But it won't stop the conspriacy theorists from speculating...it's almost like a sport.

Again, the sad part is that the BOE will now be faced with more costs of defending their actions (Stainbrook has threatened a lawsuit) - costs which you and I pay for in the form of taxes - all because one individual couldn't bother to check the law to be sure he was doing everything he was supposed to.

And you and I, while perhaps enjoying the games of conspiracy, will be left without a choice and a potential for positive change in November.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

GOP fails to meet commissioner filing deadline - Wozniak to run unopposed

As reported first by Toledo Free Press's Michael Miller during Eye On Toledo tonight, the Lucas County Republican Party failed to meet the filing deadline for naming Jan Scotland as the replacement candidate for the commissioner race.

As Miller explained, according to Patrick Kriner, chairman of the Lucas County Board of Elections, the Secretary of State was adamant that the filing deadline was a firm time and late filings would not be accepted.

He reported that a faxed copy was apparently received at the BOE, but not prior to the 4 p.m. cut-off.

This is a terrible blow to the local GOP, its new chairman and Scotland. I predict that some will try to spin this and blame the Republican election board members. However, there is no one to blame for this except the party chairman, Jon Stainbrook.

If I recall correctly, the chairman has to sign the form naming the replacement. When I filled the vacancy on the ballot in 2002, that was done the night I was endorsed by the party and the form was filed the very next day. There is no excuse for the party to wait until the last day and then miss the deadline.

Sadly, the biggest losers in this are the voters who will be without a choice and without a needed discussion of the issues in Lucas County.

Sick days mandate would make Ohio sicker

The National Federation of Independent Business/Ohio (NFIB) has conducted a study to evaluate the impact of the so-called Healthy Families Act, otherwise known as 'sick days Ohio,' and the results are not good.

According to the evaluation, this mandate on employers to provide seven paid sick days could result in the loss of 75,000 jobs. It would also place a $1.17 billion burden on the state's employers in costs of providing those days and the administration of the proposed law.

Surprisingly, roughly 20% of the job losses would be in companies with fewer than 20 employees - firms that are exempt under the proposal. Not surprisingly, many of the job losses are from labor-intensive sectors like food services, eating and drinking places and general retail trade.

The study extrapolated lost sales as result of the impact implementation of this law would have: $9.4 billion from 2008-2012.

(My Eye On Toledo interview with Ty Pine of NFIB on NewsTalk 1370 WSPD begins half-way through the show.)

STUDY ANALYSIS

Of course, proponents for the mandate say this study is not reliable because it was done by NFIB. From today's paper:

Dale Butland, spokesman for the Ohioans for Healthy Families coalition, questioned the NFIB's internal study, noting it assumed a worst-case scenario that every eligible employee would use all seven days every year. He noted the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has shown that 54 percent of those with paid sick leave now don't use a single day in an average year.

"The conclusion flatly contradicts two independent studies that have been done, one by Policy Matters of Ohio [in Cleveland] and the Institute for Women's Policy Research [in Washington]," he said. "Both studies found that employers would save money.

"They looked at things this study did not," he said. "They looked at less lost productivity because sick workers tend to be less productive than healthy workers, and because there would be less spread illness in the workplace, faster recuperation times, and improved retention of skilled employees."

First, I continue to be amazed at the description of one group being biased while another group is not. NFIB's study is not independent, but the one done by Policy Matters of Ohio is???? The board of Policy Matters of Ohio is comprised of liberals and labor unions - no bias toward the mandate there, I'm sure.

Additionally, the Policy Matters report uses data provided by Institute for Women's Policy Research, so is it really two 'independent' reports?

Then there are the authors. For Policy Matters study:

Amy Hanauer is founding Executive Director of Policy Matters Ohio. In addition to running the organization, she studies work, tax policy, energy policy, gender and racial disparities and other issues for Policy Matters. Hanauer has a Master’s of Public Administration from the LaFollette Institute at University of Wisconsin, Madison and a B.A. from Cornell University. She is on the board of trustees and executive committee of the national think tank DÄ“mos and on the national advisory committee to the Economic Analysis and Research Network.

For NFIB:

Bruce D. Phillips was appointed senior fellow in Regulatory Studies at the NFIB Research Foundation in October 2000. He analyzes the impacts of regulations on small firms using a new proprietary model that measures both direct and indirect regulatory costs. In addition, Phillips works in various applied policy areas, using both NFIB surveys and other government data to study policy areas such as labor regulations, health-care costs and tax policies as they affect small firms.

From 1979 to 2000, Phillips served in a variety of capacities with the Office of Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration, directing contract research and building both private and census-based databases to study the structure of small firms. ... Phillips was also a senior professorial lecturer in the School of Business Administration at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., from 1985 to 1994.

Phillips received a bachelor's degree in economics (magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) from Queens College of the City University of New York. He completed his M.A. in economics, as well as his doctoral studies, at the University of Maryland.


Based upon their backgrounds, which author do you think has the more scholarly research on the issue?

Finally, there are the studies themselves.

Butland says his studies looked at 'lost productivity, illness spread in the workplace and retention of employees.' Those are subjective aspects of a mandate and rather difficult to measure. Contrast those evaluations with this background on the study from NFIB:

"The study was conducted using the Business Size Input Model program of the Regional Economic Models, Inc. input-output system. The system produces short- and long-term forecasts for detailed industry sectors when external shocks are applied. Specifically, the model estimates future changes in jobs, output (sales) income and productivity for Ohio by business size and industry by comparing forecasts without change to forecasts with change (the mandate). The shock in this research is the additional sick leave costs, which are calculated to represent one percent of employee compensation (based on federal Bureau of Labor Statistics compensation data), as well as record-keeping and bookkeeping expenses. Note that overtime and replacement worker costs are not included in the cost analysis and would substantially increase the costs of the mandate if applied. Moreover, the research does not account for the additional costs placed on employers who currently provide paid sick leave but must comply with the additional administrative mandates." (emphasis added)

Policy Matters report methodology is documented and lists surveys, interviews and estimates. Both reports are linked, so you can review the methodologies and make your own determination.

THE ORGANIZATIONS

Both Policy Matters and NFIB are non-profit, non-partisan organizations.

NFIB is an organization of businesses and they must, in order to maintain credibility, be realistic and honest in critiquing the impact of potential laws. Their mission "is to promote and protect the right of our members to own, operate and grow their businesses."

Policy Matters sees inequality in the economy and works to correct it by providing a 'more fair' economy in Ohio. Their mission "is to conduct high-quality research promoting decisions which benefit our whole community. Given the challenges of a rapidly-changing economic system, rising wage inequality, new issues in education and changes in the way work is organized, it is imperative that high quality research focuses on creating an economy that works for everyone.

When comparing the information coming from the groups, it's important to remember that their lack of partisanship (Republican/Democrat) cannot be confused with a lack of philosophy or a lack of bias. Just because you claim to be non-partisan, it does not mean that you do not have an agenda and produce research that supports a pre-conceived conclusion. Evaluating the methodologies wil tell you whether or not the information being presented is objective.

CONCLUSION

Having evaluated the so-called Healthy Families Act, I'd already concluded that the mandate was anti-business, costly and would do more to harm Ohio's struggling economy than it would to help it. The NFIB study provides documentation that the expected negative impact is real. With headlines like "Jobless rate worst since early 1990s," we certainly don't need to compound the problem.

Even Gov. Ted Strickland recognizes that passage of this mandate would be bad for Ohio so he was trying to work out a compromise. That effort appears to be failing as businesses stand their ground and tell him any mandated paid sick time will be opposed.

The other day I had a phone call from a fellow blogger in Kentucky. He'd been to a local chamber of commerce meeting and was questioning a statement made there: that businesses were beginning to look more favorably at locating in Ohio since we reformed our business tax structure. This is good news for Ohio.

But any gains we may see as a result of those tax reforms will be for naught if we replace previously onerous taxation with onerous benefit mandates in the form of the so-called Healthy Families Act.

Even California rejected mandated paid sick days - and Ohio must do the same.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's only democracy if we get the vote results we want

This morning I heard Fred Lefebvre, morning show host on NewsTalk 1370 WSPD, read an email exchange between Ingrid and Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop.

Ingrid was opposed to putting the COSI levy on the ballot for a third time. Konop supports it, calling it 'democracy' to be able to vote on the issue. Ingrid pointed out that we've already voted on the issue twice, but Konop was undeterred.

I guess, according to Konop, that it's only 'democracy' when the vote outcome matches our personal desires.

My hope was that Comm. Pete Gerken would stand by his earlier comment that he wouldn't be able to support a third request unless there was significant change in the business plan presented by COSI. According to the information they submitted to the county's Citizen Levy Review Committee, the only 'change' was that this was a presidential election and more people are expected to go to the polls.

However, based upon a press conference yesterday, Gerken's criteria for 'change in the business plan' might be a bit different from my own. Several businesses have announced they will form a 'Businesses for COSI' committee to push for passage of the ballot issue.

"County Commissioner Pete Gerken said the new partnerships made him more likely to support the levy.

“It gives it a different flavor,” he said. “It doesn’t look like a retread of what didn’t work before.”"

Now, my question would be why the 'Businesses for COSI' weren't working on permanent funding for the facility rather than telling us that we should tax ourselves for it. And are we even remotely surprised that three of the four companies leading the effort are represented on the COSI Board?

Ronald Unnerstall, quoted in The Blade article today, is a COSI board member. Steve Krull from Owens Corning does not serve on the board, but fellow employees David Johns and Thomas Winston do. First Solar is also represented on the COSI board by former CEO Chip Hambro.

While I'm grateful for the corporate support these companies have and are offering, I take exception to them telling me I should tax myself for a facility I don't use and which has, over the last 10 years, had a negligible impact on math and science test scores, simply because they think I should. I'm tired of other people telling me what the best uses for my money are - or calling me 'uncaring, insensitive and mean' because I want to spend my money on my priorities rather than on theirs.

Then there was the last line in the newspaper article.

"So far, the levy campaign has raised $220,000, according to Lori Hauser, COSI’s director of operations."

If COSI can raise nearly a quarter of a million dollars to run a levy campaign, wouldn't their time be better spent raising that money for their continued operations? If they put as much effort into fundraising for their museum as they do for the levy, imagine where they'd be today - perhaps still open???

Monday, August 18, 2008

Arena financing plan calls for county general fund dollars

According to information received from the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission, the county has included both general fund and capital improvements fund dollars as part of the financing for the Ice Arena Project.

According to a report prepared for the OCFC:

"Components of the financing plan include General Obligation Bonds secured by Hotel / Motel Tax revenues and annual County commitments from the general fund." (page 11)

"A tax-exempt general obligation bond issuance is planned to generate $52.0 million in proceeds for the construction of the Project. The issuance will be secured by an increase to the existing hotel / motel tax as well as an annual contribution from the County's General Fund." (page 18)

"The financing plan includes a $12.0 million contribution from the Lucas County Capital Projects fund. While the current fund balance of $26.9 million is sufficient to support the contribution, the County has made no formal commitment to assign or allocate $12.0 million of the fund to the Project. The formal commitment on the part of the County is a recommended condition necessary for the payment of State funds."

***
Side note: this report is dated June 2008 and there is no reference whatsoever to the $20 million in CIP funds already allocated to the arena, and those dollars are not listed as part of the financial commitments the county provided to the OCFC.
***

From a June 4, 2008, Blade article:

"But the cost has swelled to $105 million from the initial estimate of $85 million .

Commissioner Pete Gerken said the cost increase is due to the increase in the structure's size - from about 235,000 square feet to 275,000 square feet.

The additional space allows for extra party rooms and viewing suites, which are expected to increase revenues, he said.

The increased cost will be covered by revenues generated by the arena , Mr. Gerken said.
...
The arena will be paid for by an increase in the hotel-motel tax, state contributions, revenues from ticket sales, rental fees, sales of naming rights and luxury suites, and borrowing on the bond market."

Interestingly, nothing in this article or the comments by the Commissioners reflect the information they'd provided to the OCFC about county general and CIP funds. The OCFC report is dated June 2008. Did Gerken NOT know, on June 4, that the information submitted to the OCFC contradicted his statement?

Perhaps Gerken has forgotten what he said on Oct. 10, 2007:

"I don't want to get tied down with a specific price and wind up getting shortchanged. We know what our base budget is, so as we go beyond that, the arena has to pay for itself."

Obviously, the arena isn't paying for itself if the financing plan the County submitted to the state includes provisions for annual commitments from the general fund in addition to $12 million in CIP dollars.

But the most damning part of the report are these two statements:

"The Consultant considers the County to be proceeding at significant risk by commencing construction without having confirmed the Project resources or executed the leases and managements agreements noted above."

"Formal and irrevocable commitments for all sources must be provided at terms equal to or better than that provided to-date to meet Commission Guidelines and support approval of the Project. These risks are compounded by the County proceeding with construction without confirmed funding or agreements in place."


The consultants for the OCFC make the following recommendations as conditions to be met prior to approval for State funding of the Project:

1. Demonstration by the County of full funding for the Project through the identified sources. Full funding would include:
* The sale of the planned taxable and tax-exempt general obligations bonds;
* Verification of the anticipated investment income;
* Documentation of the receipt of the anticipated hotel tax equity;
* Executed luxury suite leases under the Founders Program; and
* A commitment from the County to allocate $12.0 million in capital funds.
All funding documentation should include terms equivalent to or better than those shown in any draft materials provided to-date.
...
4. Documentation of formal agreements that ensure the collection of parking revenues from 1,000 spaces by the Facility.

What's that about parking? Oh, yes ... the County has projected parking revenues even though they own no parking spaces and are not building any as part of the arena project. They've projected a "$5 per event fee for a third of the turnstile attendance per event, including both tenant and non-tenant events."

But the report also includes this:

"It is unclear, however, where the spaces are located, who owns the spaces, and what agreements are in place to ensure that parking revenues associated with events at the Facility are collected..."

Perhaps they're expecting all the private parking lot owners to 'be generous' with their revenues, as originally stated back in 2006? I can only wonder which parking lot operators will charge an additional $5 in order to give that money to the arena - and how many people will actually pay that additional amount. But then, I tend to ask those pesky questions...

Bottom line: the cost of the arena has skyrocketed to more than $108 million and the revenue to fund the original cost of $80 million was questionable to begin with. Despite assurances by the commissioners, they have secretly (as in not volunteered the information or made any announcements) stated that county general funds dollars are scheduled to be used to pay for this facility.

Especially on this one, I had hoped I would be wrong - but I did warn you that the devil was in the details.

***My Eye On Toledo discussion of this earlier tonight will be podcast.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Can a tent stop a glacier from melting?

The headline read: "Germans try to slow glacier melt with giant screen"

The intent is to install a tent-like screen to trap cold air over the Rhone Glacier in Switzerland. "We hope our installations will bring about a net cooling of the area. And if the melt is not stopped, that it is at least slowed," the project's leader, geography professor Hans-Joachim Fuchs, said in a statement.

Wow, I thought, that must be one huge screen to stop or slow the melting of a glacier. So I read more and got to this:

"The structure, 15 metres long and three metres high (49 feet by 10 feet), ..."

Um...490 square feet? I must have read that wrong - or there must be a typo.

But no - the numbers are correct - 490 square feet. That's smaller than the tent we had in our yard last month for a friend's wedding reception!

Curious person that I am, I wondered just what percentage of the glacier this small tent would cover. So out to Google I went.

The Rhone glacier is 17.6 square meters, which 189,444,823.04 square feet. The screen, at 490 square feet, will cover .00000259 of the glacier.

How will covering such a small amount of the glacier actually have any impact? They researchers hope it will keep cold winds over the glacier, but I don't see it. Being on Maumee Bay and experiencing all sorts of winds, I can tell you that a tent/screen less than the size of my yard won't keeps winds from doing anything. This experimental screen might provide a bit of shelter for the immediate area, but will have negligible effect on the other 189,444,823 square feet of the glacier.

So these students and researchers will will measure the effect of the screen until August 21. I do hope their evaluation will include all the other things that can impact their results: daily temperature, wind speeds, sun spots, cloud cover, rain, etc. I would hate to think that a couple of days of below-normal temperatures in this one-week experiment would have them declaring their tent/screen a success.

Friday, August 15, 2008

I've got a mink!


No - not the coat...the animal!

This morning, my husband was out gazing at the water and he saw a creature. Now, seeing a creature isn't anything unusual, but he didn't know what it was because it wasn't a raccoon, opossum or groundhog - all plentiful and known to be seen in our yard.

Into the house he comes, and out he goes with the camera. Shortly thereafter, he turned to the computer (isn't the Internet a wonderful thing?) and pronounced that it was, indeed, a mink. The body is about a foot long and overall length, including the tail, is about 1-1/2 feet. I do hope we see it again - this time with the camera's zoom capability engaged. :)

Quote of the Day

Calling an illegal alien an 'undocumented immigrant'
Is like calling a drug dealer an 'unlicensed pharmacist'


This was forwarded to me in an email - if anyone knows the source, please let me know so I can provide proper attribution.

And now the politicians will fall in line

The Blade has spoken: don't demolish the United Way building. Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has dutifuly picked up the cry. It was only a matter of time before Commissioner Ben Konop solidified his 'golden boy' status by joining the chorus.

Sadly, instead of laughing at their colleague's pandering, fellow Commissioners Tina Skeldon Wozniak and Pete Gerken have nodded their heads thoughtfully and said it's an idea worth exploring.

So let's take a look at the logic Konop has employed.

The Lucas County Jobs and Family Services building was purchased by the county using bonds and will be paid off in 2010. The County will own the building free and clear and the money previously used to pay for the purchase will now be available for other structures, other general fund obligations (like recent wages increase to employees, to offset sales tax losses or for the new arena), or could be put toward upgrading and maintaining the building.

Sounds like a good thing, right? Wrong.

Now that the County will own the building, Konop wants to purchase another one, requiring the county to issue more bonds and continue to divert general fund dollars for capital purchases.

Ah, but Maggie, you say, they can sell that JFS building and use the proceeds to purchase the new one.

Again, no.

Logic would dictate that you first take a look at the appraised values of the building when even remotely considering such an option. The current appraised value of the JFS building is $1,601,500. The current appraised value of the United Way building is $5,050,100. In today's market, neither buildings are likely to generate that much in a sale, and both buildings would need 'improvements.' But any common sense thinking would tell you that it's not logical for the County to expect to purchase the UW structure for less than what they would get from the sale of the JFS building.

This is the first factor which should make anyone hearing the idea just shake their head in amazement. But, there's more.

The United Way building needs about $10 million in upgrades, renovations and ADA compliance. The County had a complete ADA evaluation done several years ago and has been doing the necessary improvements to ensure that all County buildings are compliant. The JFS building was upgraded several years ago and meets the ADA requirements. Why would Konop suggest going into a building that requires $10 million worth of improvements just to make it usable, in addition to leaving a building they've just made sure was ADA compliant?

Again, the logic of this situation should mean the discussion would be over. But Konop has an excuse for his idea: "That [Monroe Street] building is not a well-functioning building," Mr. Konop said. "It's extremely inefficient, it's dilapidated."

Yes, the JFS building has some issues. It's been heavily used for a significant number of years by the staff (around 400 people now but as high as over 700 when I first became a commissioner) and, especially, the customers (hundreds of people and families per day). It has sufficient parking for staff and clients and is easy to get to. It's had capital investments over the last six years or so, to re-do the lobby area and make other improvements. The money being used to pay the bonds for the building will, in 2010, be available for making other improvements as necessary - if the county plans appropriately. (Knowing the director of facilities, I'm confident such planning will take place.) But even with these issues, it's still in much better condition than the UW building, and I know because I've read the UW analysis - wonder if Konop has bothered to do so?

Then there is the internal layout of the UW building. When JFS remodeled the lobby, they made sure it was an open and inviting place with plenty of seating. They moved some services to the first floor in order to facilitate prompt service to clients without requiring them to go elsewhere in the building. Anyone who's been inside the UW building would instantly recognize the significant obstacles to be overcome in order to modify that lobby to meet the needs of JFS and its clients. I cannot even imagine the cost of retrofitting that lobby to the needs of JFS - but, considering the structural supports (columns and walls), it must be expensive.

The UW building was designed to accommodate multiple independent organizations and is structured like a multi-use office building. Its structure does not, nor was it designed to, serve the needs of a single agency. To modify its five floors would also be expensive. And those modifications would be on top of the $10 million cost of improvements already identified.

Is this yet enough to make you reject the idea of moving JFS into the UW building? It should be - but it's not for Konop.

Of course, no argument would be complete without the nebulous 'economic development' claim. According to Konop, moving the JFS employees would generate a broader economic impact in downtown.

Yes, you read that correctly. Moving those employees less than three miles into the heart of downtown, instead of leaving them on the edge of downtown is economic development. Now just how that constitutes economic development is unclear - but that's pretty standard for Konop's economic development ideas.

Maybe he believes that workers at JFS would go out to eat more if they were downtown? Of course, they can eat downtown rather easily from their current location - and many of the downtown eateries will deliver to the JFS location. How this constitutes economic development isn't explained - nor is it even questioned by the paper's reporter. (Of course, if questioned about it, there might not be a good answer - better to just let the comment stand without follow-up.)

Konop also points out that JFS staff are often in Government Center and having them closer would 'improve the county's efficiency.' The current JFS building has video conferencing ability and, as far as I know, they still have telephones and computers. If Konop really want to improve efficiency, the commissioners could stop making JFS staff come down in person and start taking advantage of the technology that's available. After all, it isn't as if Konop hasn't been promoting emerging technologies and 'new age' jobs...

These are the issues, clearly identifiable and certainly known to the commissioners. So why would Konop suggest such a ridiculous idea? Either he hasn't got a clue - or he doesn't care about the logic of the idea and is more intent on pandering to the wishes of the publisher of The Blade.

You decide.

FOIA Friday - August 15, 2008

Earlier this week, I blogged about the Buckeye Institute's new transparency in government initiative. As part of that initiative, they've launched OhioSunshine.org, a website about all things 'public' in Ohio.

If you've never edited a wiki, now is the time to learn. OhioSunshine is a wiki, an on-line encyclopedia, if you will, that allows any user to add or edit content. I'd never contributed to a wiki before, but I wanted the link to Toledo's public record policy to be on the page. So I went to the help page, read the instructions, created a Toledo page and added a link to the city's policy. I was also able to put a comment about who to contact for public records requests.

This new website is going to be a terrific tool for increasing our ability to monitor and track what government does. Since the content is user generated, we can add pages for taxing jurisdictions likes schools and agencies, add budgets, provide information and then have discussion about the data.

I encourage you to contribute to and use this new portal so we will have, as their subheading says:

11 million pairs of eyes ensuring good government in Ohio

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shouldn't an attorney know better?

Buried within a Blade story about the dog warden is an interesting and disturbing comment by Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop.

A group of individuals dissatisfied with how Tom Skeldon does his job as the warden, has put a petition online to ask for his removal. I really don't want to get into a discussion about the the dog warden, Ohio laws or pit bulls, but I do want to point out Konop's response.

"Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop, ... said a large public outcry could represent a cause for dismissing Mr. Skeldon."
Really?

As a government employee, Skeldon has certain due process rights enforced by Ohio Revised Code. The fact that there are some people unhappy with the performance of a public employee does not justify 'cause' for dismissal.

Public dissatisfaction may prompt a review or evaluation of said employee, but should not be considered a 'cause' for firing. And Konop, being an attorney and a commissioner, should know better.

If an employee is not doing the job assigned, is not following statutory responsibilities, is rude or behaves in an unacceptable manner, there is cause for discipline. Claims by the public that such things are happening should result in an investigation of the claims and a determination of facts. Following such investigation, there should be either discipline or an explanation to the public for why none is needed.

Any discipline imposed should first be corrective, and then escalated if improvement does not occur. While I'd expect any elected official to be familiar with such processes, I would think that an attorney would be even more sensitive to the due processes established for public employees.

Konop needs to be careful if he thinks less than 500 names on a petition is 'cause' to remove a person from their position, lest some dissatisfied voters start one on him.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mandamus filed against City of Toledo

We've been following GraphicsGuy's seemingly perpetual efforts to get information on the red light/speed cameras from the City of Toledo. Unfortunately, he still does not have the information requested.

A while back he sent a letter to the acting law director asking for attention to his request. He expected a response of some kind to his communication, but was disappointed yet again. I guess the lack of response was the final straw.

Today he filed a mandamus action against the city, asking for the records, attorney fees and the $100 per day 'compensation' provided for under Ohio law.

Stay tuned!!!

New developments in United Way building saga

Michael Miller, editor of the Toledo Free Press, called in to the morning show on WSPD today to give a preview of a story they're developing on the United Way building saga.

According to Miller, the United Way consulted with Mayor Carty Finkbeiner about their plan to demolish the existing building and construct a new one. Carty offered no objection to the plan.

However, Miller said, upon receiving word from John Robinson Block, the publisher of The Blade, Carty switched his position on the demolition and is now opposed to it.

Miller also has a copy of the architectural/engineering report prepared for the United Way board which details all the problems/issues with the building, including mold and elevators and HVAC that are past their projected lifespan. Also, the building, built in 1969, is not compliant with the more recent Americans with Disability Act. The United Way has stated that renovating the building is much more expensive than building a new one, hence the decision of the board.

We all know the editorial board and publisher of the paper have taken strong positions in favor of preservation of buildings. They have also, in the past, supported such efforts with own funds (Valentine Theater). In this case, the practicality of the situation seems to escape them.

What's more important: having the United Way in a cost-efficient building that gives them more funds with which to accomplish their mission - or 'preserving' a 19-year-old structure of steel and brick?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Paper, Mayor hate poor people and the planet

It was only a matter of time before Mayor Carty Finkbeiner weighed in on the plan to demolish the existing United Way structure and build a new one.

What I didn't expect, however, was employing the force of government, through a zoning regulation, to prevent this non-profit from going through with its plans.

In a letter to the United Way's board chairman and president, and to the Stranahan Foundation, Carty urges them to reconsider their decision due to the 'value' of the building.

"The building is far too valuable to the community to simply knock down and replace with a smaller, generic office building. Cities known for their quality of life embrace a preservation ethic that benefits the entire community, rather than a tear down mentality. Toledo has made great progress in renovating the re-using distinctive buildings that enhance community identity and pride, and I am convinced that the demolition of the United Way Building will halt this progress and be a step backwards for the City and for the United Way."

I'd love to know who, exactly, Carty spoke to at the United Way prior to determining that demolition of the building would be a 'step backwards...for the United Way.' This letter could have been written by The Blade editorial board, but it is signed by the mayor.

The arrogance and presumption of the mayor doesn't stop with his conclusion that a less-costly and more efficient building is a bad thing for the United Way. No - he invokes the power of government to threaten the non-profit agency.

"As a point of information, the United Way Building is located within the Downtown Overlay Zoning District and demolition of the building would be subject to review by the Toledo City Plan Commission, with comments solicited from the City Historic District Commission. The City Plan Commission has the authority to impose a waiting period of up to six months from the date of the hearing of the application.

Again, I respectfully urge you to reconsider your decision to demolish this unique and distinctive building and to explore all other options. The City and I will assist the United Way in every way possible - except the demolition process."

While he didn't say it, Carty didn't need to point out that he appoints all the members of the Toledo City Plan Commission...wonder what decision they will make considering the opposition to the demolition from both the Mayor and the paper?

But, if that's not enough, the Toledo City Historic Districts Commission also weighs in on the issue. As the self-described "historical conscience of the City" they suggest selling the building if the United Way decides not to renovate it. It is, they insist, the embodiment "of the spirit of a community that works together." They also "extend an invitation for continued dialogue between all interested parties for an equitable and just solution that benefits both the United Way of Greater Toledo and the City of Toledo."

Considering that the only parties are the United Way and their tenants, I cannot imagine just what type of dialogue they want to host - or whose definition of "just solution" will be employed.

There are many free-market and private property proponents who see overlay districts, historic districts and plan commissions as a way for government to dictate their wants and wishes to private property owners ... always in the guise of the 'greater good' for the community. This appears to be a classic example that fits their concerns to a 'T.'

The United Way is a private organization and they own the property. The building on the property no longer fits their needs and detracts from their ability to fulfill their mission of aiding and assisting the needy in the community.

Now, a bunch of people who don't have to pay the bills for the building have decided that the 'historical' or 'cultural' aspect of the brick and stone (which are not that old, mind you) are more important than the mission of the United Way. And they're threatening the force of government to prevent this private property owner from doing what they think is best with a building and property they own.

Sadly, between the force of government and the coverage of the local newspaper, the United Way will become bogged down in what other people want rather than in their continuing mission to help meet serious needs in the community.

No matter what is decided, the United Way will present the outcome as something they support and agree with, because they're dependent upon the good nature of the mayor and the paper for continuing donations. But that factor alone makes the opining by these two inappropriate and an abuse.

Sadly, the law may require the United Way to go through the rigmarole of the Plan Commission and bow to the process if not to the actual desires of people who won't have to foot the bill for the building they're so anxious to maintain.

And these liberals and Democrats who are constantly telling everyone they they stand up for the 'little guy' will force these actions against the United Way to the detriment of the many families who rely upon the services the United Way funds.

How many families will have to go without food or coats or heat this winter because money the United Way could have spent to help them was, instead, spent paying for an inefficient and costly building?

And what about the energy consumption of this existing building? Isn't its lack of energy efficiency wrecking the planet and contributing to global warming? Wouldn't it be better for the United Way to have a new 'green' building with solar panels, rooftop garden and other such environmentally friendly amenities? Aren't the mayor and the paper contributing to the global climate crises by opposing the destruction of this non-green building????

Their actions on this issue should be a clarion call to all that the liberals and the Democrats are not really looking out for the best interests of the 'working families' of the city - they're exhibiting their hypocrisy in their quest for government control and their idea of aesthetic perfection.

Quote of the Day

"There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him."

~ Robert Heinlein

Monday, August 11, 2008

Transparency in Ohio's governments

A press release from The Buckeye Institute:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, August 11, 2008

OHIO THINK TANK TO PUT PUBLIC RECORDS ONLINE

Buckeye Institute Announces Government Transparency Center


COLUMBUS – The Buckeye Institute today announced its Center for Transparent and Accountable Government. The center, led by former Statehouse reporter Mike Maurer, will collect and post online state and local government budgets, employee contracts, public records policies and other information.

“Transparency and open government crosses ideologies and is equally supported, and equally opposed, by both major political parties,” said Maurer. “The Coburn-Obama bill, of which both Senators Barack Obama and John McCain were initial sponsors, requires federal government contracts to be posted at USAspending.gov. Ohioans deserve the same type of transparency from their state and local governments.”

The center’s first two initiatives include a candidate transparency pledge and an open government “wiki” Web page.

A Pledge for Transparency and Accountability in Government will be distributed to all candidates for elective office, at all levels of government, from townships and school districts to the General Assembly. It asks that candidates acknowledge the importance of Internet availability, the legal basis of transparency in the state and federal constitutions, and the use of practical, current technology, such as searchable databases and relevant cross links.

The pledge is attached to a White Paper on Transparency published as a Buckeye Institute Policy Brief, describing state and private efforts to make budgets, checkbooks, contracts and awards, and a wide array of government data easily accessible. The report is available online at www.buckeyeinstitute.org.

OhioSunshine.org, a publicly editable “wiki” Web site, is available to all citizens and can be edited by local activists across the state. The site is dedicated to open government, and it will allow citizens to monitor how well state and local governments provide information to the public.

“We like to say that there are 11 million pairs of eyes to ensure good government in Ohio,” said Maurer. “While many of our government officials deserve credit for working to provide government data the way it must be provided today, over the Internet, the fact is that Ohio is behind its peers in government transparency.”

Examples of state governments that are doing a better job than Ohio include the state of Alaska, which has its entire checkbook online, and the state of West Virginia, which has its entire public employee payroll online.

Buckeye Institute President David Hansen said that open, easily available information is essential to good government.

“The legitimacy of Ohio government rests on the consent of the governed, but that consent doesn’t mean much when so much of government occurs hidden, or deeply buried,” Hansen said. “Twenty-First Century information technology should be applied to draw back the curtain that stands between government and the people.”

The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions is a nonpartisan research and educational institute devoted to individual liberty, economic freedom, personal responsibility and limited government in Ohio.

*****
Good news: The information will be available on line.
Bad news: It takes a think tank to do it because our local and state governments don't.
Google Analytics Alternative