Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Weblog Awards

I'm honored to share with you some news I received today regarding the 2008 Weblog Awards. Thurber's Thoughts has been named a finalist in the Best Political Coverage category.

I'm grateful to Tom Blumer from BizzyBlog who nominated me.

I find myself among very distinguished company. The other finalists in this category are:

India Uncut

Savage Politics


Foreign Policy Watch

No Quarter

From the Left

American Thinker

Pajama Pundit

The Hook



Daily Kos


Voting for the winner will begin on January 5, 2009, and I'll add the link so you can, hopefully, vote for me.

I considered it such an honor to be nominated and never expected to make it into the finalists. Thank you for your support!

Toledo mayor issues layoff notices

If you live in the Toledo area, you've probably heard that Mayor Carty Finkbeiner issued layoff notices to more than 1,000 city employees. The layoff starts at the end of business Feb. 13, 2009 and the notice does not give a return date, though the mayor has previously said it will be for a week.

One city worker emailed me at WSPD with the exact text of his notice:

"The City of Toledo is experiencing serious financial problems. Unfortunately, in order to correct these problems, the City must reduce its work force through a layoff process. This action will be effective as of February 13, 2009. Your last day worked in your current position will be the close of business on February 13, 2009. A copy of this letter has been forwarded to your union."

Carty also issued a press release:

City of Toledo Issues Additional Layoff Notices

Additional layoff notices were sent out today to City of Toledo employees, announcing a Citywide layoff, affecting all non-Safety Service employees. This layoff will begin on Friday, February 13. All layoff and recall procedures relating to the City's union contracts will be scrupulously followed.

Yesterday, while filling in for Brian Wilson from 3-6 p.m. on WSPD, I interviewed Alan Cox, the president of AFSCME Local 2058 which represents the supervisory staff in the city. He said that the layoffs are supposed to be 'non-essential' personnel, but that 'non-essential' is not defined in any of the city contracts.

Ken, the city worker who emailed me, works in the Water Reclamation Department. Cox said even the chemists in the lab at the Water Department are getting notices. Many would say that Water Reclamation is an 'essential service.'

City leaders are bemoaning the lack of revenue as a result of the economic conditions. However, the economic conditions are just a small part of the problem.

Recently, there have been major news stories about our unemployment rate. In the most recent numbers, it shows Lucas County as having the highest unemployment of all the urban counties in Ohio. That's bad - I agree.

However, what's worst is that, for the last 20 years or so, Lucas County has had the highest unemployment rate of all the urban counties in the state. This was nothing new! And it calls into question the local political leadership that has 'led' this county into this situation and keeps us there.

Despite facing budget deficits for a number of years, city council and the mayor still spent money frivolously in 2008: pools, Easter Egg hunts, hip-hop concert, flowers, banners, contests, etc. And we did not have a new police and fire class, despite their plans for starting such classes as the end of this year.

Now, Carty is planning on shutting down the city for a week in February. While many might not see a difference in their daily lives if the city was closed for a week, that's a problem. The work that would be performed during those five days will still need to be done and there is the inevitable clash with unions over what constitutes an 'essential function.' On the other side of the argument, if we have 'non-essential' tasks that we can go without, why do we have them in the first place?

If a department can go without a receptionist by having other staff members cover the desk and phones while doing their regular jobs, why do we even need the receptionist in the first place?

Instead of laying off a multitude of people for a week, why not actually do a complete review of all city positions and eliminate - permanently - the ones we can truly do without? Can positions or tasks be consolidated or realigned to permanently reduce the size of the government payroll? I know - that's a good question.

Toledo is also going to change its garbage collection schedule. Instead of using overtime on a Saturday 13 times a year to cover for the holidays, we'll just "LEAP" ahead a day in our garbage pickup. Other cities do this and it works well for them, so I don't have much of an issue with the plan. But if we can save millions by going this route, would we save even more by privatizing the service? What about offering it out to bid just to see how much we might save as a result of letting a private contractor do the work? If we're really looking to save money, why only save a little when we could save a lot?

The biggest problem with all the things being suggested or promoted by the city as ways to save money is that they're only little steps when what we truly need is a complete overhaul.

Such an approach would require several things: 1) the ability to recognize that a complete overhaul is exactly what is needed, 2) the ability to communicate the need and the benefits effectively to the public, 3) the strength of conviction to actually follow through with such a review and implementation and 4) the political will to stand up to opposition and make it happen.

Sadly, I don't think we have such abilities in Toledo - at least, certainly not in our current elected officials or even in the individuals who have expressed an interest in being mayor. So what we'll get, instead, is a piecemeal approach that ends up alienating just about everyone while potentially costing us more in the long run than the individual efforts purport to save.

And citizens, frustrated with the perpetual state of our city, will continue to quietly leave.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Digital TV is costing us a fortune

My column in the Toledo Free Press this past weekend was about the switch to digital TV, "Government meddling in digital television costs billions."

The General Accounting Office reports that the commitment from the federal government for advertising this switchover from analog to digital TV is $1.4 billion for educational purposes.

As I've been suffering from the flu, I've had the television on more than normal and was not amused by the commercials warning me of this dire occurrence: that if I have an antenna and not cable, I could be in danger of losing my television signal.

Oh, the horror of not being able to see a television program!

And, just to make sure I suffer no negative consequences of this government mandated change, they'll give me a coupon so I can buy a converter to handle the new signal.

So, your tax dollars and mine are going into advertisements to warn people they might not be able to get a TV signal after Feb. 17 and, to make sure they survive this drastic change, to give them a coupon so they can get $40 off a converter.

Original estimate for the subsidy? $3 Billion.

So, even though we make a decision to purchase a cable service in order to get the channels we want, we are now also paying for other people to get a converter so they won't have to be without a television when this switchover occurs.

How did this become the role of government? Do we really think our tax dollars are best spent subsidizing someone else's ability to see TV? Where is the outrage?

Quotes of the Day

While I'm recovering from a bad bout of the flu, here are two quotes to consider:

Thought that is silenced is always rebellious. Majorities, of course, are often mistaken. This is why the silencing of minorities is necessarily dangerous. Criticism and dissent are the indispensable antidote to major delusions. ~ Alan Barth

A lie would have no sense unless the truth were felt dangerous. ~ Alfred Adler

Friday, December 26, 2008

Quote of the Day

"The constitution of the United States is to receive a reasonable interpretation of its language, and its powers, keeping in view the objects and purposes, for which those powers were conferred. By a reasonable interpretation, we mean, that in case the words are susceptible of two different senses, the one strict, the other more enlarged, that should be adopted, which is most consonant with the apparent objects and intent of the Constitution." ~ Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

POSTING NOTE: Last summer, my husband joined a childhood friend who is a professional captain, Tim Forderer, to help him sail a boat across the South Pacific. Sam kept a journal of his travels and has been working on supplementing the actual journey details with stories of his youth about which they reminisced during the trip. Over the next couple of days, I'll be busy reading and editing his journal with the hopes of publishing it some time in 2009.

Between this task and lots of family in town, I won't have as many postings as I usually have over the next couple of days.

I hope you'll have some time between Christmas and New Year's to also enjoy your interests!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I wish all of you the love of family and the joy of friends during this Christmas Day - and throughout the year through.

May you have safe travels for you and your loved ones this holiday season!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Random thoughts on recent news items

* Toledo tops in unemployment - This isn't really news, though everyone seems to think so. The myriad of news articles say that Lucas County has the highest unemployment of all the urban counties in Ohio. The news that everyone is missing is that Lucas County has had the highest unemployment of all the urban counties in Ohio for about the last 20 years! Even when the economy was terrific and the other areas of the state were doing well, we still had the worst numbers.

So rather than bemoan our numbers, what are our elected officials doing? Nothing constructive, that's for sure. They're talking about, or actually voting to, raise taxes and fees, make temporary taxes permanent, starting a government-funded education fund, training people for 'green jobs' even though they have no green jobs to fill, threatening to appeal their arbitration losses, etc... All things they've done, in one form or another, for the last 20 years - and we can expect the same results: Lucas County leading the states urban counties in unemployment. You know what they say about the definition of stupidity...

* In a 'stuck on stupid' move, Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner decided to 'furlough' for a couple of days before and after holidays, some of the city workers. The unions claimed this violated the terms of their contracts and they went to court. The court said to go to arbitration on the issue - so the city and unions requested an expedited arbitration. Turns out, the unions were right and Carty was wrong. The furloughs did violate the terms of the contracts and the city was ordered to compensate the covered employees for that day off.

Now Carty, with his penchant for never admitting he's wrong, is saying he's going to appeal the arbitration ruling - and he'll do more furloughs while waiting for the appeal. Some are saying he doesn't even have the right to appeal (though I couldn't find it in the Toledo Municipal Code which includes the contracts), but that little fact won't stop him from trying. Of course, if he loses the appeal (as many people predict) we'll again be paying city workers for time not worked, not to mention the costs of the arbitrator and the appeal itself.

* The city recently got a $3 million grant to go toward cleaning up the old Fiberglass Tower. A Michigan firm, the Eyde Company, has decided to purchase the building and convert it to condos, office space, a restaurant, etc. Their plan calls for a $35 million investment, once the grant helps pay for removal of asbestos.

At the press conference announcing the grant, WTOL News 11 reporter Rob Wiercinski tried to ask the mayor about the wisdom of state money being the first in with the hope that private money would follow. He used the Marina District as an example of the difficulties private developers are facing with such projects. He didn't mention, though I will, the stalled plans for the Steam Plant and the public statements by those developers that Toledo, with its current market, doesn't need additional housing.

The mayor, in his usual condescending way, didn't answer the question but did manage to insult the reporter saying that people with better pedigrees than him and the mayor couldn't get loans from the banks. Such an answer would appear to support Wiercinski's concern - but the mayor was oblivious.

As a side note, I received an email several days ago about this structure. It was from an individual who had been at a meeting with engineers, architects, developers and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher. The overwhelming consensus was that the building's layout and design was not conducive to the needs of today's potential tenants and that it would be better to tear it down than to spend a fortune trying to 'make a square peg fit into a round hole.'

* Saying that 'desperate times calls for desperate measures,' The Blade editorial board is calling for a state-wide tax amnesty. Tax amnesty programs, they claim, help the state collect money owed to them - and that's true. But what about all of us who have paid our tax bills on time - or even those who paid late, but paid the late fees because they knew they were in the wrong?

If we continue to reward bad behavior, we will continue to get bad behavior. If money is owed to the state, it should be collected - without an amnesty. If the state wants to work out any payment plan or forgive part of the late fees/fines as part of an agreement with an individual debtor, taking into account the unique circumstances that led to the non-payment, that's okay with me. But to publicly announce that any and all violators will have a period of time where they can suffer no consequences as a result of their willful and flagrant violation of the state laws just doesn't sit right with the majority of taxpayers who've done the right thing all along. Besides, the editorial argues, people don't suddenly decide to not pay their taxes just because they see this happening, so the negative consequences of amnesty programs is minor.

If the state is so desperate for funds, it should step up its collection enforcement - not reward the non-payers - and the editors at The Blade should stop arguing on behalf of lawbreakers and do more to support the lawabiders.

* There's been a lot of talk lately about government re-training of laid-off workers. Now, I'm all for laid-off workers going out and getting training that will help them get a new job, but I must question when it became the role of government to make sure this happens? When was it that government became the job trainers? We know that most people in local government didn't have 'real' job before entering politics, so do we really expect that they have the skills and ability to help others get jobs? And why are my tax dollars going to train laid-off people instead of staying in my pocket to help me better my education or training so I can move up an employment ladder?

Why is government acting as a middleman for training citizens? All the middleman does is give you information you could have gotten on your own (if you were interested) and then take your money (and everyone else's) for doing so. Think of it - Lucas County gets millions in Workforce Investment Act (WIA) funds to do this - and they spend that money in a building, in equipment like computers and chairs and desks and, especially, in staff salaries - all to provide a location where you can get information you could have gotten in numerous locations. And despite all these tax dollars being used to 'help people get jobs,' we still have the highest unemployment rate of all the urban counties in Ohio.

Government's job is NOT retraining laid-off people or helping out-of-work citizens to find jobs. That's an individual responsibility - or, at least, it used to be.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Scenes

Ice on our Winterberry bushes.

Our Christmas Tree

The gingerbread trees the kids made.

The ice-covered trees in our side yard in a rare moment of sunshine.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Bailouts - when will they end?

As most people knew and predicted, once one industry got a bailout (loan or direct grant of cash), it would be hard to tell all other industries 'no.'

The investment/banking industry was deemed 'too big to fail' and got their money ... well, OUR money, actually.

The auto industry was deemed by Congress and the President to be 'vital to our American economy' - so vital, in fact, that the normal bankruptcy reorganization laws that have proven good enough for the rest of us just wouldn't do. They got OUR money, as well.

Cities, counties and states have their collective hands out - and now it's developers, according to the Wall Street Journal (subscription may be required.) They've got massive debts coming due and no new credit available.

With a record amount of commercial real-estate debt coming due, some of the country's biggest property developers have become the latest to go hat-in-hand to the government for assistance.

They're warning policymakers that thousands of office complexes, hotels, shopping centers and other commercial buildings are headed into defaults, foreclosures and bankruptcies. The reason: according to research firm Foresight Analytics LCC, $530 billion of commercial mortgages will be coming due for refinancing in the next three years -- with about $160 billion maturing in the next year. Credit, meanwhile, is practically nonexistent and cash flows from commercial property are siphoning off.

Unlike home loans, which borrowers repay after a set period of time, commercial mortgages usually are underwritten for five, seven or 10 years with big payments due at the end. At that point, they typically need to be refinanced. A borrower's inability to refinance could force it to give up the property to the lender.

A recent letter sent to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and signed by a dozen real-estate trade groups, painted a bleak scenario: "Right now, we believe there is insufficient systemic capacity to refinance expiring, performing commercial real-estate loans," said the letter. "For many borrowers, [credit] simply is not available," the letter noted.

To see the impact of this, you only have to look at General Growth Properties, Inc., the owner of the Shops at Fallen Timbers Mall in Maumee. They had hoped that this mall would be 80-85% full by this time, but it's only about 2/3 full, which they blame on the economy.

Additionally, their share price was recently as high as $53, but closed Friday at $1.75. In October they had $8.5 billion in debt and was considered highly leveraged with little ability to restructure its debt soon because of tight credit markets. Analysts were predicting they were ripe for a takeover or that they might be forced to sell some of their properties.

This is consistent with what major developers are saying in their request to be included in the new (yes, NEW) $200 billion loan program initially created by the government to salvage the market for car loans, student loans and credit-card debt.

The developers are saying that if commercial real estate is included, banks might have an incentive to make more loans to them since they'd be able to repackage and sell them more easily to investors with the assurance of government backing. They're even asking lawmakers to consider setting up a separate program just for lending to commercial real estate only.

Of course, they're also saying that the world will end without government help.

""We've been urging Washington to put this as one of the top priorities in dealing with the economy," says Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, underscoring the need for the government to help spur commercial property lending either directly or indirectly.

The real-estate executives are warning that the approaching surge in commercial mortgages coming due poses another major threat to the global financial system, which already is on life support. With rent prices falling and vacancies rising due to the weakening economy, delinquencies on commercial mortgages already have begun to rise sharply."

And why shouldn't they say this? It's worked for everyone else, so far, why won't it work for them?

The problem is - it's not working and won't do anything, in the long term, to help the economy. Taking dollars from all of us (including our descendants) in order to temporarily shore up failing businesses just buys them some time. It doesn't address the failed business models which got them into trouble in the first place. It also means that the money being taken from each of us won't be used in the 'correct' way - which is the way we would spend the money in a free market if we'd had it. Instead, the free market is destroyed by rewarding failure and eliminating the consequences of bad decisions. This will encourage more risky actions and decisions in the future, because they suffer no negative reinforcement for having made them.

If left alone, the market will correct itself - and yes, it will be painful. But not nearly as painful as the catastrophic impact of government interference in trying to avoid any of the pain. FDR's 'answer' to a recession turned it into an depression and prolonged the bad economy. Markets have ups and downs and it's folly to expect we'll never bear the brunt of the 'downs.'

The lesson is there, it's plain to see and we should be able to learn from it. However, having failed to learn from it, Congress and the President are doomed to repeat it.

We should not be surprised when the proposed 'solution' doesn't work.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah begins tonight, so I'd like to say Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends and readers! Also knows as the Festival of Lights, it is observed by the kindling of the lights of a special candelabrum, the Menorah or Hanukiah, one light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night.

We'll be having the first of three Christmas parties at our house today. This one is more festive due to the seven children under the age of 12 - and nothing says holidays like the joy on a child's face...and, of course, the food. Last year, the kids decorated graham cracker houses. This year, they'll be decorating gingerbread trees. (We put heavy plastic on the floor so we don't have to worry about a mess - works GREAT!)

I'll probably do limited postings this week as well. I hope you'll all have time to enjoy the time with family and friends!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hypocrisy in government - Congress gets a raise

The Hill is reporting that Congress is getting a $4,700 pay increase (2.8%).

"A crumbling economy, more than 2 million constituents who have lost their jobs this year, and congressional demands of CEOs to work for free did not convince lawmakers to freeze their own pay.

Instead, they will get a $4,700 pay increase, amounting to an additional $2.5 million that taxpayers will spend on congressional salaries, ...

...Steve Ellis, vice president of the budget watchdog Taxpayers for Common Sense, said Congress should have taken the rare step of freezing its pay, as lawmakers did in 2000.

“Look at the way the economy is and how most people aren’t counting on a holiday bonus or a pay raise — they’re just happy to have gainful employment,” said Ellis. “But you have the lawmakers who are set up and ready to get their next installment of a pay raise and go happily along their way.”
Rep. Harry Mitchell, a first-term Democrat from Arizona, sponsored legislation earlier this year that would have prevented the automatic pay adjustments from kicking in for members next year. But the bill, which attracted 34 cosponsors, failed to make it out of committee."

The way it's set up, Congress has to vote to freeze pay or forgo the increase, rather than having to vote on getting the increase. This is backwards, but avoids the publicity (usually negative) of voting on giving themselves more money.

Also from the article:

"In the beginning days of 1789, Congress was paid only $6 a day, which would be about $75 daily by modern standards. But by 1965 members were receiving $30,000 a year, which is the modern equivalent of about $195,000.

Currently the average lawmaker makes $169,300 a year, with leadership making slightly more. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) makes $217,400, while the minority and majority leaders in the House and Senate make $188,100.

Ellis said that while freezing the pay increase would be a step in the right direction, it would be better to have it set up so that members would have to take action, and vote, for a pay raise and deal with the consequences, rather than get one automatically.

“It is probably never going to be politically popular to raise Congress’s salary,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to find taxpayers saying, ‘Yeah I think I should pay my congressman more’.”"

By the way - these wages clearly make our Congress "rich."

Automakers to get their bailout money

From the Wall Street Journal:

The White House on Friday unveiled a $17.4 billion rescue package for the troubled Detroit auto makers that avoids bankruptcy.

"Allowing the auto companies to collapse is not a responsible course of action," President George W. Bush said.

Speaking from the White House, he said that a bankruptcy was unlikely to work for the auto industry at this time and would deal "an unacceptably painful blow to hard-working Americans" across the economy.

The deal would extend $13.4 billion in loans to General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC in December and January, with another $4 billion likely available in February. The deal is contingent on the companies' showing that they are financially viable by March.

Maybe I've missed it, but all I've heard is claims that a Chapter 11 bankruptcy won't work for the auto companies - and no one has explained why that statement is true.

Bankruptcy reorganization has worked for other companies - why are the automakers different? And if all Bush is going to do is require them to reorganize, why not let a judge oversee that instead of administration or treasury officials who obviously haven't got a clue?

Here's the $64,000 question - what happens if they're not "financially viable by March"??? Do they get MORE money or will they be forced into bankruptcy after having squandered our tax dollars?

Of course, this also means Treasury needs the second half of the $700 billion released. Also from the Wall Street Journal:

"Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said he wants Congress to release the second half of the $700 billion financial rescue package, setting up what is expected to be a bruising dialogue with lawmakers from both parties who have expressed frustration with the way he has navigated the financial crisis.

Mr. Paulson said the $17.4 billion the Treasury committed to provide General Motors and Chrysler means that the government has "effectively" allocated the first $350 billion that Congress authorized in early October for the Troubled Asset Relief Program to stabilize the financial markets. Mr. Paulson said he has "confidence" that "we have the necessary resources to address a significant financial market event.""

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Have auto makers tried this?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that FedEx is "... cutting nonunion workers' salaries by 5% and plans deeper cuts for CEO Frederick W. Smith and senior executives, citing "some of the worst economic conditions" in the company's history. It is also eliminating bonuses and suspending company matching for its 401(k) plan."

I can only wonder if the Detroit 3 have made similar decisions before going to the American taxpayer with their hands out.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

ODJFS Director Helen Jones-Kelly resigns

NBC4 in Columbus is reporting that Helen Jones-Kelly has resigned her position as Director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. She was the one who authorized the illegal computer checks on Sam "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher during the election.

According to the statement, Director Helen Jones-Kelley said, in part, “…It is with sadness and clarity that I have decided to resign my position as director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The decision comes after having a time of pause, in which I realize that I continue to be used as a political postscript, providing a distraction from urgent state priorities.“

Keith Dailey, of the governor’s office said her resignation was effective as of Wednesday.

The resignation comes more than a month after an inspector general report found Jones-Kelley authorized an improper search of confidential records of Joe the Plumber—the Ohio resident turned political celebrity.

Strickland suspended Kelley without pay for four weeks, but Republicans called for her firing.

In late-November, Strickland gave his reasoning for not firing Jones-Kelley, saying she made a mistake, and the punishment he settled on was appropriate.

Two other ODJFS workers were suspended Friday afternoon without pay for their roles in the incidents. Deputy Director of Child Support Doug Thompson received a four-week unpaid suspension. Assistant Director Fred Williams received a two-week unpaid suspension.

Her 30-day suspension would have been over on Sunday.

Resignation letter courtesy of the Dayton Daily News.

Group plans charter amendment to outlaw Toledo's red light/speed cameras

Chris Finney, an attorney with COAST (Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes) from Cincinnati, announced on Eye On Toledo last night that they will be bringing their red light/speed camera opposition to Toledo.

You can listen to the podcast of the interview, including the update on their lawsuit against the City of Toledo to force the city to open camera appeal hearings to the public.

Finney said the first meeting on the charter amendment will be Monday, January 12, 2009 at 6:30 p.m., though they are still making the final arrangements for a location.

In November, Cincinnati approved a similar charter amendment:

Be it resolved by the people of the City of Cincinnati that a new Article XIV of the Charter is hereby added as follows:

Section 1. The City, including its various Boards, agencies and departments, shall not use any traffic law photo-monitoring device for the enforcement of a qualified traffic law violation, unless a law enforcement officer is present at the location of the device and personally issues the ticket to the alleged violator at the time and location of the violation.

Section 2. Definitions.
As used in this Article XIV:
a) Law enforcement officer" means any law enforcement officer employed by the City or any other political jurisdiction in Ohio, including the State. The City may from time to time and in its discretion, by ordinance or resolution, designate which City employees are, “law enforcement officers” for purposes of this Article XIV.
b) "Qualified law traffic violation" means a violation of any of the following:
(1) any state or local law relating to complying with a traffic control signal or a railroad crossing sign or signal; or
(2) any state or local law limiting the speed of a motor vehicle.
c) "Ticket" means any traffic ticket, citation, summons, or other notice of liability (whether civil or criminal) issued in response to an alleged qualified traffic law violation detected by a traffic law photo-monitoring device.
d) "Traffic law photo-monitoring device" means an electronic system consisting of a photographic, video, or electronic camera and a means of sensing the presence of a motor vehicle that automatically produces photographs, videotape, or digital images of the vehicle, its license plate or its operator.

Section 3. Any ordinance enacted prior to the passage of this Amendment that contravenes any of the foregoing is void. After the enactment of this Amendment, the City shall not enact or enforce any ordinance that contravenes any of the foregoing. In the event that any provision of this Article XIV is found to be unconstitutional or impermissibly in conflict with state or federal law, only such provision found to be unconstitutional or impermissible will be stricken, and the remainder of this Article XIV will remain in full force and effect.

Their amendment did not prohibit the use of the cameras, but did require that law enforcement officers issue a traditional ticket instead of relying upon a civil violation processed by a third party.

I'll keep you posted on updates, including the location when it is determined.

(Cross posted to Eye On Toledo blog)

Carty Finkbeiner's wish list for federal funding

You may have read in today's paper about Toledo City Councilman Joe McNamara complaining about Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's submission of funding requests through the U.S. Council of Mayors to President-Elect Obama and Congress.

Despite requesting the information from the mayor, the article reports that McNamara found the list on line.

Crowdsourcing Accountability has a searchable database of all the requests and allows you to actually vote on which projects you think deserve the support of the federal government. Below is a listing of the projects submitted by Finkbeiner (click to enlarge).

Some of the largest amounts of money are for retrofitting buildings/vehicles for energy efficiency and for roads and bridges. Interestingly, despite voting to pull all but $100,000 from the Ottawa River Dredging in order to balance the 2008 budget, they are asking for $3 million for this purpose.

There is also a line item for $3 million for a Marina District Road - but I thought we were already building the road in the Marina District - and $2 million for Marina District Improvements. There's also $4 million for Southwyck Blvd. improvements, "entire road."

The largest single amounts are:

* $26.4 million for public housing Modernization
* $25 million for a "Mega Garage Facility with City/County/State"
* $18 million for Municipal building retrofit for energy efficiency
* $10 million for an Intermodal connection road

As a limited government proponent, I really don't find anything on the list that comes under the authorized powers of Congress. I suppose some could make the argument that the dredging of the Ottawa River and the railroad connector are within their purview because of the authority Congress has assumed with the Corps of Engineers and interstate commerce.

I also understand the 'logic' of getting as much of our tax dollars back into the community since Congress is going to spend the money anyway and if we don't get it, some other community will.

But if the federal government didn't take so much of our tax dollars in the first place, we'd have the money locally to cover these costs and we wouldn't be pitted against every other community for 'favors' dispensed by Washington's elite who then use the money obtained on our behalf as a reason to keep electing them.

NOTE: There are no other area cities listed on the website, so I do not know if they've made requests as well.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Commissioners approve increased conveyance tax

The Lucas County Commissioners voted today to approve the increase in conveyance fees - the tax applied to the sale of a home within the county.

As announced in his press release, Comm. Ben Konop voted no. Commissioners Tina Skeldon Wozniak and Pete Gerken voted yes.

The resolution was to dedicate the funding from the increased tax to the operations of the Lucas County Improvement Corporation. (Background on the issue, on chronological order is here, here, here, and here.

However, in a walk-on resolution, the Commissioners voted to allocate $150,000 from Economic Development Funds in 2009 for the Toledo-Lucas County Housing Fund. Wozniak and Gerken voted yes. Konop voted no.

This means that everyone who wanted money from the taxpayers is a bit happier - and people who want to sell a home in this already depressed market will have additional costs. And this is supposed to help.

Selling "land banking" property for less than value

The City of Toledo has a land banking program. On today's agenda, there are three ordinances to approve the sale of such properties, but for less than the listed value at the Auditor's AREIS website.

One ordinance is to sell 1624 and 1626 Dorr Street to the Brownstones project for a total of $1,000. According to AREIS, the 35% value of these two properties is $2,350 each and the 100% value is $6,700 each. So why would the city sell them for a total of $1,000?

The second ordinance is to sell three properties to Southern Missionary Baptist Church: 1236 and 1240 Pinewood and 1111 True St. AREIS lists the 35% value for the three at $1,690 and the 100% value at $4,500. The city plans to sell the three lots for a total of $450.

The third ordinance is to sell two commercial lots on North Detroit (1933 and 1935) to a contiguous property owner. AREIS places the 35% value of the two lots at $4,940 and the 100% value at $14,100. The sale price is $300.

I realize that property values in Toledo have decreased, but this much?

The Dorr St. properties are being sold for 17.5% of the 35% (taxable) value and 7.5% of the full value.

The Pinewood/True St. properties are being sold for 26.7% of the taxable value and 10% of the full value.

The N. Detroit properties are being sold for 6% of the taxable value and 2% of the full value - and, remember, these are commercially-zoned properties.

Considering that the city is trying to figure out ways to make up a $10 million deficit for 2008, should we really be selling such properties for so much less than the actual or taxable value? And who gets to decide how much those properties sell for? Why is a church paying a larger percentage of the value than a private property owner who is purchasing commercial property?

Final thought: will city council ask these questions before they vote on these items tonight?

Kudos to Commissioner Ben Konop

According to a press release Comm. Ben Konop issued late last night, he will vote no on increasing Lucas County's conveyance tax.

Real Estate Tax Hike Set to be Voted on at Commissioners Meeting--Konop to vote NO

Konop: raising taxes by $120 on working families "unconscionable" in this economy

At Tuesday's 9:30 a.m. Lucas County Commissioners Hearing, Commissioners are set to vote on a real estate tax hike proposed by Commissioner Gerken that would raise taxes on the average home seller in Lucas County by an additional $120. Commissioner Konop will vote NO.

"It is unbelievable to me that in this economy, the worst since the Depression, we are even discussing Commissioner Gerken's proposal to raise taxes on home sales in Lucas County," stated Commissioner Konop. "This tax hike will hurt working families who are already having a tough time selling their homes and paying their bills," added Konop.

"Once again, I will forcefully oppose this tax hike, and I hope Commissioner Skeldon Wozniak will see the light and save working families from a tax increase in this horrible economy," Konop said.

It's not often that I agree with Konop's votes or proposals, but he's right on not imposing a tax increase.

The vote on the proposal will take place during today's Board of County Commissioners Meeting which begins at 9:30 a.m. It is likely that the tax will pass with the support of the other two commissioners.

In other business, the commissioners will vote on an agreement with the Toledo Science Center, formerly COSI. This is the new name of the facility and the agreement will disburse the levy dollars approved in the November election.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Konop's college conspiracy

Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop issued the following press release last night to announce his new program to fund a college education for all Lucas County residents - and he says he can do it without raising taxes.


Konop to Outline Program for Free College Education for all Lucas County Residents...Without Raising Taxes

Common sense proposals would fund $70 million dollars worth of college scholarships for students and displaced workers

Seeking to seriously change the direction of our local economy and the future of our community--without raising any taxes--Commissioner Ben Konop will today outline an aggressive $70 million program to help guarantee all Lucas County high school graduates and displaced workers the chance to get a college education for free.

"In the 21st Century, the best way to truly get our economy moving again, and get our people back to work, is to invest in college education for all Lucas County residents," Konop said. "Through a more efficient government, we can generate a $70 million scholarship fund for Lucas County residents that would enable us to compete and win in the global economy."

Under Konop's proposal, county departments would go to a four day work week, the county would adopt energy efficiency measures and open source software, and adopt a privatized EMS ambulance service. Together, these savings would allow $4 million dollars a year to be dedicated to a bond issuance which would then fund the scholarship program. This would, based on conservative estimates, generate $70 million dollars. The recipients, college graduates and displaced workers, would only receive the scholarship funds if they agree to return to Lucas County for a period following graduation.

"We are at the critical juncture in our community's history," Konop said. "If we are really serious about putting people to work and improving the local economy long term, we have to invest, right now, in Lucas County's best asset--its people."

WHAT: Konop Outlines Program For Free College Education for County Residents

WHEN: Monday, December 15, 2008 / 12:00 p.m.

WHERE: Toledo Bar Association Luncheon / Georgio's Restaurant, 426 N. Superior / Downtown Toledo

My first question would be, as it always is, where does the county get the authority to do this sort of thing. I know that there is no provision in the Ohio Revised Code that gives a county the ability to expend tax dollars to provide a college education. But I also know that many unauthorized expenditures are made under the guise of 'economic development' which has few restrictions for how 'economic development efforts' are funded. So to claim this is somehow related to economic development in order to provide some authority for doing it would not come as a surprise.

My second question is whether or not government should provide a 'free' college education for some while taking tax dollars from others in order to do so. Why do we think people who want to go to college should be allowed to do so at no cost to themselves? You appreciate what you've earned more than you appreciate what's been given to you. And those of us who've had to pay for our own education certainly know it's possible to obtain a college education if you're willing to work and even, for some of us, go to school part-time if that's all you can afford.

But other questions also arise.

The ideas to cut expenses in the county are admirable. I'm still not sold on open-source software, but a four-day work week, energy efficiency and privatized EMS ambulance service are terrific ideas. (I must remind Comm. Konop, though, that he opposed new windows for one of the county buildings - windows which would have improved the energy efficiency of that building.)

But if you can do these things and save $4 million, why don't you do it anyway, even if you don't pay for college for everyone? And since the county is planning on laying off people as of the first of the year, why aren't we already taking such steps to save money? And if you can save $4 million a year, the county can certainly lower the taxes (sales or property) so taxpayers don't have to pay so much. I'd much rather have the county apply such savings to my tax bill so I can further my own education - rather than pay for someone else's.

The scheme would require students to "return to Lucas County" for a period of time following graduation. Does this mean they get to go to an out-of-county or out-of-state school? And are they required to return even if they don't have a job? Would they be able to collect welfare if they don't have a job upon their return to the county? Would they be required to take any job they could find, even if it wasn't related to their major?

And just how much would the oversight of such a program cost? Will there be a staff person who disburses the funds and keeps track of the graduates, where they live and whether or not they get jobs? Will that person (or persons since there would be so many people to track) also be responsible for 'directing' students into specific degrees? It might not start off with such restrictions, but you know government - would such 'direction' end up being part of the package, especially if it would ensure a viable job upon graduation? Or would there be outrage by taxpayers if students got degrees that didn't qualify them for viable employment within the county? How many job openings do we have in Lucas County for Medieval Studies majors?

I'm all in favor of the county saving money, but I don't want those savings to be spent providing someone else a benefit that I don't have access to. I'm paying taxes and I worked full-time so I could pay for my own college education, taking five years to get my degree as a result. If I, and thousands of others, can do it, it can be done - without spending my taxes to do so.

My fear is that Konop's idea will be reported, but not analyzed, as have so many of his ideas. Main stream media will cover his speech, say a few words and praise him for coming up with 'bold, fresh, new' ideas, as they've done in the past. But this idea is just more of the spread the wealth, socialism concept being promoted by so many on the left. And it means that government expands while taxing all to provide a benefit for few.

I wish Konop much success in privatizing EMS ambulance services. I think that should be done because it will save tax dollars.

I wish him success in going to a four-day work week, if mandatory functions can be performed and money can be saved while doing so. I also think everyone should work to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings, our own homes included. I hope that a cost-benefit analysis will be performed to ensure that expenditures will actually result in savings - and not just sound good and get good headlines.

But, if the county saves money by doing any of these things, it needs to reduce the amount it collects from all of us - not conspire to find new ways to spend those dollars. Give the savings back to the people who paid for it in the first place - and let us decide how to spend those dollars. We may further our own education, start a new business that provides jobs for those hoped-for graduates, spend the money within Lucas County generating more sales tax income for the county, or even save it for our retirement.

We are better at spending our money than government ever can, or will, be.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A gift that gives in many ways

I rarely promote items to purchase, but I'm making an exception for the "Hope for the Holidays" CD.

I'm an alumnae member of Delta Delta Delta. The University of Toledo collegiate chapter, Phi Alpha, (my chapter) has put together a wonderful selection of music just in time for stocking stuffers or hostess gifts - or just to enjoy. The songs are sung by the sisters of Tri Delta and the CD was produced by John Andosca.

But this gift is more than just a present you can give to someone. The charity of our sorority is children's cancer and St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital is a primary recipient of our philanthropy efforts. All the money from the sale of this CD goes directly to St. Jude's.

So if you're looking for a special gift that you can give - and one that helps children with cancer - this is it. It's only $15 and can be ordered here.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pension cuts or layoffs?

Quite some time ago, I interviewed Dan Wagoner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association (TPPA) on Eye On Toledo. We were discussing budgetary issues and I asked him a question that has perplexed me for ages:

If given the choice between keeping every union member employed, but at a reduced wage/benefit package or maintaining current wage/benefit package and having some of your members laid off, what would the union do?

His answer: "Unfortunately," the union membership historically has chosen maintaining current compensation levels and accepting layoffs.

I've never been in a union, primarily because I never worked anywhere that there was one to represent the workers. And I've never felt the need for a union to represent me, figuring I could do as good a job as them in that regard. But my understanding of the reason for a union was to work collectively to benefit everyone - not benefit some at the expense of others.

I bring this up because today's paper has a story about Mayor Carty Finkbeiner asking the unions to assume - for one year only - some of the pension costs that the city has, over the years, agreed to pay.

Pension pickups can be a confusing subject. In Ohio, public employees do not participate in Social Security, but in the state's Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). Unlike Social Security, the contributions you and your employer make are in a fund under your name, so you get back everything you've contributed, plus interest earnings, when you retire.

Like Social Security, you contribute an amount and your employer contributes an amount - and they are equal amounts. However, when negotiating contracts with public sector unions, many employers have offered to 'pick up' a percentage of the employee's portion instead of doing a wage increase. This can save money in the short term, but has serious long-term consequences.

In Toledo, some union contracts call for the city to assume ALL the pension costs, with the employees paying none of it themselves. Again - this is negotiated so the union must have given up something in order to get that benefit.


The city's unions often have a me-too clause, so if one union negotiates a benefit, the other unions automatically get to say 'me too' and receive that benefit as well. However, the other unions don't give up anything when they get that benefit ... they just get that benefit. It's a 'me too' on the get portion, but not the give portion, of the contract.

So it is that the city finds itself paying for both the employee portion and the employer portion of the pensions for almost all its workers.

And now, in the face of huge deficits, the mayor wants to have the employees pay only 3% of their portion, for only one year. And the unions are asking questions - like what do we get if we do this.

Proper question for negotiations - do they ensure no layoffs if they agree to this provision? Do they get some other concession they've been seeking in exchange for what is, essentially, a reduction in take-home pay? The article doesn't say.

Additionally, Carty has spent money irresponsibly for non-essentials, so he's not in the best of positions when asking for concessions. Union members will rightly point to flowers and bike paths, lights for trees, and even Carty's bathroom and shower as examples of expenditures that shouldn't have been made and would have resulted in less of a financial crunch than what the city is experiencing. They'll look at the number of employees in the mayor's office and wonder why they must assume the brunt of the impact of the deficit. And they'd be right.

But city unions need to be very careful in their approach to this. The non-public workers have Social Security and most of us are pretty sure it will be bankrupt long before we'll ever collect the measly amount the government deigns to grant us. Others who have defined pension plans with their employers are seeing less and less contributions to those accounts by their employers. And the rest of us aren't counting on anyone but ourselves to fund our retirement and have been saving on our own, paying into IRAs or 401(k) plans without help from anyone else.

So to find that our tax dollars are paying the total cost of public employee pensions will not sit very well with the struggling families of the area who don't have such a benefit.

For the record, I'm in favor of the city reducing its pension pickup back to the mandatory contribution level for the employer. But I'm realistic enough to know that unions will want something in return, since some of them gave up things in order to get that pickup in the first place. Considering the economic condition of Toledo and Lucas County, I think offering them continued employment is a pretty good trade-off ... and there are plenty of unemployed/laid off people who'd gladly accept their positions with such reduced compensation.

But then I go back to the answer TPPA President Wagoner gave me, and I look at the refusal of the UAW to agree to renegotiate their contract in 2009 rather than 2011 in order to get the Detroit 3 bailout, ... and I'm not hopeful.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Report: Parental choice and quality education can go together

From the Buckeye Institute:


COLUMBUS – Adoption of a student-centered school funding system will ensure all children across Ohio have the same educational opportunities, according to a report issued today by the Buckeye Institute. Such a system will make the differences in local resources for education funding largely irrelevant. In addition, the proposed funding system would not require additional resources and could result in an overall tax dollar savings.

The report is available online here.

“Directly funding school systems is not the same as educating children,” Buckeye Institute President David Hansen said. “A child-centered school finance policy that supports the choices of parents can create higher-quality schools and more equality in the educational opportunities available to children.”

“Public schools are nominally ‘free,’ but pricing, which implicitly occurs through housing markets, fundamentally limits access to better schools and consigns less wealthy families to less desirable schools,” report author and Buckeye Institute Fellow Brian Gottlob said. “The subsequent separation of students along class lines also means that the non-financial inputs critical to good schools, such as peer and family influences, can be even more unevenly distributed than financial resources.”

Gottlob’s research found unequal distribution of opportunity remains even when state aid is targeted at the “neediest” schools. He concluded state money that simply equalizes financial resources between school districts will have limited effects on the root causes of education inequities.

The report outlines an alternative approach that seeks to overcome the limits of past attempts to equalize opportunities. It investigates the combined policies of school choice (in public, charter, and private schools) with financial support that follows the child. The report also focuses on the mechanics and implementation issues of such a system, and demonstrates its fiscal impacts.

Specifically, the report does the following:

* Highlights the need for reform of Ohio’s school finance system;
* Documents Ohio’s level of financial support and compares it to other states;
* Discusses the role of property taxes in funding schools;
* Outlines the basic structure of a child-centered school finance system;
* Presents a basic weighted system of per-pupil financial support and creates a matrix of students in Ohio schools to estimate the expenditures required to fund each child under a child-centered finance system;
* Presents a model to calculate the expenditures required to fund a child-centered system at different levels of per-pupil financial support and under various policy choices;
* Analyzes the implications for property taxes within communities under different policy choices within a child-centered funding system; and
* Estimates how much money businesses and individuals would contribute towards the education of deserving, students after the introduction of a tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations.

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.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How Ohio reps voted on the auto bailout

Yes, I know it's a bridge loan, but regardless of the name, it's still the federal government bailing out a failing industry. I'm in favor of Chapter 11 Bankruptcy reorganization - not rewarding them with tax dollars so they can just buy time until they need to do the inevitable.

Anyway, according to GovTrack, here are how the votes from Ohio were cast:

Nay OH-1 Chabot, Steven [R]
Nay OH-2 Schmidt, Jean [R]
Nay OH-3 Turner, Michael [R]
Nay OH-4 Jordan, Jim [R]
Nay OH-5 Latta, Robert [R]
Aye OH-6 Wilson, Charles [D]
Nay OH-7 Hobson, David [R]
Nay OH-8 Boehner, John [R]
Aye OH-9 Kaptur, Marcy [D]
Aye OH-10 Kucinich, Dennis [D]
Nay OH-12 Tiberi, Patrick [R]
Aye OH-13 Sutton, Betty [D]
Aye OH-14 LaTourette, Steven [R]
No Vote OH-15 Pryce, Deborah [R]
Aye OH-16 Regula, Ralph [R]
Aye OH-17 Ryan, Timothy [D]
Aye OH-18 Space, Zachary [D]

Two Ohio Republicans joined their Democrat colleagues to vote in favor of the measure.

Sadly, my representative, Marcy Kaptur, voted in favor of bailing out the auto industry after having voted against the $700 billion bailout for the financial industry. I had hoped she was taking a principled stand on the concept of bailing out industries, but it turns out she just opposed the focus of the bailout. And I'm sure her strong support from the UAW didn't matter at all.

Why is 'self-interest' such a bad thing?

The Blade editorial board has criticized the Take Back Toledo recall effort against Mayor Carty Finkbeiner as being nothing more than

"In short, there's nothing courageous about hiding behind the cloistered walls of the Toledo Club to plot the takeover of municipal government if the motivation is personal gain and not the greater good of this city and the proud people who actually live here."

You see, according to the liberal perspective and The Blade (but I repeat myself), it really doesn't matter if your actions have a detrimental impact, so long as your intentions are good. If you do bad things but you believe you're doing it for the greater good of the city, you're excused.

But if you want a good business-friendly environment for the city and you know the mayor's actions and decisions are negatively impacting your ability to hire people and make a profit, you are - obviously - evil and selfish.

So I have to ask - what's so bad about acting in your own self interest?

First, let me point out that I'm not talking about selfishness - there's a distinct difference between selfishness and self-interest, and Ayn Rand makes the point very well:

"Traditional ethics has always been suspicious of self interest, praising acts that are selfless in intent and calling amoral or immoral acts that are motivated by self interest. A self-interested person, on the traditional view, will not consider the interests of others and so will slight or harm those interests in the pursuit of his own.

Rand's view is that the exact opposite is true: self-interest, properly understood, is the standard of morality and selflessness is the deepest immorality.

Self interest rightly understood, according to Rand, is to see oneself as an end in oneself. That is to say that one's own life and happiness are one's highest values, and that one does not exist as a servant or slave to the interests of others. Nor do others exist as servants or slaves to one's own interests. Each person's own life and happiness is his ultimate end. Self interest rightly understood also entails self-responsibility: one's life is one's own, and so is the responsibility for sustaining and enhancing it. It is up to each of us to determine what values our lives require, how best to achieve those values, and to act to achieve those values.

Rand's ethic of self interest is integral to her advocacy of classical liberalism. Classical liberalism, more often called "libertarianism" in the 20th century, is the view that individuals should be free to pursue their own interests. This implies, politically, that governments should be limited to protecting each individual's freedom to do so. In other words, the moral legitimacy of self interest implies that individuals have rights to their lives, their liberties, their property, and the pursuit of their own happiness, and that the purpose of government is to protect those rights. Economically, leaving individuals free to pursue their own interests implies in turn that only a capitalist or free market economic system is moral: free individuals will use their time, money, and other property as they see fit, and will interact and trade voluntarily with others to mutual advantage."

What many business people object to is Carty's - and Council's - penchant for taking over private business so government can do it instead (towing, ambulance service, entertainment/hall rental). If government is supposed to protect an individual's freedom, how do the decisions to take over certain industries do that? Short answer: they don't.

Ed Nagle, one of the individuals involved with Take Back Toledo and a Toledo resident, explains why he's involved with the recall with an open letter to Carty:

"It is your role as a government leader to create an atmosphere that promotes private investment. Quite simply, you have failed miserably. When Costco announced it was making a major investment in Toledo, you immediately began interfering and making wage and benefit demands on them, sounding more like Jimmy Hoffa, than an economic development leader attracting business. By the way United Way is NOT yours or John Block’s building!

If I considered starting a successful business in Toledo, how long would you let my new company exist before you decided that the City of Toledo should enter that business and become my primary competitor using essentially interest-free taxpayer money to finance the project? How can anyone required to make a financial investment compete in that environment? More importantly, WHY would anyone choose to? Ambulances, tow lots, entertainment venues….what other non-chartered city business will you be getting us into?"

I know Ed and his wife - they are our friends. Ed, acting in his own self-interest, started a company and wants it to succeed. He has employees whom he has hired and I know he wants them to continue having a job at his company. He has customers who value the service he provides - and he provides a good service so he continues to have such customers. I also know that Ed has been very generous in 'giving back' (as liberals call it) to his community.

He is self-interested, not selfish.

But, because The Blade disagrees with what the TBT people are doing, they launch a personal attack against them, saying that acting in a self-interested way is somehow bad. Oh - and because they're not 'Toledoans' they obviously don't have the self-interest of the city at heart. Do the members of the editorial board all live in Toledo and, if not, what makes them any different than the TBT members when it comes to telling Toledo what they'd like to see happen?

Do the editors think they somehow have a better position from which to present opinions and perspectives than these other businessmen? The Blade doesn't answer that question, but they should. Their opinions are no more relevant than anyone else's, including yours and mine.

Additionally, they act in their own self-interest when they support, by way of endorsement, elected officials and candidates who agree with them on various issues. If it's wrong for TBT members to have self-interest, it is most assuredly wrong for The Blade, as well.

Perhaps they will go back to the motivation - the idea that the right or correct motivation excuses all, regardless of impact? That can be their only defense to this hypocrisy: 'we have the best interests of the city at heart, so we're right while TBT members are only interested in themselves, so that is wrong.'

But that means The Blade editors have concluded what motivates these TBT members - and as far as I can tell, they've not actually spoken to any of them, so they can't know, they can only speculate or assume ... and we all know what happens when you assume.

Since the editors feel it's somehow okay to speculate, I'm sure they won't mind the rest of us doing so. My speculation is that The Blade sees a challenge to their ability to be the opinion leader (dictator?) in the community. If a group of business people join together and start presenting a conflicting view of what's good for Toledo and the region, The Blade suddenly has competition and their opinion of what's good for Toledo and the region might decline in influence. So if they want to maintain the influence they've enjoyed for quite some time, they must discredit any potential challenge to that influence and diminish the potential impact.

Gee - it sounds as if the editors are acting in their own self-interest, don't you think?

The Blade has already started to intimate that this group is somehow acting inappropriately by calling it a cabal "...hiding behind the cloistered walls of the Toledo Club to plot..." The group will be likened to a good old boys network where a bunch of business men sit in back-room meetings, smoking cigars, and deciding the fate of all of us.

I don't want to go back to the days where a few men got to decide for all of us. But the absence of such a good old boys club just opened up space for The Blade and unions to assume the role, with candidates and elected officials making pilgrimages to Pittsburgh to get the blessing of the publisher of the paper, or promising fealty to the various political action committees of local labor organizations.

Having enjoyed such influence for such a long period of time, they don't want to let it go.

Unlike The Blade, I like the competition. I'm looking forward to the active participation of the business community in commenting on public policy and candidates' positions. I welcome their renewed interest in speaking out for what's good for the job providers in the region, knowing that they are the ones who create the jobs - not government and its elected officials.

And I'm acting in my own self-interest in doing so.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Latest 'nasty gram' from Toledo's Mayor

This letter from Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, written on city letterhead by a city employee, is part of the reason why people - especially business men and women - want to recall him.

Carty attacks his recall supporters

Yesterday Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner held a press conference to attack the recall effort being mounted against him. We talked it last night on Eye On Toledo.

Except, it wasn't really a press conference, because he didn't take any questions. It was a speech, and he gave it in front of many city employees who were in Council Chambers to hear it, rather than at work on behalf of the citizens who pay their wages.

The text of the speech is 23 pages, front and back, and it took him about 24 minutes to read it. He pretty much stuck to the prepared comments, and spent the first nine minutes or so praising his own record in office.

He starts with a quote from Barack Obama's book and transitions into caring for each other during difficult economic times.

"So it is that Toledo will be as strong as the quality of leadership exemplified in the weeks and months directly ahead. In the economic shortages of the moment, we must share more, and be ever mindful of the needs of others, particularly the most challenged of Toledo's citizens. I pledge to work with my fellow Councilmen and County Commissioners to seek collaboration amongst us in order to alleviate the suffering of many as we also seek to grow our economy in very troubled times."

Of course, Carty isn't known for working with City Council, waiting until the very last minute to tell them things and taking forever to provide data and information that's been requested...but I guess that's irrelevant to him.

He then details some of the investments that have been made by private businesses in Toledo, including our new Jeep plant and General Motors Powertrain expansion. He does not mention that the rebuilt Jeep plant opened in 2001 during his second term as mayor.

He mentions the work by solar-based companies as well as our universities and hospitals/health industry. Then he says this:

"I have, in 11 years as mayor, overseen the capital investment of $3.75 billion, which included the creation of 18,722 new jobs and the retention of 25,359 jobs."

Unfortunately, this is one of those half-truths or mis-truths Carty's always referring to. As mayor, he did NOT oversee those investments by private companies, he was merely present while the private sector was doing what the private sector should do. Yes, some Toledo tax money went into the projects, but that doesn't mean the mayor 'oversaw' those projects. When he lists the numerous projects, (including Owens Corning's World Headquarters, The Docks, the State Prison, the Buckeye Basin Greenbelt Parkway, HCR ManorCare and Health Care REIT, and Joint Economic Districts with Sylvania and Perrysburg Township) it's clear the only project he actually supervised was the Joint Economic Districts. And even then, it was more of hostage-type situation than it was a 'joint' development idea.

He then takes credit, along with some others, for the passage of the COSI levy, which had been rejected by the voters twice already before passing this past November. I'm not sure I'd want to be taking credit for raising the property taxes of Lucas County residents, especially while working "to alleviate the suffering of many as we also seek to grow our economy in very troubled times." But Carty does.

He does get one thing right when he mentions that Toledo's bond rating was upgraded, in spite of all the job losses we've had in Toledo. He praises city council for their 'fiscal restraint over the past three years.' However, that fiscal restraint wasn't good enough to prevent us from facing a $10 million budget deficit to close our 2008, nor a $21-23 million projected deficit for 2009.

He also comments that Toledo is better off than Columbus ($80 million deficit and laying off 200) or Chicago ($800 million deficit). Of course, Toledo is much smaller than these cities to begin with, so there's no way to know if our percentage of deficit is comparable to these other cities, but this is what Carty likes to do - compare us as better than cities in worst positions, rather than have us strive to be like those who are better off.

"Into this significant moment in the nation's, and Toledo's history, comes a group entitled "Take Back Toledo."(stet)

He then begins the character assassination of the individuals so far identified as leaders of the group: Tom Schlachter, Brian McMahon and Andy Stuart.

(Disclosure - Andy Stuart is the General Manager of Clear Channel in Toledo, home of WSPD radio where I do the Eye On Toledo talk show.)

Carty attacks the residency of the individuals, though the city charter has no residency criteria for who can sponsor a recall effort.

"First, two of these individuals live outside of Toledo, as do almost all of the group's members. Mr. Schlachter lives in Sylvania Township. Yet, this man, who has never lived in Toledo wants to "Take Back Toledo." He never has had any true ownership in Toledo, but he thinks Toledoans should turn City Hall over to him."

More half-truths? So far, these three men, along with Brian Wilson, the program director for WSPD, and Ed Nagle, a local businessman who owns a trucking firm, are the only people who've announced their participation with TBT. Wilson lives in Perrysburg and Nagle lives in Toledo. Wilson and Stuart both work in Toledo and pay Toledo taxes. So if these are the only members of TBT who have been confirmed as members, how does Carty conclude that 'almost all of the group's members' live outside of Toledo? And what does it matter anyway?

Carty is fond of saying that our region needs a strong Toledo, as the core of area. He often touts the fact that we're all tied together and must support a strong Toledo. But when some business people come together and say, 'okay - for a strong Toledo, you have to go,' Carty somehow twists this into outsiders trying take over City Hall. And they don't want to take over City Hall, as Carty claims, they just want Carty out of it.

Carty then claims that Schlachter used inside information from when he served on the Port Authority Board of Trustees to advance two projects. What Carty doesn't tell us is that Schlachter decided to support two proposed developments and resigned from the Port Board so he could do so. He did not want any conflicts of interest between what he wanted to do as a businessman and his membership on the Port Board. Neither project came to fruition, so it appears that rather than somehow benefit, Schlachter actually lost out - losing his seat on the Port Board and not yet having any success with the developments. But let's not allow facts to get in the way of Carty's character attack, nor mention that one of the projects was also supported by our Congresswoman, Marcy Kaptur.

He does the same to Brian McMahon - claiming that McMahon somehow schemed his way into the confidences of a previous mayor and city manager and cost the city money in a failed annexation deal. That Carty voted in favor of the project and strongly supported it until it turned sour is somehow conveniently forgotten and never mentioned in his speech.

McMahon called in to WSPD this morning and set the record straight on that land deal, citing the reasons why it was a good idea in the first place and listing all the businesses currently located on the property, generating money in a joint economic development zone for Toledo.

Finkbeiner also claims that McMahon 'hoodwinked the citizens of the community' into believing he had a perfect intermodal site by Toledo Express Airport. Well, it is a perfect intermodal site and it should be developed. Carty, however, seems to think that there can be only one - and it must be the one he wants within the city of Toledo limits. It's that sort of thinking that causes people to want him out of Government Center.

And if you want to talk about 'hoodwinked,' let's ask all the voters who believed Carty when said he was a changed man following his heart attack and that he was now calmer and wouldn't act like he did during his first two terms as mayor if we only elected him again. Many of his former supporters use the term 'hoodwinked.'

But he saves his best for last in attacking Andy Stuart by attacking WSPD, including a call for a Congressional investigation into the station's violation of the Fairness Doctrine. Of course, the Fairness Doctrine is not in effect, having been eliminated under Pres. Ronald Reagan, but again, let's not allow facts to get in the way.

I've explained the history as to why Carty is not allowed on the talk show portion of WSPD, but Carty chooses to ignore his own complicity in the situation. He says WSPD is negative:

"They have come out against every City school levy, every quality of life issue that is presented to the taxpayers. They encourage Toledoans to move from the City and now for the second time, they are leading, on the air, and Andy Stuart is providing money for, my recall. This man, again, lives outside of Toledo, and does not have a vote in Toledo. But this master of negative news about Toledo wants Toledo voters to turn Toledo over to him, Mr. McMahon and Mr. Schlachter."

Again - more mis-truths and half-truths. WSPD talk show hosts have opposed Toledo Public School levies - because we do not believe in rewarding people for bad decisions. Our schools are not doing the job we need them to do in educating our children. They have a few successes, but many failures. Picket Elementary has been in academic emergency for six years and was in violation of the No Child Left Behind law because they did not address this problem until just recently. Why should TPS be given more money when they're not using the money they do have for the purpose intended?

When it comes to 'quality of life' you need to know that this term is a euphemism for 'unnecessary government spending.' The quality of life items Carty is referring to includes bike paths, flowers and lights for our downtown trees. It also includes the COSI children's museum, as noted above. You see, Fred LeFebvre, Brian Wilson and I are in agreement that government should do what is mandated and no more. Toledo has spent money on bike paths, flowers, lights, pools - and we will NOT have a new police class nor fire class this year as planned. The city doesn't have the money for the essentials of police and fire, but we have these other, non-essential, things. Now that Toledoans are seeing the implication of funding these other items in the lack of police and fire recruits, they may actually agree with us that 'quality of life' can have numerous definitions. Personally, my quality of life is enhanced more by safety than it is by flowers and bike paths.

Then he gets into the Fairness Doctrine and another character attack:

"Mr. Stuart has a serious ethical conflict. I believe he, and WSPD have, over and over again, violated the historic Fairness Doctrine governing political comments over public airwaves. That doctrine required that any time a radio station made a blatant political statement on air, the broadcaster must offer free, equal time to the opposing view. The Fairness Doctrine principle is violated by WSPD every day. WSPD's vicious, one-sided diatribes go back years. Today, it is non-stop.

I will be requesting Congressman Henry Waxman of California to have the Energy and Commerce Committee he chairs hold hearings on the radio industry's abuses of the Fairness principle, with Toledo's WSPD being a prime example of such abuse.

The airwaves belong to the public and the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated and practiced in Toledo and across the nation. When a radio station's General Manger actively finances campaigns against incumbent officials, and when his prime time personalities conduct daily diatribes against issues and governing officials of a community without giving equal time to the opposing viewpoint, that is wrong. I will ask Congressman Waxman and the new Congress to investigate all tapes of WSPD during the past three years, during which time I have been, and members of the City Administration have been, denied airtime to rebut the falsehoods and glaring misstatements, of WSPD radio."

Again, for the record, Carty can come on the air on WSPD if he would only apologize for the public statement he made claiming WSPD was telling mis-truths, half-truths and outright lies. And his administration has been invited and continues to be welcome to call in or be guests on the talk shows. They aren't allowed, though, not because of WSPD, but because of Carty's own dictates. You see, if Carty isn't allowed on air, he won't allow his staff to come on air.

It's important to point out that Carty has never documented a single problem with anything that's been said by the radio hosts - other than it's critical of him and he doesn't like it. To my knowledge, he's never provided any letter, memo, email, phone call, etc... to show that something said on air is inaccurate or incorrect. He makes lots of claims of 'lies,' but never proves that one exists. As an elected official, if I were in such a situation, I'd certainly be writing letters to document any error. Absent such documentation or proof, one is left with just the claim by a politician who doesn't like that his actions and decisions are being challenged on talk radio.

Also, people with opposing views make for good radio - so why wouldn't the station want people who disagree with a host call in and make their points? Other elected officials do so, but they're not afraid of the tough questions that get asked. And even with the ban on Carty, himself, he could allow his administrators on air to provide any rebuttals - but he doesn't.

I expect we've not heard the last of the Fairness Doctrine issue - it's too much of an agenda item by the left. I'm certain Carty will provide his own version of events in his support of imposing free speech restrictions on talk radio hosts.

As an aside - much of what Carty said about WSPD could be said of our local daily paper - pushing their own agenda in the news portion of their coverage, rather than confining it to the editorial pages, and promoting policies and taxation that are detrimental to our success as a community. But Carty agrees with them most of the time, so he won't attack them the same way he attacks WSPD.

Carty concludes his speech with the 'I have good intentions' claim. He admits he's made mistakes, but he loves Toledo and never "attempted to advance anything but Toledo and its citizens." He also claims to know the real motivation for why TBT exists:

"It's all about their pursuit of something they each already have - power and wealth. But they want more! And they want to select a pliant Mayor who will hand them more of what they already have."

According to Carty, you can't have good intentions for the city if you disagree with him. Carty seems to believe that criticism of him equates to criticism of Toledo - and that's just not true. In fact, such association and lack of separation between the man and the city is a bit disturbing to me. What Carty fails to understand is that, despite his good intentions, he's made numerous bad decisions and his governance (coupled with votes by city council members) will have a long-term, detrimental impact on the city he loves so much. I will grant that Carty wants what's best for Toledo - he's just very wrong in his definition of 'best' and how to achieve it. And the business community, frustrated by policies and decisions which do not help create an environment conducive to growth, are no longer accepting the all-to-common excuse that 'it's just Carty being Carty.'

Finally, Carty tells the three men what to do:

A. Start caring about Toledo by investing in Toledo.
B. Move-in to Toledo, as I did 34 years ago.
C. Talk-up Toledo.
D. Give back to Toledo.

Well, they've all investing in Toledo - or tried to - and that's part of why they already care so much.

They don't need to live in Toledo when other communities offer them something Toledo can't. This part of the wrong thinking that permeates Toledo politicians. Rather than acknowledge that Toledo needs to change to attract people, especially the ones who've left, they just state people should move here and accept what's offered. By failing to recognize that we're getting killed by our competition (the surrounding areas and communities), politicians are not required to do anything different if the problem is the people leaving, rather than what the city is offering.

Talking up Toledo, the third dictate of the mayor, is hard to do when you've got so much you're trying to defend: kicking the Marines out of the city, taking over ambulance service, charging for fire response to accidents, red light and speed cameras to generate revenue, spending on pools and bike paths and flowers while ignoring his campaign promise to have 700 police officers, setting up a committee to review laws/regulations for business-friendliness then refusing to let them study the very first issue they ask about, threatening companies who want to leave Toledo (like Federal Express or Columbia Gas), and on and on and on... (Or you can read all the 'not business friendly' posts.)

As for giving back to Toledo - that implies Toledo has given these men something that needs to be returned. I reject this concept, especially as used by those on the left that you somehow owe allegiance to a city's politicians. Regardless of that point, these men do 'give back' through the United Way, Make-A-Wish and as employers hiring and paying people, and paying Toledo taxes - even though they live outside the city. And the whole issue of them not being able to vote is perhaps 'barking up a tree we don't want you to bark up,' as Carty has said in the past. The individuals who don't live in Toledo get no vote on how the taxes they pay through their payrolls or the property they own are spent. I recall some individuals actually having a revolution over that whole taxation without representation idea...

But a bigger point that's missed is that 'giving back to the community' has never been a criteria for political speech. Any person should be able to participate in the political process and it shouldn't matter whether or not they've lived up to someone else's expectations of 'giving back' in order to do so.

As I said on the radio last night, Carty made a politically strategic blunder by giving this speech disguised as a press conference. The last thing you want to do as a politician under attack is give more ammunition to your opponents - and Carty, true to form, did that in spades with the comments he made. He's elevated the recall effort by defending himself against it and by personally attacking the backers. Additionally, other than pursuing enforcement of a defunct regulation, he's got nothing else to use as ammunition - and he might even have more legal troubles than he currently has if Schlachter and McMahon really want to take exception to being called crooks and liars.

As local bar owner Bill Delaney explained, he's decided to get involved with the recall because of what Carty said in his speech. I can only wonder how many other people might have been similarly persuaded.

Update: Lisa Renee at Glass City Jungle has the complete text of remarks here.

WSPD's Fred LeFebvre talks with Brian McMahon and Tom Schlachter here.

Brian McMahon refutes Carty's claims in this interview with Brian Wilson on WSPD.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Mayor Finkbeiner demonstrates his ignorance - again

In defending himself against the planned recall effort launched by a group of business people (Take Back Toledo), Mayor Carty Finkbeiner made the following claim, as reported by our daily paper:

"Mr. Finkbeiner accused WSPD-AM, 1370, of violating the Fairness Doctrine in not allowing him to respond to what he said were "vicious, one-sided diatribes" over the last three years, and said he would ask Congress to investigate WSPD."

Apparently, our mayor doesn't know that the Fairness Doctrine was repealed and is no longer in effect, even though some of his fellow Democrats want to bring it back - maybe for reasons just like this.

For the record, the reason Carty is not allowed to be on WSPD is because, at a public meeting several years ago, he accused WSPD morning show host Fred LeFebvre of telling 'mis-truths, half-truths and outright lies.' He also threatened to contact advertisers on the station and pressure them to withdraw their business. When Carty failed to either provide proof of his statement or apologize, he was banned from being a guest on the talk radio shows WSPD hosts (Morning show, Afternoon Drive and Eye On Toledo). In return, Carty forbade any of his staff from being a guest on or caller to the shows.

As for the rest of the mayor's comments, he takes the usual personal swipes at the individuals involved with Take Back Toledo, saying the named individuals are only interested in power and wealth, though this would be characterized by some as the pot calling the kettle black...

We'll be talking about this tonight on Eye On Toledo at 6 p.m., and will have more sound from his press conference.

Rec Center vs. Arena - and the county budget

The Lucas County Commissioners have announced that they will no longer be booking events at the Lucas County Rec Center, though will they honor events scheduled there through June, 2009.

(WSPD story and audio, and Toledo Blade story)

The reason, they claim, is financial. The buildings, including the roofs, need between $750,000 to $1 million in repairs and, with the County facing declining revenue and laying off people, there is no money to pay for it.

Now, the funds for making these repairs would come from the County's Capital Improvement Program (CIP) - not from the general fund which is where the layoffs are coming from. And I know for a fact that the repairs at the Rec Center were on the CIP plan when I was a commissioner. Usually, items get placed on the list and move up as other projects are completed.

The problem isn't that the County doesn't have the money - it's that they're spending it elsewhere - namely, on the new arena.

Does anyone besides me find it rather disconcerting that the County cannot maintain the Rec Center, but they're building a new arena which will also have to be maintained?

Does anyone besides me wonder why we're spending our CIP money on an arena when we've not yet completed the items on the CIP list?

Does anyone besides me wonder where the County will get the money to repay the $18.5 million they've already borrowed to pay for the arena - or where they're going to find the additional $25 million in extra costs (original cost estimate was $80 million and is now $105 million)?

Is it likely that needs detailed in the CIP are being pushed aside in order to construct a shiny new arena? And, if so, is this the right priority?

Each person may have their own answers to these questions, but the fact that they aren't being discussed in public should send a warning to all County residents.
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