Wednesday, February 15, 2006

In my own words...

Tonight I announced that I will not seek re-election as Lucas County Commissioner.

My husband, Sam, and I made this decision in December. We worked with the party leadership here and in Columbus on how and when to make this announcement.

There are several personal reasons why we’ve made this decision.

Recently, my husband and I lost a very dear friend to brain cancer. This, along with some needs within our families, has caused us to reconsider several decisions we’ve made in the past as well as focus on what’s really important in our lives.

Sam and I have delayed many of our plans while I served in public office. We do not want to continue to put off those plans any longer.

I am proud of my accomplishments in office. As Clerk of Court, we brought the office into the 21st Century by instituting an integrated computerization program that is now a model across the country, and by modernizing the way the office operated. We removed the politics from the office to better meet the needs of the public.

In the last three years, I was proud to get our Workforce Investment Board up and running in the best possible manner to make sure our local workforce is ready to meet the needs of our employers. I am happy to say that today, it is a strong, independent organization driven by the needs of the business community, and it makes the local economy stronger.

I have worked for openness in the operation of county government, and have reached out to local elected officials around the county to make sure they were included.

In both positions I was elected by my professional peers to serve in leadership positions in statewide organizations. The fact that I have earned the respect of those who also do my jobs is an accomplishment I hold dear.

I am perhaps most proud that, in my service to Toledo and Lucas County, I have been a voice of reason and responsibility. I have not been afraid to speak my mind when I saw things that needed to be corrected, and I have not been afraid to pitch in and help fix them.

The years that I’ve spent as Clerk and as Commissioner would never be described as ‘easy.’ These positions have required more of me than any regular job and certainly more than most people actually realize. And while I have cherished being able to serve in these positions, I believe it’s time for someone with fresh energy to take up the fight of standing for conservative Republican principles.

I worked hard to be a good Clerk of Court and County Commissioner – making sure that I represent and serve ALL of Lucas County. I’m truly grateful for the friendships I’ve formed, for the terrific supporters that I have and for the privilege of serving in elective office. After I finish this term of office, I will begin looking for new opportunities, but whatever I decide to do, I am a richer person for having served in public office, and I will be forever grateful for the privilege.

Thank you.

Arena Considerations

The following was published in the Toledo Free Press on February 15th.

As Lucas County residents consider the possibility of a new arena, they will be inundated by proponents who will say that a sports arena is an economic development catalyst in an area – sort of the “you build it and they will come” mentality. While some of that statement may be true – just look at the new businesses that are surround 5/3 Field – overall, most studies show that arenas are not the economic panacea that many proclaim.

A study by Dennis Coates and Brad Humphreys, economics professors at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, found that most studies ask the question: what will happen if a new franchise and stadium enter the community? The problem, they say, is that stadiums simply displace dollar-for-dollar spending that would have occurred otherwise. The correct question to ask, then, is: how much stadium-related spending results in a net gain in spending?

When asking the right question, their study found that the professional sports environment has a statistically significant impact on the level of real per capita income and that overall impact is NEGATIVE.

Many other stadium economic impact studies show that most of the revenue generated from a new arena is merely money not spent by the same people elsewhere in the area. And the Coates/Humphreys study concluded that stadiums and sports teams were actually a tool for redistributing income in which the people from the suburbs subsidize businesses in the city. While these studies look primarily at major league sports arenas, if even the major leagues can’t attain an increase in spending in an area, what makes us think that minor league teams in Toledo will be able to do so?

Additionally, public spending on arenas diverts money that could be spent on other, essential services that government must, by law, provide. Such public funds could be spent on maintaining local infrastructure, increasing the quality or provision of public health/safety/education, attracting new businesses to the area, a new jail, or even reducing the tax rates we all must pay.

Based on the estimated costs, some entity must pay between $3.2 and $6.3 million in interest and principle for the construction of a new arena. Think of the water and sewer lines, roads and other infrastructure that could be done for $3.2 million to $6.3 million each year. How many shovel-ready sites for development could we prepare for that amount of money? If the County had $3.2 million to $6.3 million each year to spend on low interest loans to help purchase equipment for business expansions, how many jobs could local business owners provide? How far would that amount go to cover any unexpected reductions in our local government funding from the state?

When it comes to making a decision about a new arena in Toledo, the public needs to be given all the facts – not just a rosy picture. From an economic development perspective, a new arena will not be as successful as most politicians would want you to believe. From a financial perspective, a new arena is not self supporting, and public entities don’t have the leeway in already tight budgets to support it. Furthermore, I believe that most taxpayers will not support a new or additional tax to pay for a new arena, considering all the other obligations competing for their limited earnings.

So, should the County build a new arena at this time? I believe that we should focus on government’s mandated responsibilities first. But since I’m in the minority on this, at least let’s not decide to go forward without a vote of the people – after all, they’re the ones who’ll end up footing the bill.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The more things change...

It should come as no surprise that I'm a fan of Ronald Reagan. What some people may not know is that I'm also a fan of most of the positions advocated by Barry Goldwater, especially his Conscience of a Conservative.

Recently, in one of my emails, there was a link to Reagan's 1964 speech in support of Barry Goldwater who was running for president. I clicked on the link and re-read the speech entitled "A Time For Choosing" and I was struck with the similarities to today's world.

Regardless of your political perspective, the picture this speech draws - of the economy, a nation's stuggle with war, the concept of entitlements and trying to save Social Security - is as accurate today as it was then. And despite this being just the words, you can tell that Reagan knew how to deliver a speech.

I hope you'll take the time to read it and reflect, as I did.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

As a follow-up to my earlier post on social service cuts and pork, this is a link to a column by one of my favorite political columnists, Michelle Malkin, entitled "The government junkets you fund."

For a preview...
"$1,401,104,263. That's how much of our hard-earned money has gone to subsidize the spring break-style trips and conferences of the federal government over the last five years. Spending on bureaucracy boondoggles has increased some 70 percent in that time period. We wouldn't know anything about this binge if Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., hadn't asked."

It seems as if many individuals are thinking along the same lines - that governments have too much of our money to spend and they're not spending it wisely - or even with any respect to the fact that it's OUR money, not theirs.

This column details just some of the more egregious expenditures and I'm sure we'd be outraged to see a complete list. I'm grateful to Sen Coburn who's been willing to take a stand on this issue, even to his own detriment.

Ms. Malkin's column concludes:
"Blowhards in both parties in Washington have pledged to reduce spending and reform business as usual. Yet, Sen. Coburn's attempt to limit conference spending by just one agency -- HUD -- was anonymously stripped from an appropriations bill behind closed doors and unceremoniously killed.
Who did it? Let's have some transparency. Step forward and tell us why.
You want reform? You want smaller government? There's $1,401,104,263 and counting just waiting to be targeted.
Go ahead and make our day: Cut it out! "

I agree.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Is a new arena study needed?

The following was published in the February 8th issue of the Toledo Free Press.

At the State of the County address, I learned – along with the rest of the public – that the Lucas County would like to take over the arena project. The proposal is to hire Gateway Consulting to do a fiscal plan, site selection, garner public support, and develop an action plan for moving forward.

First, we already have several plans, so why do we need a new one, especially at a cost of $12,000/month? Second, the citizens of Toledo have already decided on a site. While my personal preference is not to put an arena on our prime waterfront property, I support the public’s decision to put it in the Marina District. Any change in location should go back to the voters for support.

Third, a new arena is not the same as 5/3 Field. The Pizzuti Companies recommend that a non-profit board be established to “own and manage” an arena – similar to the set up for Seagate Convention Center. Seagate receives significant public funding from the hotel/motel tax and they still cannot live within their budgets, requesting, annually, a quarter of a million dollars from the County’s general fund to help make ends meet.

Finally, an action plan already exists. It calls for more “partners” to help fund the costs, more financial support from federal and state governments, and suggests an additional tax in Lucas County to generate the revenue to pay for a new stadium.

Given these factors, what will another study do, except tell us what we already know?

So let’s look at the fiscal realities. The cost estimates for a 10,000 seat arena range from $61.5 to $78.3 million. By the time you add in site acquisition and even a parking garage, the total comes to somewhere between $73 and $126 million.

When it comes to commitments, the City of Toledo can only provide $5 million either in direct construction costs, if built in the marina district, or in infrastructure support, if built downtown…that pesky little section 79 of the City Charter getting in the way.

The State has committed $7.5 million, but this, too, is site specific in the marina district. To spend that money in another location would require either a waiver by the State Controlling Board or a change in the enabling legislation.

A financial report from Pizzuti, shows that the facility will have about $400,000 to apply to debt each year – this means that the operating income can support bond financing of only $6.7 million. Add these three commitments together and you get $19.7 million available for the arena – which means we’re still short between $53.3 and $106 million.

Some entity must be able to afford interest and debt payments of $3.2 million to $6.3 million each year to cover the costs of a new arena.

Currently, all that’s been taken into account is public money and a small amount from the actual operations of the arena. Where is the private investment?

Joe Robie Stadium, home to the Miami Dolphins, was built with $12 million of Joe Robie’s own money and $90 million in loans from three private banks. The Fleet Center, home to the Boston Celtics, was privately financed except for road improvements, a mass transit station and service costs. The St. Louis Blues built their facility with a $30 million investment from the owners and a bank loan for the rest of the facility costs. The city provided the land and paid $10 million for land clearance.

How much is the Storm willing to invest in their future home? And how much are local banks willing to loan for such a facility? David Swindell, in an article for the Buckeye Institute said, “private financial markets will provide funding for the most economically profitable projects. If significant private financing is not available, taxpayers and policymakers, should take that as a sign that the sports facility is not a good investment.” In fact, the only reason more sports franchise owners decline to construct their own stadium is because taxpayers so often relieve them of the need to do so.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Super Bowl - and its commercials

Super Bowl Sunday held special meaning in my family this year as the Pittsburgh Steelers returned. Yes, I'm a Steelers fan from way back when.

Interestingly enough, it was my Mom who was - and still is - the #1 football fan in our family, and it was her fondness for Terry Bradshaw that caused our tv to be turned to whatever channel featured the Steelers. My sister and I grew up trying to decide whether it would be Franco Harris or Lynn Swan who was going to get the play. Quite naturally, both of us turned out to be devoted fans.

So it was the two of us that the rest of my family and friends had to tolerate last night. We jumped, clapped, yelled, cringed, and celebrated. We annoyed everyone with our own instant replays and critique of the game. We decided we really liked the ref, even though his call on the Rothlisberger touchdown will be discussed for weeks. And now it's over...left-over sloppy joes and brownie crumbs are all that's left of the party and it will be months before we'll see our beloved team on the field again.

So now it's a question of what we'll do with Sundays for the rest of the winter.

Which is why, we've decided, Super Bowl commercials have taken on such interest. We watch them during the game, but they're not really the focus, so now we have them to look forward to.

I admit that some of them I didn't quite get. We weren't really sure what to think of the rather elaborate production of dancing women that turned out to be a Burger King commercial. In case you missed it, the women were in costumes that turned out to be a bun, a burger and all the trimmings - jumping on top of each other at the end to form a whopper. Very, very strange - but then - most of the newer BK "king" commercials are.

We thought the Clydesdale pony getting help from "mom and dad" to pull the Budweiser wagon pulled at the heartstrings. We loved the "rotating wall" to hide the refrigerator full of beer - only to have the neighbors in the apartment next door bowing toward the source of a fully-stocked refrigerator (this is a must see if you missed it).

But my favorite was the cell phone commercial with the "anti-theft" device. I only saw part of it, so I don't even know which company it was for...and I missed the last couple of lines as I tended to refills for my guests - but it was, by far, the one we all liked best and I'll look forward to seeing it again.

Good fun with the commercials, a good game (especially since we won), good food and good friends to share it all with - Super Bowl Sunday.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Social services, tax cuts and "pork"

Yesterday, my fellow commissioners held a press conference to object to the budget reconciliation bill passed by the House. In addition to a series of changes to Medicaid and Medicare, the legislation in its final form contains a 5-year reauthorization of the TANF program, reductions to the child welfare program, and a series of changes to the child support enforcement program.

Commissioner Wozniak and Gerken said we shouldn’t cut services to pay for “tax cuts to the rich.” I believe the quote Comm. Gerken used was “Robin Hood in reverse – taking from the poor to give to the rich.”

Besides being typical Democrat Party rhetoric, this perspective clearly misses the point. The tax cuts are not the reason that the federal government is cutting spending - Americans across the country are asking their governments at all levels to cut spending.

The issue isn’t that government doesn’t have enough money to spend – it’s HOW they’re spending the money they do have. And it’s our demands that complicate the issue.

You see, while we all want government to cut spending, we never actually want government to cut our spending.

If we’re unhappy with cuts in actual social service dollars, then we should be willing to tell our representatives in Washington what we DO want cut…and let’s start with looking at our own community. What would be more important to us – to have money put back into essential services for children or to have the following “pork” projects, as identified by Citizens Against Government Waste:

**$2,000,000 for the University of Toledo (Agricultural Research Service - Buildings and Facilities)

**$1,000,000 for the City of Toledo Police Athletic League Youth Center for at-risk youth (Discretionary Grants - Juvenile Justice Programs)

**$500,000 for the University of Toledo Center for Parents Criminal Justice Program (State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance - Byrne Discretionary Grant)

**$1,500,000 for the Toledo Shipyard Improvement Plan (Operation and Maintenance, Navy)

**$1,000,000 for the University of Toledo/Bowling Green Fuel Cell Research project [Hydrogen] (Renewable Energy Resources - Department of Energy)

**$1,000,000 for the Toledo combined sewer overflow project [Ohio Environmental Infrastructure] (Corps of Engineers: Construction)

**$450,000 for Mercy Health Partners, Toledo (Health Resources and Services Administration - Department of Health and Human Services)

**$650,000 for Medical College of Ohio at Toledo for facilities and equipment (Health Resources and Services Administration - Department of Health and Human Services)

**$275,000 for Toledo Public Schools, for its Construction Career Academy (Fund for the Improvement of Education - Department of Education)

**$50,000 for the Toledo Zoo, for Thinking Works (Fund for the Improvement of Education - Department of Education)

**$200,000 for Ohio Educational Television Stations (OETS), Toledo, for the Ohio Cares Project (Social Services & Income Maintenance - Administration for Children and Families)

**$50,000 for Toledo Children's Hospital, Toledo, for health promotion and risk prevention programs targeted to teenagers (Public Health Improvement and Leadership - HHS)

**$6,900,000 to Replace logistics complex at Toledo Express Airport (Air National Guard)

**975,000 for Toledo (Terminal Air Traffic Control Facilities Replacement - Federal Aviation Administration)

**$350,000 for Toledo JARC (Job Access and Reverse Commute Grants - Federal Transit Adminstration)

**$1,250,000 for Toledo downtown waterfront redevelopment (Federal-Aid Highways - Federal Highway Administration)

**$250,000 for Cherry-Bancroft-Summit Corridor Neighborhood Business District revitalization, Toledo (Federal-Aid Highways - Federal Highway Administration)

**$250,000 for Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority for the Northwest Ohio Brownfield Restoration Initiative (Economic Development Initiative)

**$242,500 for City of Toledo for building construction and streetscape improvements along Detroit Avenue (Economic Development Initiative)

**$97,000 for Lagrange Development Corporation in Toledo for construction of a community center (Economic Development Initiative)

**$630,500 for City of Toledo for the Erie Street Market for facilities reconstruction (Economic Development Initiative)

**$97,000 for City of Toledo for economic development planning for the Reynolds Road Green Corridor Project (Economic Development Initiative)

**$1,000,000 for City of Toledo for wet weather flow and wastewater infrastructure improvements (State and Tribal Assistance Grants - EPA)

**$650,000 for University of Toledo for the Lake Erie Center (Science and Technology - EPA)

**$1,700,000 for the University of Toledo Turbine Institute (NASA)

**$1,000,000 for the Maumee Watershed Hydrological Study and Flood Mitigation Plan (Conservation Operations)

**$1,500,000 for the Maumee River Basin (NOAA - National Ocean Service, Construction)

**$325,000 for Lourdes College, Sylvania, for science equipment, technology, and instructional resources, and for the Lourdes College Planetarium (Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education)

**$500,000 for Lucas County for law enforcement technologies (Law Enforcement Technology - Community Oriented Policing Services)

**$1,000,000 for McCord Road, Lucas County, grade separation (Rail-Highway Grade Crossing Mitigation - Federal Railroad Administration)

**$250,000 for Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority for the Northwest Ohio Brownfield Restoration Initiative (Economic Development Initiative)

( Source :

Do we seriously think that renovations at Erie Street Market, planetarium equipment, streetscape improvements, educational television and planning a “green corridor” project are more important than essential services for our children? But I guarantee that for each one of these projects listed above, there will be a significant number of people who will say that we just have to have federal money for this, so don’t cut this project.

And these are just the ones from our area. Consider the costs when you combine all the counties in the country – not to mention the cost of the “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska.

With limited amounts of funding, firm priorities need to be established. Our goal should be to get government to spend money only on that which is detailed in the Constitution and collect enough in taxes only to cover those obligations. But as long as voters demand these pork-barrel projects, politicians will continue to try and gain the support of various special interest groups by “purchasing” their goodwill with our tax dollars.

The tax cuts weren’t just for the rich – they applied to everyone who actually paid taxes, including Commissioners Wozniak and Gerken. We don’t need to repeal the tax cuts. We need to have our representatives in Washington stop spending money on projects that just buy votes and, instead, reserve those funds for mandated government services. And we need to stand strongly behind them when they do.

Friday, February 03, 2006

We could lose Costco

It was only a matter of time before we got “official” word that Costco has had offers from other communities both inside and outside of Lucas County (per Elizabeth Holland on the WSPD morning show). I’m just surprised it took this long.

And imagine how attractive an offer of “pick a spot and we’ll make it happen” would be to Costco…

Toledo is on the brink of losing this project. Abell is willing to invest $35 million dollars while bringing in good jobs and revenue to the City and County and Mayor Finkbeiner is quibbling over the issue of wider sidewalks, less green space and a drive-through.

But the Mayor’s positions are not the major issue in this fiasco – his approach is. He made up his mind about his personal vision of what Westgate should look like and he’s stubbornly insisting upon that vision. He is ignoring basic market and business realities as well as signed contracts that Abell has with potential tenants – contracts which were based upon previous approval from the Office of the Mayor.

And, by doing this, he continues to send a negative message to the business community. I can’t help but wonder what the new owners of Miracle Mile are thinking. Does anyone believe that they’re actually looking forward to submitting plans for redevelopment?

Further, the Mayor’s personal comments about Elizabeth Holland are rather hypocritical – such descriptions of “obstinate” and an attitude of “my way or the highway” could very easily be used to describe the Mayor.

Carty excuses his behavior by saying he’s doing what’s in the best interests of the City. And I believe that he believes this. But has he considered that his insistence on his position may well end up being bad for the Toledo in the long run if it costs us this development? Ms. Holland has already made further compromises – is Carty willing to compromise too?

During Carty’s campaign he said that the business community must lead our economic development – that government should provide a supportive role in that process. Perhaps he’s forgotten this in his zeal to interfere in the Westgate project.

But there is a solution to this dilemma – if Carty really wants his own way on this perhaps he should just purchase the entire site himself and then he can develop it any way he wants.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Westgate Fiasco

(This article was written on January 30th and published in the February 1st edition of the Toledo Free Press.)

Elizabeth Holland and Abell companies decide to renovate Westgate Village Shopping Center. They meet with potential tenants and neighbors, review zoning restrictions, do their market research, sign tenants and make a public announcement of a $35 million investment. They ask for infrastructure support – water/sewer/roads – that would be necessary regardless of what goes into Westgate. They spend 18 months doing their planning and preparation and then, at the last minute, they learn that three elected officials don’t “like” what they’ve got planned.

These three hold a press conference, without advance notice to Ms. Holland, and state publicly that they’re going to hire their own architect and lawyer (because they believe the law is on their side…merely an intimidation tool) to come up with their own plan for how they want this redeveloped property to look. They then meet, behind closed doors, to figure out how to pay for their plan and they decide that the Lucas County Improvement Corporation should foot the bill – and if they don’t then the County and City will just split the cost.

Without actually asking for LCIC support first, they give the go-ahead to the architect and lawyer who do the work and then release their plan. Their timing was based upon a sense of urgency to get their plan out in the public before the developer could present her plan – because, obviously, their plan is better.

Of course, like any plan developed by politicians, major issues were not considered and the result, so far, is a fiasco, with Abell calling the plan “unworkable” and some components a “deal-breaker” if insisted upon.

The final straw, however, came when Mayor Finkbeiner publicly stated that wealthy developers try to use money to influence our Plan Commission. Has our mayor ever heard the term “libel?”

Had I been consulted on this issue, I would have objected strenuously to any public announcement with first having met with Ms. Holland to understand her position on the design of Westgate. I would have said to Ms. Holland, “We’ve got some Westgate neighbors who are concerned about the walkability of the site. How do we help you address these concerns?” I would have worked with her to understand the depth of planning and market research and then would have worked with the neighbors to help them understand why the plan is as it is and why any modifications could or could not be made.

Consider the message that the business community has received with the Finkbeiner/Wozniak plan, as it’s become known: we don’t care how much homework you do to develop a profitable venture, if it doesn’t suit our personal tastes, we’ll use the power of our office to force you do things our way. We’ll then accuse you of trying to influence the process – completely ignoring the fact that that is exactly what we’re trying to do.

What message would the business community received if, instead, we tried to help Ms. Holland dispel the neighborhood concerns and then stood by her, defending her exhaustive market research and the desires of the tenants to have a facility that helps them – and subsequently, the city and county – make money?

That Mayor Finkbeiner, Commissioner Wozniak and Commissioner Gerken have never been business owners is clearly evident in the many factors they failed to consider before going down this ill-fated road. I realize that they don’t like to include the “Republican” in their plans – this is an election year for me, afterall. But they, and the entire community, would have been better served had they bothered to at least ask, “Maggie, you’ve run a company before, if you were Elizabeth Holland, what would you think about this?”

Right now, though, we have two choices: continue to insist that the personal preferences of elected officials take precedence over the legal plans of private developer and continue to expend public dollars to do so, or apologize for how rudely we’ve handled the situation and humbly ask what we can do to help Ms. Holland make Westgate profitable once again. I choose the latter.
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