Thursday, September 28, 2006

Updates on water and arena

Sorry to not have been timely in my updates on various issues, but everything came together over the last three days ... so here they are - updates on the Water Agreement and the Arena Project.

Water Agreement: I held the public meeting Monday night and there were about 50 people in attendance, including trustees from many of the Lucas County townships. Jim Shaw, the county's director of public service, and Bob Williams, from the City of Toledo, were present to explain the agreement, the service area and answer any questions.

There was an overview of the agreement, including the summary of conditions that staff had put together. It was about a 10 minute presentation and then Jim took questions from the audience. Several questions were referred to Mr. Williams and most were answered. There were a couple of issues where neither individual had definitive answers or where the answer was dependent upon interpretation. Mr. Shaw promised to have definitive answers prior to the BCC vote the next morning.

After the Q&A, I asked what was the preference of the group. One individual said that the agreement should be signed. Everyone else said that the agreement should either be rejected or delayed for more input or more negotiations over the terms.

Tuesday morning, there were emails from three of the five townships impacted by the agreement formally asking the Commissioners to delay the vote. (The letters and the audio from the BCC meeting are available here.) Swanton and Richfield Townships wanted to have more opportunity to discuss the terms and conditions. Providence Township wanted time to hold a public meeting in Providence to have county and city representatives explain the agreement to their residents. The emails were sent to all three commissioners and I presented the requests at the meeting.

My colleagues did not believe there was any need to delay the vote and, after several legal clarifications on the language, the agreement was approved 2-1. I voted no.

My impression on this is one of amazement. Tina Skeldon Wozniak is usually one for allowing input and reaching consensus. According to the trustees, she never even discussed this agreement with any of them. I also don't understand the rush - especially considering the fact that the agreement was being circulated among the commissioners for signature without a vote. Had I not asked if they'd voted on this while I was in Hungary, it would have been signed and applied without ever coming before the BCC. Upon realizing that it needed a vote before being signed, it got scheduled for the next meeting (9-26). While the townships received a copy of the agreement late July/early August, there was no request for comments or deadline for input.

As I said at the Monday meeting, this is a terrific agreement for the City of Toledo and I understand them wanting such terms. But agreements are supposed to be about negotiation and mutually acceptable terms - and that's not what happened with this contract. Toledo put their terms to paper and the BCC accepted them without any input from those directly impacted.

Comm. Wozniak said that other options for water supply would have cost more money. The comments at my meeting indicated that perhaps paying more money would have been a better alternative than complete control by Toledo. She also said that this was better than requiring annexation - but many at the meeting felt that annexation wasn't necessary if you've already got control of the townships through the terms of the agreement.

Comm. Gerken said that the townships don't have to participate. But then what's the purpose of an agreement if none of the townships participate? Just to say you have a piece of paper?

Anyway, with this agreement signed, the townships can certainly enter into agreements with other sources for water in their jurisdiction, but the County would not be allowed to be involved. The agreement limits us to providing ONLY City of Toledo water until 2024 and there is no option for the County to get out of the agreement...the agreement can only be terminated by MUTUAL agreement - and that's the first time I've seen such a restrictive clause on any county contract.

Considering the total lack of logic and the rush, I can't help but believe that there is something else going on - I just don't know what it is. But I'm sure that, if true, one day soon something will be reported and we'll all go "a-ha!"

Arena Project: We held the first public hearing on the arena project Tuesday night at the McMaster Center in the downtown Library. (I love this venue for a presentation/meeting!) The powerpoint presentation and accompanying talk was very well done - more focused on the sight selection than the finances, but most of the aspects of the report were covered.

There were, throughout the evening with people coming and going, 47 individuals who attended. However, 28 of those were elected officials and their staff, candidates/campaign staff, media, individuals involved with the project (The Collaborative, p.r. firm), or plan commission members/staff. I was disappointed that only about 19 individuals from the general public were there.

There was a period for Q&A and several times, individuals were refered to the full report - and the exhibits - for more detailed information. In general, the questions were about my colleagues' votes on city council for the arena in the marina district and the "keeping the arena on the East Side" issue, availability of parking downtown versus the ease of parking at the current Sports Arena, and the projected size not being big enough in terms of fixed seating.

The really interesting comment was when Comm. Gerken said he'd talked to Sen. Randy Gardner about being able to impose the increased hotel-motel tax in Wood County since those hotels would also benefit from a downtown arena and that "Sen. Gardner was not opposed" to that idea. Fred LeFebvre, from WSPD, asked Rep. Peter Ujvagi (who was the only state rep to attend) if he'd be supporting the bill to increase the tax in Columbus. Rep. Ujvagi replied yes - especially if it would apply to both Lucas and Wood County.

Of course, this got covered on the radio the next day with Sen. Gardner clarifying that he's certainly OPPOSED to such an arrangement and that the chances of something like that passing the legislature was 0%. (This made the second time in two days that Sen. Gardner had to clarify his position based upon comments from Comm. Gerken.) Rumor has it that Comm. Gerken also sent out email clarification that Lucas County is not interested in collecting additional hotel-motel taxes from Wood County...

Additionally, I received a letter from a large number of hotel-motel owners stating that they are opposed to the idea of increasing the hotel-motel tax to fund an arena. Interestingly, according to them, Monclova's total taxes on rooms would be the highest in the nation if such an increase were passed. I will keep you posted on further developments.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Details on the proposed water agreement

I wanted to post some details about the proposed water agreement between Lucas County and the City of Toledo for supply of water to areas of western Lucas County which don't currently have water.

The agreement was discussed between county and city staff. Despite the fact that it significantly impacts the townships, they were not at the table to provide input. This is a major problem for me, in that their issues and concerns were not even considered.

My second issue is that the BCC has not held any public hearings on this proposal. Staff will tell you that we don't normally do such hearings, but this agreement is so much more restrictive than our current terms that I felt it would have been a good idea to get input from those impacted by our decision. This is why I've scheduled a public meeting to hear from people on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Springfield Township Hall on Angola.

Our current agreement calls for county recipients of Toledo-supplied water to pay the Toledo rates plus a 50% surcharge. The new agreement calls for a 75% surcharge. Additionally, staff has provided the following summary of terms:

Service Area: All of the township area in western Lucas County not in the July 6, 2005 Lucas County and September 9, 2005 Berkey water agreements, subject to restrictions involving the creation of a JEDD in each township.

(A JEDD is a Joint Economic Development District - from Wikipedia: A Joint Economic Development District (JEDD) is an arrangement in Ohio where one or more municipalities and a township agree to work together to develop township land for commercial or industrial purposes. The benefit to the municipality is that they get a portion of the taxes levied in the JEDD without having to annex it. The benefits to the township are that it does not lose prime development land, it can still collect property taxes, and it normally receives water from the municipality, which it may not otherwise have.

To create a JEDD, the municipality and township work together to create a contract. This contract specifies details such as how taxes are levied and shared, annexation prohibitions, and water rates. The communities then vote on the agreement. The issue must pass in each community for the JEDD to be approved.)

Lucas County Obligations: (These obligations also apply to the townships.)
* Adoption of the Fourteen Principles of Smart Growth and accompanying goals promulgated by TMACOG in June, 2003.
* Participation in studies or efforts designed to promote regional cooperation.
* The successful creation of a JEDD in appropriate territory of each township before water is provided to that township.
* Compliance with the Lucas County Land Use Policy Plan update adopted by the Lucas County Planning Commission on September 27, 2000.

Connection restrictions:
* No water in a township that fails to create a satisfactory JEDD. The unapproved modification of a previously created JEDD shall terminate Toledo's obligation to provide water to new customers in that township and shall authorize Toledo to impose the non-contract water rate on that township's existing customers served under this agreement.
* Water available to existing residential structures. No taps larger than one inch permitted unless mutually agreed.
* Water available to new residential structures that comply with the Lucas County Land Use Policy Plan Update adopted by the Lucas County Planning Commission on September 27, 200, only upon prior written approval of Toledo.
* Water available to existing or new commercial or industrial structures only upon prior written approval of Toledo.
* No sanitary sewers can be installed to serve properties receiving Toledo water unless required by a regulatory agency (at which time Toledo can stop new connections to the sewered area).

Water rates: First block Toledo inside rate plus a 75% surcharge.

Term: Agreement shall terminate October 10, 2024.

Some notes:

*"successful creation" of a "satisfactory" JEDD: First, the term 'satisfactory' clearly refers to Toledo's definition of 'satisfactory,' so even if the township trustees are willing to do a JEDD, they may not be willing to adopt Toledo's definition of "satisfactory." Second, 'successful' means that even if township trustees and the city of Toledo reach an agreement, it is subject to a vote of the township - if the voters were to reject such an agreement, no water will be supplied.

* any modification or termination of a JEDD means Toledo will not have to provide water to any new customers and all existing customers will be charged the "non-contract water rate." This is, according to the Toledo Municipal Code 933.02(b) a 100% surcharge.

* Toledo's written approval is needed before water can be supplied to any new residential structures.

* Toledo's written approval is needed before water can be supplied to any EXISTING or new commercial or industrial structure.

* The county will be limited in its ability to provide sewer services to county residents, unless so required by a regulatory agency like the Health Department or the EPA. This means that our existing sewer services cannot be expanded, meaning that any costs of service and maintenance must be born by existing customers and not, over time, spread out among a larger service area.

Some other things within the agreement:

* Standard language exists that if, for any reason, Toledo doesn't have sufficient water, it can limit the water it provides to the county. Under such conditions, the county may seek other sources of water to meet its needs until such time as the water shortage is eliminated.

* The service area is non-exclusive. Even with the agreement, Toledo can still enter into other agreements and provide water directly within the service area.

* Any proposed sewer service shall be submitted to the Plan Commission for their review of whether or not the proposed service is in accordance with the water agreement AND in accordance with the smart growth principles. The Plan Commission must prepare a written report of its findings to Toledo.

* Should any regulatory agency order sanitary sewers to be installed, Toledo may, in its sole discretion, prohibit any or all new service connections to structures that are or could be served by the sanitary sewers.

* Toledo reserves the right to deny water taps to new structures in any area impacted by an AMENDMENT of the adopted Land Use Plan that is enacted without Toledo's written approval. This means that any time a township wants to amend their Land Use Plan, they have to submit the proposed changes to Toledo for their approval - otherwise, Toledo can deny water...

* If there is any unauthorized or ineligible connection, the surcharge increases 5% for each one - and that surcharge is applied to ALL water customers in the service area.

* Toledo has the right to inspect the County's facilities used to provide water in the service area.

* Toledo's Department of Public Utilities must approve all construction or modification plans of the County's facilities to provide water. Toledo can require a feasibility report prior to granting such approval.

* Toledo's Department of Public Utilities must approve all the County's plans and specifications for the construction of any improvement within the service area. Only after such approval has been granted can the County take bids and begin construction.

* Construction standards must be in accordance with Toledo's standards at the time, and Toledo has the authority to inspect all work.

* Not only does Toledo have the right to negotiate agreements directly within the service area, Toledo also has the right to use the County's lines within the service area, subject to a charge for the actual operation and maintenance costs, for the purpose of supplying water to its customers inside or outside the service area, provided such use does not impair the service to Lucas County.

* This new agreement expires on the same date as the County's existing water agreement for everyone else within the jurisdiction. It is expected that any new agreement at that time will seek to impose the terms of this newly proposed agreement upon everyone else.

* A miscellaneous term: The parties will cooperate to attract state development aid, federal funds and employment training dollars to their jurisdictions. In addition, the parties agree to support state legislation that facilities tax-sharing arrangements between political subdivisions and which permits the use of water funds for economic development purposes.

I believe that this agreement is clearly in Toledo's best interest, and I have no objection to them hoping to get such terms. But this agreement is not in the County's best interest, in terms of the restrictions it places upon the County for provision of sewer services as well as the requirment that County lines can be used (only at cost - not any surcharge) should Toledo decide it wants to provide water directly to an entity within our jurisdiction.

I will wait for the public meeting Monday to see if the townships think the agreement is in their best interests, or if loss of autonomy is too high a price to pay for water from Toledo.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Water Agreement Meeting

The Commissioners have the proposed water agreement with the City of Toledo on our agenda for our meeting on Tuesday, September 26th at 9:30 a.m. This will be a pretty busy meeting as Tom Chema is scheduled to be present to address the arena study (and I have lots of questions).

However, there haven't been any public hearings for the Commissioners to get feedback from the county residents this agreement will impact. So I've scheduled a meeting to gain your input on the issue.

The meeting is Monday, September 25th at 7 p.m. in the Springfield Township Hall on Angola Road.

I hope you will come, learn about the terms of the proposed agreement (if you don't already know), ask questions and get answers, and then provide me with feedback. Jim Shaw, the county's sanitary engineer, will also be available with maps of current service areas and jurisdictions impacted by the proposed agreement.

If you cannot make this meeting and have any questions, you can post them here, email me at the office ( or call my office at 419-213-4229.

Michael Miller's wit

Micheal Miller, editor in chief of the Toledo Free Press (see link at the side), always does a column each week. Some are serious, some are thought-provoking and some are just plain in this week's column, "Words to live by (in Toledo)."

(I'd provide a direct link, but it's not available electronically, yet.)

He's nominated some words for inclusion in the 2007 Merriam-Webster dictionary and you must read the entire list. While I think it's a sad reflection on what's going one, I'm particularly flattered by:

Entry: thur*ber
Definition: To be cordoned off; split from main body; inappropriately separated from a process.
Usage: The fire left the deer thurbered in the woods. They are thurbering her by making decisions without her input.

My favorite entry in his list is "bi*sect*ual - "a political party divided into conflicting sections. The local Democrats are split in two teams, so each side of the donkey is a half-ass, bisectual version of the whole."

Read the entire list and let me know your favorites...or create your own!

Saturday, September 16, 2006


My apologies - I've obviously messed up something because all my posts are now underlined and bolded. I haven't put any underlined or bolded posts in lately, so I don't know how this happened and, despite trying a couple of things, I cannot seem to make it go away.

If you have any experience with this kind of thing or have any suggestions to correct it, I'd be very grateful for your advice!

UPDATE: Many thanks to Lisa Renee at GlassCityJungle for her help in locating what appears to be source of the problem - code in the feed from the SOB Alliance which, when removed, eliminated the bolding and underlining. I'll check back later with the Alliance to see if that was the cause and if I can re-add the links...

Constitution Day

September 17th is Constitution Day where we commemorate the signing of our Constitution. On the 13th, Walter Williams, one of my favorite columnists, wrote on the topic and I think he's said much of what I would have - but in a better way. His column is reproduced here:

"Each year since 2004, on Sept. 17, we commemorate the 1787 signing of the U.S. Constitution by 39 American statesmen. The legislation creating Constitution Day was fathered by Sen. Robert Byrd and requires federal agencies and federally funded schools, including universities, to have some kind of educational program on the Constitution.

I cannot think of a piece of legislation that makes greater mockery of the Constitution, or a more constitutionally odious person to father it -- Sen. Byrd, a person who is known as, and proudly wears the label, "King of Pork." The only reason that Constitution Day hasn't become a laughingstock is because most Americans are totally ignorant of, or have contempt for, the letter and spirit of our Constitution.

Let's examine just a few statements by the framers to see just how much faith and allegiance today's Americans give to the U.S. Constitution. James Madison is the acknowledged father of the Constitution. In 1794, when Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief for French refugees who fled from insurrection in San Domingo (now Haiti) to Baltimore and Philadelphia, James Madison said disapprovingly, "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."

Today, at least two-thirds of a $2.5 trillion federal budget is spent on "objects of benevolence." That includes Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, aid to higher education, farm and business subsidies, welfare, etc., ad nauseam. James Madison's vision was later expressed by Rep. William Giles of Virginia, who condemned a relief measure for fire victims. Giles insisted that it was neither the purpose nor a right of Congress to "attend to what generosity and humanity require, but to what the Constitution and their duty require."

Some presidents had similar constitutional respect. In 1854, President Franklin Pierce vetoed a bill to help the mentally ill, saying, "I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity," adding that to approve the measure "would be contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution and subversive to the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded."

President Grover Cleveland vetoed many congressional appropriations, often saying there was no constitutional authority for such an appropriation. Vetoing a bill for relief charity, President Cleveland said, "I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit."

Constitutionally ignorant people might argue that the Constitution's "general welfare" clause justifies today's actions by Congress. Here's what James Madison said: "If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions." Thomas Jefferson echoed, in a letter to Pennsylvania Rep. Albert Gallatin, "Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated."

James Madison explained the constitutional limits on federal power in Federalist Paper No. 45: "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined . . . [to] be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce."

Here are my questions to you: Has our Constitution been amended to authorize federal spending on "objects of benevolence"? Or, is it plain and simple constitutional contempt by Congress, the president, the courts and, worst of all, the American people? Or, am I being overly pessimistic and it's simply a matter of constitutional ignorance?"

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Last day in Hungary

As our last day was spent sight-seeing, I've decided to show some photos of the interesting things we saw. I've been told that I'll have to do a slide presentation - perhaps at the Hungarian Club - in order to share the rest of the pictures with those interested. I must say that the architecture is MAGNIFICENT. Many of the buildings are in the process of being restored - but even the ones that aren't are amazing in terms of the stonework and sculptures. You can't look at any row of buildings without seeing something amazing.

Hero's Square:

The 7 chieftans with Arpad, the leader in the center.

One of the sculptures on the circular tribute. This one is actually the second from the left in the photo of the square above.

Inside the circular monument are individual statutes of various heroes. This is St. Stephen, the first King of Hungary.

Under each statute is a three-dimensional plaque. This one is St. Stephen's.

Across from Hero's square is a reproduction Transylvanian castle - every detail meticulously copied, down to the moat. It houses the Museum of Agriculture and, again, the architectural highlights are not to be missed.

The chapel inside the castle, complete with full-size statutes over the entrance. Another portion of the castle had this woman and child next to the doorway.

This is a "spa" which is actually a public pool fed by mineral springs and a 'bath' area fed by hot springs. Massage and physical therapy are available and many doctors prescribe such treatments for rheumatism and arthritis.

On many of the main streets, there are special bike lanes designated on the sidewalks. You walk here at your own peril!

The Basillica.

And it's dome. From outside the actual church area, you can walk up to the top of the dome, access the outer walkway and walk around the external structure of the dome. We happened to be there at noon to hear the bells.

This weekend, I will try to figure out a way to put the photos from my other days onto a viewer to make it easier to see them. I will also consider posting the excellent views of the Castle on Castle Hill and the church where all the kings of Hungary have been crowned.

But I leave you with this...the view on the ride up to Castle Hill. This is the famous Budapest "Chain Bridge" with the Basillica in the background.

This weekend, I will try to figure out a way to put the photos from my other days onto a viewer to make it easier to see them. I will also consider posting the excellent views of the Castle on Castle Hill and the church where all the kings of Hungary have been crowned. But I leave you with this:

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The capital - Budapest

We left Szeged at 8:30 this morning and arrived at our hotel in Budapest around 11 a.m. Traffic in Budapest is MUCH heavier than in Szeged – this is a bustling city full of people and energy, old buildings and new.

Our hotel used to be a workers’ dormitory. The elevator has enough room for three people – if they’re close. Interestingly, you open a swinging door and the elevator doors then slide open. The elevator doors don’t close if the swinging door is not closed. Our rooms are very clean, but sparse. The room itself if about 10x10 with a twin bed, two chairs and a side table, a desk, an 18-inch tv and a cabinet for hanging up any clothes. The bathroom is larger than the one in Szeged, but not as well-equiped. There is no shower curtain and the hand-held shower head, which is connected to the bathroom sink, is the only source of water in the tub. The walls, however, are a pretty blue tile.

Since our check-in wasn’t until 2, we locked up our bags and went sight-seeing. We first stopped by Elizabeth Balint’s apartment (which she owns, but it’s not called a condo here), and met her mother. We then took a bus to Margrit Island – an island in the middle of the Danube between the Buda and the Pest sides of Budapest. It had a beautitul fountain and sculpture in a pond. We walked around the garden at the end, then took the bus – followed by the tram – to the Parliament building. The Mayor of Szentes had arranged for a special tour just for our group. It started at 2:45 p.m. which put us in the dome area during the guard tribute. Three guards, dressed in old-time uniforms, proceeded into the dome, saluted the crown/scepter/orb, stood guard for 15 minutes, then returned to their prior stations. This tribute happens every hour on the hour and we were fortunate to be able to witness it.

Following our tour of the Parliament building, we went to the most remarkable market. It was in a glass building and had all kinds of food vendors on the first floor (where we got paprika) and various shops on the top floor (where we bought tablecloths and hand-carved eggs). The place was packed with residents purchasing food and tourists purchasing goods. (I couldn’t help but think of Carty running around saying “this is what our Erie Street Market should be.”)

After dinner, we took a night cruise on the Danube and saw the buildings lit up at night – a remarkable sight, indeed!

This is the front entrance to Parliament. The middle main entrance is only used for visits from heads of state.

The accepted date of the founding of the nation of Hungary is 896 AD. There are, therefore, 96 steps leading from the main entrance to the main floor of the building.

One of the many figures on the columns in the lobby of the House of Lords - a peasant woman with her skirt filled with grapes. They were placed there to remind the Lords of the people they represent and on whose behalf they were making decisions.

The House of Lords was eliminated in favor of a single, combined parliament. The chamber is now use for special events, speeches, etc. It was being set up for some type of piano concert during our visit.

Night photos of Budapest...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Last day of the official program

Today was a very busy day – perhaps the busiest in terms of number of people we met and in the amount of time spent on the official program.

We started the morning with the President of the Csongrad General Assembly. We talked about the expectations each county has for the sister-county relationship. Csongrad and Lucas are very similar. Both have a major city (Toledo and Szeged) with smaller suburban cities and villages. While Lucas has townships, Csongrad has the rural, undeveloped areas. All of Hungary is in a process of change as they more closely align with the policies of the European Union. A lot of time is being spent on developing priorities for how the country will spend their allotment (or grant) from the EU. The purpose of the monies is to bring the infrastructure and roads up-to-date…but every county and city is lobbying for their project over the others. And there is a lot of room for improvement in creating highways and installing sewer systems.

Like Lucas, Csongrad faces an unemployment rate that his higher than the country’s and the issue of how to more effectively market the products. They are concerned about bird flu, dioxins, ensuring the safety of the food products made/grown in the county or imported (due to their closeness to the border. Diabetes is a problem with a significant number of people and, while they have developed food products to address such issues, they have no willing investors to help manufacture them in sufficient quantities. Market demand for such products is also an issue. Just about every conversation with elected leaders ended up in a request for, or encouragement of, private investment in their country.

There are many positive things about the county as well, but like in any society, the problems seem to dominate the conversations. It gave me some comfort to find that Hungary is considering eliminating the county governments in favor of regional governments which would cover an area equal to about three counties. There is significant opposition to this from county government, but the larger cities believe it is a way for them to gain more influence within their regions as well as on a national level. The smaller communities are not very much in favor because they already feel dominated by the larger cities and believe that power and funding will flow to the larger cities to their detriment. Sounds a bit familiar….

We also met with the city of Szeged and had a short but very informative power point presentation on the city’s current attributes and planned developments. They are strategically located on the main route into Romania and they’d like to take better advantage of their location for warehousing and transportation industries. They are working on a small airport and on a technology park. They have a highly educated workforce because of the success of the University of Szeged, but many of the degrees are in areas where there is an abundance of graduates.

Interestingly, they have a publicly owned company which is run independently of the city government. This company has a contract with the city to do economic development and long term planning. Their goal with this company is to provide continuity to the community in terms of the strategic planning and to take advantage of the willing involvement of the education and business community. I think we could learn from this arrangement.

We then walked to the University of Szeged and had a presentation from the Vice Rector (equivalent to a vice president) and met with the dean and former dean of their pharmacy college. If I understood the translation properly, the University of Szeged has been ranked among the top 300 universities in the world for the last 4 years. I also learned that their pharmacy college and the College of Pharmacy at UT have agreed to the details of an international exchange and credit program. They expect to the sign the agreement in the near future. We also had a tour of the University’s new library/student center. It is open and spacious. There are computer terminals for about 400 students – and their study tables have room to seat 4-8 and include a computer.

Our next stop was a visit to a culinary and services school. The students range from 14-22 years, with the school serving as a high school and certification program. The kids learn service (wait duties), cooking (chef), baking (pastry chef), economics and management. We were treated to a delicious dinner prepared by the teaching staff and served by their most recent winner in an international competition. Their students are required to learn two languages in addition to Hungarian and their final examination, as well as the competitions, must be performed in a language other than Hungarian.

Our final stop was a musical concert at the Jewish synagogue as part of the synagogue’s festival (which is not a festival as we have them – rather, a month of activities coinciding with certain holy days in the Jewish calendar). The group was a cross between traditional Jewish music and – believe it or not – Dixieland jazz. There were terrific and the synagogue, at 103 years old, was beautiful.

Our delegation was also very appreciative of the kindess expressed as this was September 11th. All our hosts mentioned how shocked they were five years ago when they learned that terrorists had crashed planes into our buildings. Most of them knew people in America or had friends who knew people - and they expressed their sympathies at our losses as remember those who died on that date.

As I’m still having some problems with the internet here, I won’t be able to publish the photos. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to do so tomorrow when we arrive in Budapest. Thanks to the mayor of Szentes and the deputy mayor of Szeged, both of whom are members of Parliament, we’ve been allowed to visit Parliament tomorrow and observe their ‘discussion’ of the new prime minister’s first 100 days. They promised it would be interesting!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sunday in Szeged

Today was spent on a tour of the city of Szeged. We had two interpreters, Anna and Andrea who showed us the sights and told us some of the extensive history of the town. The evening was the official cultural program and we were hosted by the Vice President of the Csongrad General Assembly and the Vice Mayor of the City of Szeged, who is also a member of Parliament.

Unfortunately, the program was in Hungarian, so I do not have all the names of the performers nor the pieces they did. (I will provide it as soon as I get it translated.) The first group was traditional folk music and very unique. The trio did a tribute to the Hungarian composer Bartok. The second performance was a pianist playing Bartok. It was wonderful to compare the folk music tribute and then to hear Bartok on piano. Many of the keys played sounded just like the violin and guitar-like instrument when they are played. It was a wonderful way to introduce us to both the composer and the traditional folk music of Hungary. We also had poems and several opera selections. The cultural program was followed by a reception in the ‘marriage room’ of the city hall. This room is used for marriage ceremonies and it is decorated with paintings of couples and children.

I must mention the extraordinary gift to the citizens of Lucas County from Csongrad, presented by Mr. Attila Marosvari, Vice President of the Csongrad General Assembly. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1956 uprising against the communist government. Through historical research, they have learned that the uprising actually began in the City of Szeged the week before the actions in Budapest. Three individuals have documented the activities of the Szeged university students during that week in a series of photographs which have been made into posters. The posters will be unveiled as part of the nation’s celebration. The gift to us is a set of these posters with the request that we help them in their commemoration by displaying them during October. I agreed that we would find an appropriate way to display such a wonderful treasure and will also help them to celebrate the courage of the Hungarian people which gave inspiration to the world.

(Note: There seems to be some problems with blogger over here and I can't upload any photos. I will try to do so tomorrow.)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Memorial Park and Festivals

Saturday – today was considered a ‘fun’ day with no official duties. We started early in the morning and traveled to Opusztaszer which is the home of the National Memorial Park – an expansive facility dedicated to the history and culture of Hungary. Both historical data and folklore indicate that this was the location where Chief Arpad brought the seven Hungarian tribes/clans together and decided to establish the country of Hungary.

The memorial park has a monument which was built in 1896 to commemorate the 1000 year anniversary of the decision.

This monument has a statute of Arpad on top and is surrounded by 20 busts of various kings and leaders of the Hungarian people.

To the side are the ruins of an ancient monastery. There is an area with traditional yurtas recently built to house museum information. There is also an historical village (very similar to our Sauder Village) and each house was donated by a city or village within Csongrad County. They also host a horse show where actors, wearing historical costumes demonstrate shooting arrows from horseback, lance throwing and games designed to improve horsemanship.

Inside the rotunda building is a cyclorama – a circular painting depicting Chief Arpad’s victory over the local people and the conquering of the land which became Hungary. This was extremely unique (one of only about 20 such paintings in the world) but no pictures were allowed. Also inside the rotunda are two street recreations from about 100 years ago – one a small village street (also known as a peasant village) and one a larger city. The costumes are amazing – with the peasant village having more of the traditional costumes we’re used to seeing at the Birmingham festival and the city street having costumes more like what you’d see in any large English city.

We were especially honored to have Mr. Jozsef Ott, vice president of the Csongrad General Assembly, join us for our tour. Mr. Ott was part of the delegation to Lucas County in May and is a board member at the Memorial Park. There is even a tree planted in his honor at the park in recognition of his many years of public service to the park and in elective office.

Mr. Ott treated us to lunch at a restaurant near the park. Our lunch was a pork rib soup with small pasta-like noodles and carrots and then the main dish of a ham cooked inside bread served with sauerkraut and vinegared potatoes. There was a also a dessert – similar to a cheesecake, but with the consistency of ricotta cheese and a slight hint of lemon. Very good, but the helpings are so generous as to be enough for two. This meal was served family style and the presentation was impressive.

Following lunch and a short stop at the hotel for more batteries and memory cards for our cameras, we proceeded to the village of Deszk for their annual village festival. The highlight of their event is a cooking contest between the mayors of various villages and cities, including their international sister cities. (Photo is Dr. Jozsef, Vice Mayor of the City of Szeged.) Festival goers are provided bowls and forks and can sample the various entries. Several civic groups also compete and this year’s winner was the local Serbian club. The village of Deszk has a large population of Serbs who originally came looking for work, but stayed. Their children’s dance group, which recently won an award for folk preservation also performed with many other traditional and modern dancers and singers as part of the cultural program. Fireworks finish off the evening but our delegation was tired and left before the fireworks began.

Tomorrow is sightseeing in the City of Szeged with the cultural program and formal presentation of gifts and recognition of our sponsors and facilitators.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Mako Onion Festival

Today, Friday, we attended the Mako Onion Festival. It started early in the morning with a presentation of the flags and a procession (parade). We participated in the procession and then the opening ceremonies. This was followed by the official measurement of the longest braid of garlic in the world. They believe that they qualified for the Guiness World Record. These activities took place in the beautiful town center. Mako just recently won an international bronze medal for the quality of their floral decorations around the town.

We drove by car to the festival grounds where the formal welcome to festival-goers and presentation of awards took place. The Hungarian Minister of Agriculture was present to help with the official welcomes. Mako’s primary products are onions and garlic. They grow an excellent product but do not market it well. Since Hungary’s now a part of the EU, they are beginning to develop marketing plans for selling their onions and garlic throughout Europe. This was part of the Minister’s opening remarks.

We had some time to walk through the festival grounds. For a comparison, it was about the same size as the Birmingham Festival in terms of displays and number of booths. I bought a bottle of Hungarian wine, sampled plum and pumpkin jam, bought some homemade candy for my niece and nephew and saw demonstrations of zithers, gingerbread decorations and lace making/embroidery.

It was then time for lunch. They cook, in a big cauldron over an open wood fire, goulyash – a stew with meat, potatoes, carrots, onions and a small dumpling…and lots of paprika. It’s ladled into large bowls which are then placed evenly along pre-set picnic tables. The tables have water, beer and plastic cups, spoons and a very large bread roll wrapped in a napkin and placed in the individual bowl. You go in the tent, sit down and help yourself to the stew. Refills are plentiful and for dessert there was an apple square whose filling was similar to an apple pie.

Tomorrow we attend another festival in a smaller village – this is where various mayors have a cooking competition. Seems like a lot of what we do centers around food – imagine that!

Here are photos from the Onion Festival – enjoy!

Kindergarteners getting ready for the festival. This class had pumpkins as its theme. The children to the left in green with a purple pincushion on their hats were chives.

The Mayor of Mako with the 'children's mayor' at the start of the procession. The young lady holds a position equivalent to our president of student council in her school. The marching band is behind them.

The gentleman sitting on the right side is braiding the garlic cloves. Streaming down the front of the table and along the ground in front of him is the garlic braid. I believe the total length was around 250 meters.

The cauldron where the stew was cooked and the chef with the empty cauldron following lunch.

An artist decorating gingerbread. She also did etched eggs and carved eggs. You can see samples of lace and embroidery on the wall behind her.

Musicians playing their hand-carved zithers. Behind them are rugs and pillows, also done by hand.

Lunch! You can see how large the bread is and the wonderful color from the paprika in the stew!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Arrival in Hungary

As promised, I have my first post from Hungary. My flights - across to Amsterdam and then to Budapest - were very smooth and uneventful. We were actually early to arrive in Amsterdam, but late to arrive in Budapest....and no problems with the luggage (as long as you don't mind paying $25 for any bag over 50 pounds).

My flight left in the evening and arrived around 11 a.m. Amsterdam time. They say that flying East at night is the best thing, but I didn't get any sleep during either flight and was very tired with a headache upon arrival. Arpad Varga, who'd just spent two weeks in Toledo, met me at the airport for the 2 hour drive to Szeged.

Driving in Hungary is much different than in the States. Their speed limits are right around 100 mph, which seems a bit reckless to someone used to going around 65 mph on the highways...But the Csongrad General Assembly has three drivers on staff who do nothing but drive for members and guests of the Assembly, so I was in very good hands.

Our hotel is small, from US standards, but very nice. All our rooms are on the 8th floor (which is the top floor) and they face the Tisza river and the rising sun. The rooms are spacious and bright. Our dinner the first night was at a local restaurant which specializes in wild game. I had leg of wild boar with mushrooms, livers, onions and something else that was sweet in a sauce. It was served with a type of potato like a round, flattened tater-tot. It was delicious! This photo is of Mr. Jozsef Ott, the vice president of the Csongrad General Assembly. His recommendation was the crepe-like dessert with chestnut filling and chocolate sauce set aflame. Not sure if you'll be able to see the flames in the photo - but it was as impressive as it was good.

Thursday morning, we visited the town of Szentes (pronounced "sin-tesh") and met with the Mayor, Imre Szirbik. Mayor Szirbik is also a member of the Csongrad General Assembly and a member of the Hungarian Parliament. They have no rules or laws about people holding multiple elected offices - and to do so is quite common. We had a very interesting discussion about their geothermal heating in over 4,000 homes/apartments. Szentes is known for its hot springs and theraputic spas. Part of our tour of the city included their park with pools, water slides, competition pools (for water polo and swimming) and their spa (very warm water that is cooled for soaking). Several people were in the spa, including two who were playing chess on a floating table.

This photo is our group with the Mayor and members of the Szentes city council. We are standing in front of the refurbished building which used to house the Csongrad county assembly before the county seat was moved to Szeged.

Our last event was a panel discussion held in the meeting room of the Csongrad General Assembly. It was called the "Cafe of Public Matters," and included representatives of the Csongrad General Assembly, the Szeged City Council and members of the Szeged/Toledo and Lucas County Friends Club. Many of the individuals who've visited Toledo and our area (including students and performers) were in attendance to talk about their time and their appreciation of the relationships with us. While Csongrad has many sister counties, they are especially proud of their agreement with Lucas and with the enthusiasm and support our citizens show for them and the exchanges and programs. Students from Szeged can even attend the University of Toledo without paying international fees - they are treated as if they are residents of Toledo. Csongrad officials often say that they're not supposed to have favorites when it comes to their sister counties, but they do - and it's Lucas!

Arpad Varga was the moderator for this event which included Mr. Jozsef Ott and Mr. Karoly Toth, a member of the Szeged City Council. Ms. Edina Szollosy, an assistant professor in the English Studies Department of the University of Szeged, was our interpreter. Her daughter is currently an exchange student in Toledo.

The panel discussion was followed by a pot-luck reception with wonderful food...terrific breads and biscuits, sweets and a unique pasta and pickle salad. (Two items I would never think to put together but which tasted so wonderful that I'm getting the recipe!)

Tomorrow is the Mako Onion Festival where we'll be participating in the opening ceremonies and manning a Toledo, Lucas County, Ohio booth. Hungary is 6 hours ahead of Toledo, so I'll bid you all good night!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Off to Hungary

For the past two weeks, we've had a visitor from our sister-county of Csongrad, Hungary, here in Lucas County. Mr. Arpad Varga is a member of the Csongrad General Assembly, which is the counter-part to our board of county commissioners, and he was here in May for the official visit commemorating our 10-year anniversay of the Csongrad-Lucas sister county agreement.

Arpad arrived August 19th, but his luggage was 4 days late. During his visit, which was part business and part vacation, he spent time learning about our plan commission, attending both a BCC and plan commission meeting, visiting the Sylvania Senior Center, meeting with hospital representatives about transparency in billing and customer service, and getting a demonstration of the electronic voting machines along with a tour of the Board of Elections.

He also went on a sailboat race, enjoyed a traditional back-yard bar-b-que with homemade apple pie and was a featured guest at the Birmingham Festival.

On Tuesday, I will travel to Csongrad to participate in several events as part of the 10-year commemoration of our sister county agreement. I will visit Arpad's home town of Szentes, attend the Mako Onion Festival and host our County booth at their fair. I will participate in several other cultural events and activities, including two panel discussions.

I'll be posting updates on my visit (as well as photos) here and on the county website. I hope that you will follow along!
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