Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Toledo trash 'sick out'

According to today's paper, the cost to hire private trash collection firms to cover the routes impacted by 23 trash collectors calling in sick was $140 per hour.

If this is less than the cost of paying overtime to have city workers cover these same garbage routes, why wouldn't this be a permanent solution instead of a temporary one?

Is the goal of the city to protect the unionized workforce - or to protect the pocketbooks of citizens who are paying the bills?

What a dilemma and terrific question for elected officials...

Yes - it IS just us...

In the Toledo and Northwest Ohio area, the economy isn't so good. It's not as bad as it's been in the past, but it certainly isn't where it could - or should - be.

Quite often, people in this area think our local economy is reflective of the nation as a whole. I have pointed out numerous times on local blogs/forums and on my radio show, Eye On Toledo, that we are a strange anomaly when it comes to economy. Today's Blade article on area incomes proves my point.

According to Census figures for 2000-2006, the per capita incomes in Toledo have increased $4,441, or 16%, to $32,209. That's not a bad increase, as it averages 2.6% per year. However, the figures for the nation are much better, increasing $7,869, or 27%, to $36,714.

So the nation, as a whole, is doing so much better than our area. And why is that? The loss of automotive manufacturing jobs and high unemployment are partly to blame, according to the article.

Overall, the local area's per-capita growth has been stunted, more so than that nationwide, experts said. Also contributing is the relatively high unemployment rate for Toledo, averaging above 7 percent for the six-year period.

"Ohio has lost a lot of jobs, and Toledo is part of that," said George Morkzan, a chief economist at Huntington Bank, Columbus. "That's the biggest issue."

So if the poor economy is a localized issue, is it really "all Bush's fault"? Or is it a reflection of our local political environment and governmental policies???

My belief is that a local economy is more a result of local decisions, as these Census numbers clearly indicate. If Toledo is ever to solve the problems of high unemployment, loss of jobs, loss of population and general decline, we have to do more than just change the faces of our elected officials. We have to change the overall philosophy, moving from a 'government is the solution so more taxes are needed to fund government operations' perspective - to one of lower taxation, a focus on essential (mandated) services, and a true business-friendly environment (which doesn't mean taking over the operations of private businesses in order to generate more income for government).

Sadly, I don't see this change occurring. We're too busy repeating the failures of the past to actually learn from them.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Eye On Toledo - ESM business plan

Just a heads up that tonight my guest on Eye On Toledo is Jeffrey Green, the author of the Erie Street Market business plan.

We'll get the inside scoop on what he was asked to do by the city, how he arrived at some of his suggestions/conclusions - and if - and how much - he got paid.

Tune in to NewsTalk 1370 WSPD at 6 p.m. or listen live over the webstream here.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Erie Street Market business plan offers nothing new

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

I've had a chance to read the new business plan for the Erie Street Market (ESM) and the above quote is so relevant I could just stop right there. (Fox Toledo has a copy of the business plan available on their website.)

To say that this new business plan is a copy of the original business plan isn't technically correct, but the approach and concept is certainly the same. It calls for almost the exact same offerings in terms of food and amenities, moves the antique vendors (again) starting no later than the end of June, continues the taxpayer support of costs for utilities for three years, and expands taxpayer support through a new marketing/internet plan.

It even suggests reinstituting the cooking classes and 'Jazz Brunch' which were part of the features when ESM first opened.

Aside from all that ...

Jeffrey I. Green, MBA, is the author of the business plan, but his background or qualifications for preparing such a plan is not included as part of the plan itself. I've emailed him (as his email was included) to ask for his resume and/or qualifications and will add that information upon receipt.

As part of the description of the ESM, Green writes:

"Another problem has been the management of the Erie Street Market. Successful public markets typically have strong and consistent management that has the vision, the skills, and the resources to guide the institution. Since the re-inception of the Erie Street Market in 1997, it has had ten managers in ten years. This reflects the Market's struggle with leadership and the political turmoil that continually surrounds the project."

However, the structure Green suggests for the new management is exactly the same as what it's had: a manager directed by a board. And who would name the board? The plan says, "These (board) members will be approved by the Mayor..." And that makes them political appointees, continuing the problem of political turmoil in the operations of this facility.

The market assessment portion of the plan lacks a market feasibility study. It includes an old LISC neighborhood market snapshot, but doesn't provide evidence for the optimistic projection of success. The plan states that since other cities in Ohio have successful markets, Toledo can too, if it can only develop a better way of appealing to customers.

It says that public market vendors cannot compete with supermarkets in terms of prices, so they must sell what supermarkets do not and should offer what supermarkets cannot - products made "on-premises in view of the customer." It also says that offering local products is not enough, as many grocery stores trend toward offering locally-grown/made items.

But then the plan contradicts itself when it says, in the Products and Services section, that the emphasis will be on food that come from local farmers and food producers.

"If implemented properly, the Market will be able to compete successfully with supermarkets and specialty food stores because of the unique product offerings, the customer service provided by the business owners, and the special shopping experience offered within the market hall and the adjacent farmers' market."

Again, this was what ESM originally offered and, as we've seen, it didn't work as the 'special shopping experience' wasn't enough to overcome price and convenience of shopping in other area venues.

Then there is the contradiction of the city subsidizing new businesses that are in direct competition with existing ones. The business plan calls these existing companies in the area 'indirect competitors,' but they are direct competitors who do not have the benefit of subsidized rent, utilities and marketing. This aspect is not addressed in the business plan as it should be.

The impact of city-subsidized businesses going into direct competition with existing businesses will have an impact on those existing businesses - which will be reflected in taxes paid by those existing businesses and in the number of individuals they employ. Even if such analysis is not part of the business plan, per se, those potential losses should be balanced with the public costs associated with the subsidies and should be included in Toledo City Council's review of the Market.

Another tidbit found in the "Products and Services" portion is the idea to recruit a large unique food retailer to the location. Whole Foods has often been mentioned, even though they declined to be a part of the revitalized Westgate Shopping Center because of market considerations. However, the plan states, "management believes the success of the Market is in keeping with the original plan." "Management" is not identified. Further, if the thought is to stay with the original plan, why did we need a new business plan? Why not just bring out the old one and call it a day?

There are some other contradictions in the plan. It says the city should reconstitute the ESM Development Corporation, but then states (page 7) that the ESMDC is 'working with Neighborhoods and Fleet and Facilities' to finish some projects relating to signage, facades and the demo kitchen. Completion of these projects is even included in the 2008 timeline. So which is it? Do we need to recreate the ESMDC or is it already currently running the market?

The plan calls for an increased marketing budget, but doesn't say where the additional funds will come from. It says the facility is inefficient to heat and cool, but includes nothing about how to improve or solve this problem, as the city continues to pay utilities. It says the facility should be profitable and such profits should go back into the operation. But if it's not, after three years, it would be sold or, if no buyer is found, closed down with all assets auctioned off.

The plan includes a 2008 projected income statement, but it is missing several significant expenses including bank charges, credit card fees, delivery expenses, depreciation, interest charges, maintenance, wages, payroll taxes and repairs. Without these expenses in the budget, it shows a net operating income of $144,257. If these expenses are included, I doubt there will be any operating profit.

If you're going to return to the original plan for the Market, you certainly need to review why that original plan wasn't successful. I was disappointed that the failures of the original plan are not addressed as part of this new one. Improvements in the spacing and infrastructure for the food bay might address some of the problems that arose, but there is no analysis of why the original vendors failed and what would be different today to allow similar types of businesses to be successful. There is also no analysis of the current economic conditions in the city of Toledo and surrounding area or how this might impact the operations of the market.

My review of this new business plan offers nothing new in terms of what has already been done and failed. There is nothing in this business plan to give anyone any confidence that things will be different going forward. If this is all the city has to offer, taxpayers would be better served by just selling the facility NOW, rather than spending another million dollars or so to postpone the inevitable.

And considering the pending purchase agreement Toledo has with Tetra Tech for a complete Swan Creek River Walk (which would include the ESM), now would be the time to insist that any agreement with Tetra Tech include the purchase - today - of the ESM.

Toledo has proven it cannot management the ESM profitably, not to mention that it has no authority in its charter to even embark upon such a venture. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that this business plan will make any difference.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Blogger Protection Act of 2008

Congressman Denny Rehbert (R-MT) has signed on as a sponsor for H.R. 5699, the Blogger Protection Act. (Hat tip to Craig Sprout of Montana Politics)

In doing so, he joins Representatives Ron Paul, Tom Tancredo, Mike Pence, Jeff Flake and John Shadegg in their efforts to protect free speech on the internet. The bill was introduced by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Chairman of the Republican Study Committee, to protect bloggers from FEC regulations and keep them safe from reporting to the FEC. Since a majority of bloggers are not paid for their netroots activism on behalf of a candidate, this bill will protect bloggers from keeping track of expenditures, equipment and having to report their activity to the FEC, whenever they write about a candidate.

As Rep. Rehbert explains:

In 2002, Congress passed Campaign Finance Reform which some opponents feared would curb free speech. While the bill didn’t specifically mention regulation of the Internet, the law of unintended consequences resulted in a 2004 Federal Court ruling which ordered the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to begin regulating speech on the Internet. The Internet, they argued, like newspapers or magazines, could provide “in-kind” support to a candidate by hyperlinking to their website or suggesting that people donate to them. As a result, bloggers faced a threat of FEC investigations which would have resulted in a public disclosure requirement and expensive litigation, providing hindrance to the work you all do.

Thankfully, in 2006, at the urgent request of Congress, the FEC passed a rule (pdf) exempting blogs and their authors from this destructive intrusion of federal authority. We argued the Internet is unique because the consumer, not the producer, decides what’s worth reading. Unlike traditional media, speech on the internet is not constrained by scarcity of space and production. Internet content is only as effective as the choices of the audience to view it.

Exempting Internet speech from FEC regulation was right thing to do, but the fight isn’t over. As easily as this rule was created in 2006, it can be removed by a new Administration. That’s why the Blogger Protection Act is necessary. It’s critical my House colleagues and I move quickly in making this protection permanent.

This is a bill that deserves the support of Republicans and Democrats alike, so contact your representatives and ask them to join in supporting the Blogger Protection Act of 2008. Contact information for Ohio's delegation is available here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Is this what Toledo can look forward to?

During the recent Toledo city budget hearings and 3/4% payroll income tax renewal vote, there was a lot of discussion about the costs of benefits paid by the city per its union contracts - specifically, the entire 'pick up' of the employee portion of the pensions.

Fellow Liberty's Asylum blogger Warner Todd Huston adds to the discussion in his commentary about the California city of Vallejo.

I can't help but wonder if Toledo will be faced with a similar scenario in the future.

How to measure economic development

Considering all the discussion on economic development, highlighting this on-line column by Matt Sattler in The Toledo Free Press seemed prudent.

It starts with this:

"Given the discordant discourse surrounding the LCIC, objectively measuring its impact on the local economy is necessary. Measuring economic development outcomes is a challenging endeavor. Oftentimes, officials resort to simply counting jobs created and/or retained because of the difficulties surrounding appropriate outcome measurements."

And ends with this conclusion:

"An objective examination of the total economic impact of only these two LCIC deals: 327 new jobs, $58 million in increased output, and $15.9 million in new labor income within Lucas County provides validation to Commissioners Gerken and Wozniak for their bold action in support of the LCIC."

But read the entire article yourself and remember - Sattler is a, now, former LCIC employee driven away by the actions of Ben Konop.

The free market works - when it's atually 'free'

From the Foundation for Economic Education's In Brief daily newsletter:

Economic Turmoil Easing
"Financial markets are starting to function more normally, banks are raising billions of dollars in capital, and the latest economic figures, while weak, aren't much weaker than had been expected. Taken together, these signs of stability make for the calmest economic period the nation has experienced in months." (Washington Post, Friday)

But the politicians haven't yet had a chance to intervene and take the credit!

FOIA Friday - April 25, 2008

Did you ever wonder how much a public employee earns? The refuse worker who picks up your trash, the police officer who patrols your neighborhood, or the receptionist who answered your call to the city? It's a matter of public record.

Union contracts, which contain pay rates for public employees, are voted upon by the local jurisdictions so they are part of the public record. In Toledo, they are included in the Toledo Municipal Code, as a simple review of the chapter titles will show.

For the Lucas County Commissioners, a keyword search of 'union' under their resolution reports will give you all the approved contracts within your specified time frame. As the County Commissioners must approve all county contracts, union agreements for all the other county officials are covered on this link.

As all jurisdictions vote on their union contracts, they should be available as part of the meeting minutes.

If it's a specific employee you're curious about, a phone call to the human resources department is all that should be required to find the hourly rate. In fact, everything except social security numbers and, for certain employees, the address, is public, so if you want to know the information on an employee's W-2, you can get it.

Knowing how much public employees are paid - and what their benefits are - is often key to understanding budgets. One of the largest expenses in Toledo's budget is for the employee pension. As I explained in this post from January 2007, Toledo 'picks up' the employee's contribution in addition to paying the mandated employer's portion. The pension pick up became a critical point of discussion in the 3/4% payroll income tax renewal vote last year, as residents rightly wondered why they're paying their own pensions while also paying everything for the public employees.

Knowing what was contained within the union contracts and sharing that information with the public generated the election debate about how much our city employees were actually costing - and why our city budget was so high.

Taking advantage of access to public records helps you keep your government accountable - and sometimes you'll be shocked by what you find.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rice rationing?

I just have to ask: Is it really rationing when you're limited to purchasing only four 20-pounds bags of rice?

Who, really, purchases 80 pounds of rice at any given time, for a family?

It seems to me that this would impact organizations and such who purchase such quantities to feed large groups. In fact, in this AP story, it's clear that retail-sized portions are not affected and that there really isn't a rice shortage in the U.S.

"USA Rice Federation spokesman David Coia said there is no rice shortage in the United States.

"It's possible that small restaurants and bodega-type neighborhood stores may be purchasing rice in larger quantities than they do typically to avoid higher prices," Coia said about the warehouse chain restrictions."

So is this really a 'crisis'??? Or is it just 'hype'???

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Should seniors be exempt from the trash tax?

Toledo City Councilman Michael Ashford wants to exempt seniors from the trash tax, presumably because of their age and the fact that they are on fixed incomes.

"The garbage tax greatly affects our senior homeowners who are on a fixed income and who have to make difficult decisions between high gas prices, medication, and do they pay this unwarranted garbage tax."

I've got news for Mr. Ashford - we're ALL on fixed incomes. None of us has the ability to just increase our incomes simply because we want to. As most of us don't set our own salaries, that means we're on fixed incomes. And we're all making difficult decisions between taxes (which we must pay or lose our homes), high gas prices and medicines. Remember - seniors aren't the only ones who take medicine - duh!

This pointless pandering to a special interest has reached the point of absurdity with this suggestion, especially considering the new rules that city council has put in place for this tax.

You see, if you recycle, you get a discount and, in three years, you'll pay nothing at all. So the way to reduce your 'costs' is to recycle. I recognize that houses with only 1 or 2 people in them might not have very much to recycle, and that's okay. There is no requirement that you put recyclables out every time - just that you keep your recyclables in separate containers and then put them at the curb when the containers are full. And if seniors are concerned about the size, they can always get smaller containers to fit their needs. That's what we did.

Now, the trash tax itself is, IMHO, illegal (see side bar on Trash Tax lawsuit) and we shouldn't have to pay it in the first place. But if you generate garbage, you should be taxed, and age has nothing to do with whether or not you generate garbage.

Ashford even has plans for how the city will cope with the loss of revenue:

Mr. Ashford said the money could be made up from three unspent capital improvement projects from 2006: $125,000 for a bridge deck overlay project, $200,000 for a Central Avenue facility salt conveyor, and $221,000 for a developer incentive pool.

Of course, taking money out of the Capital Improvement Funds to offset the general fund isn't a good idea, especially when we're talking about bridge deck overlays or 'economic development' incentives. But let's not get distracted by the realities of a budget when we're pandering to special interests...

And then there is Councilman Mike Craig's plan to use some of those CIP dollars for more road improvements in his district, despite the fact that many of these projects are in the process of being done.

If the trash tax is so onerous to senior citizens, it should be obvious that it is onerous to ALL Toledoans. Rather than worry about only one segment of our population, our elected officials should be worried about all of us. And if the city loses the lawsuit, they'll be facing more worries than just how to pander to seniors, as they'll be scrambling to return the $4.8 million/year they've already collected for this 'fee.'

In the end, council did not vote on this measure, saying it needed to be discussed in committee first. But they're missing the point.

City council should be working on how they're going to CUT SPENDING rather than working so hard to exempt some people from paying the high taxes and fees they so readily enact.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The TSA and a presumption on innocence

This past weekend, I had to travel out of town (which is why I didn't get a chance to post anything since Friday). On my way home, I was in line for the security check and I actually paid attention to the new video that was playing for the passengers.

This new video was well-made (your tax dollars hard at work) and showed how to go through the security screening...what to do and what NOT to do. I must admit that I got particular satisfaction about the 'have your boarding pass and ID ready' segment because it showed a woman digging through her huge purse looking for things. Who hasn't been frustrated by that scenario in a check-out line, much less at an airport?

But then this phrase was uttered by the announcer, as the video looped back to the beginning:

You know you're not a threat, so show us.

The emphasis was on 'you' and 'us.'

When I looked around, no one was really paying attention. But my mind immediately went back to my history lessons and our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Apparently, the presumption of innocence is a foreign concept to the TSA. I wanted to shout back: Show me your probable cause!

While this statement and line of reasoning was scary, what was scarier was the lack of reaction from the general public. Granted, people may have just been ignoring the video, but there is no way the sentence failed to register - at least in the subconscious - of all those hearing it. Subliminal conditioning?

What has our country come to when government can use its authority to insist that we demonstrate our innocence through compliance with them - and the public doesn't revolt?

Friday, April 18, 2008

FOIA Friday - April 18, 2007

In Ohio, the Public Records Law governs state and local jurisdictions when it comes to access to public records. Open meetings are another aspect of citizen access to government and how decisions are made.

Through three attorneys general, this state office has published the 'Sunshine Book' which details what is required of public bodies when it comes to open meetings and public records.

Here is a downloadable version of the book, which also includes case law. While the 'yellow book' is intended as a guide for public officials, citizens can utilize the information in their efforts to hold public officials accountable.

If a download isn't practical for you, copies can be obtained by contacting the Attorney General's Program Develop Department at (614) 644-5224.

Other FOIA Friday posts from around the net:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Reaction to walking on the flag at UMF

Yesterday, I linked to a video of an "art project" wherein the U.S. Flag was placed on the ground at the University of Maine at Farmington, and students were expected to walk on it.

This, of course, received criticism from some veterans who, upon learning of the 'art' showed up at the university.

In this article from Maine's Morning Sentinel paper, the student explains that it was supposed to be a social experiment about respect, but police threatened to arrest a Veteran Charlie Bennet who, in trying to 'respect' the flag, wanted to pick them up.

Bennet is the veteran in the video and he is available for interviews - especially in light of his return today to the campus for his own 'parade flag.' Arkansas Republican Assembly blog has details and some good links to the story.

Congrats to the UMF College Republicans for letting us all know about this!

* Fox News has a blurb on this with more details about the project and the support of the University administrators. Thankfully, according to this report, 95% of the students walked around the flags. However, it doesn't say if anyone other than Veteran Charlie Bennet tried to pick them up.

What would you have done if you'd come across this display?

Konop should step down

Considering his public disdain for the LCIC and his admitted goal of destroying the organization, I believe County Commissioner Ben Konop should step down as chairman of the executive director search committee.

He is in a constant contradiction by leading the group responsible for selecting the next executive director of an agency he wants to eliminate. That contradiction needs to be resolved and, since he's said he's going to continue his attacks, the only solution is for him to resign as chairman of the search committee.

Konop is in this position because of his intense opposition to the previous director. Following that resignation, it made sense to put the most vocal critic in charge of finding a replacement. But Konop's mission has changed since October (when it said he'd have a new director in 90 days, later expanded to four months...and it's now been six), and he is now intent on destroying the LCIC and forming his own version of the same organization.

The LCIC board knows this, so if Konop doesn't resign from this committee, his fellow LCIC board members should remove him. They cannot continue to allow this extreme contradiction to negatively impact their efforts to recruit a qualified individual to the position. Removing him from this role will send a message to potential recruits that the board is united in their efforts to support the organization and their new director.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

UPDATED: A 'right' to desecrate the flag?

If you have the 'right' to desecrate the United State flag under the guise of 'art,' I have the right to pick it up and treat it with respect!

Background from the blog author: Art students did a project where they laid American flags on the floor of the student center for people to walk on. They brought the cops in to protect it when some College GOP kids and vets came to try to pick them up off the ground. In the video, the university provost actually says, "It's just a piece of cloth" to the VFW guy, and one of the faculty tells the VFW chief that they are 'actually protecting his freedom of speech' by doing this.

Note from me: In the video, you can see some students actually walking around the flags - not on them.

UPDATE: More details on this event...

The best thread on this is at a forum called AsMaineGoes

The school is the University of Maine at Farmington. Rumor has it they have another story brewing about a 'campus beautification program' that rejected the display of the American flag, saying specifically that it 'didn't beautify' the campus.

Allen Berger is the University Provost. His number is 207-778-7279 and email is . He is the one in the video who told the veteran that he didn't fight for a piece of cloth.

Now, Provost Berger may, technically, be correct, but I wouldn't be telling any veteran what they did or did not fight for. And I wouldn't be arguing with a veteran who risked everything for me. And I'll reiterate what I said above: if those students have the 'right' to put the flag on the floor and encourage people to walk on it, I have the 'right' to pick it up and treat it with the respect it deserves.

Note that the link to AsMaineGoes has some details about a rally the veteran in the video will be holding on that campus.

How to lose while 'winning'

Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop has been on a mission to destroy the Lucas County Improvement Corporation (LCIC). There is a long history to this (search the blog for LCIC and you'll get it all), but it boils down to an issue of control with Konop finding he cannot control the organization so he's going to kill it. The irony that he is the chairman of the search committee for a new executive director of the agency must be beyond him.

In today's paper, Konop is quoted as saying:

"Even if we've got this patchwork organization in place this year, continued public opposition will eventually prevail and we'll actually do what makes sense for the taxpayers."

Actually, he's the only public opposition and he is signalling his intent to continue. That he hasn't presented an alternative plan that is legal or any different from the claims of 'politics' he's making about the LCIC seems to be missed in his criticism.

For a full analysis on yesterday's Commissioner's meeting and the various idiotic statements Konop made, you can listen to the pod cast of Eye On Toledo.

In the meeting, Konop exhibited paranoia (thinking all the people were there to try to intimidate him), hypocrisy (questioning an employee's qualifications despite not having any himself), and class warfare (accusing others of meeting at the exclusive Inverness Country Club while he was meeting with union members - duh! Where does he think people who 'create' jobs are? in union halls????). He also threw in a few catch phrases like 'mismanaged bureaucracy' and 'good ol' boys' just for good measure.

In the end, though, he's lost.

Konop may actually win this battle to destroy the LCIC. But if he continues his public attacks while failing to garner support for his position, he will permanently damage the county's reputation and our ability to attract both people and businesses to this area. No company wants to come into an area with such unrest over the public portion of the economic development effort.

Konop seems to be more focused on the battle and not the war, despite his words to the contrary:

* He says he wants regional economic development, but the only entity that's been able to pull ALL the jurisdictions of the county together is the LCIC - and he's trying to destroy it.

* He says he wants to remove the politics from the effort, but his suggested alternative is another body made up of political appointees.

* He says he wants to work with jurisdictions inside and outside the county, but he mentions only Toledo when he talks about economic development and has yet to meet with the other cities, villages and townships about what they want or how they see economic development going. And his Toledo focus alienates the other jurisdictions, especially when they're the ones that are growing and attracting people and business.

* He says we're the only area with an CIC, but he doesn't even know that the City of Sylvania and Sylvania Township have a joint CIC. He says he wants to duplicate what Franklin County has done, but he doesn't know that Franklin County has a CIC as well.

And while he's doing these things, he sends a strong and loud negative message. Why would a company want to come to this area when one politician is trying to destroy what everyone else is supporting? Why would a company want to stay when they see these kinds of things, especially if they can move to an area where, despite disagreements, everyone is at least on the same page?

I continue to have reservations about how the LCIC is structured. I believe there are improvements that can be made to how private-sector members are appointed (change it to appointment by the full board and not by the three commissioners and the mayor of Toledo), and how the budget is established (prepared and recommended by the executive committee with approval by the full board). But the way to make those changes is to work with the members of the LCIC to get their support and, when you have a majority, change the bylaws. Providing reasoning and logic as to why the changes make sense would be the first step.

Unfortunately, this on-going battle Konop is waging has little to do with the actual agency and everything to do with control and 'who gets to decide,' so he won't take such a route to improvement. Instead, he will continue with his public attacks and, in the end, the county and the joint efforts will lose.

Perhaps instead of teaching law, he should teach a class in how to fail while winning.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Quote of the Day

"[T]he States can best govern our home concerns and the general government our foreign ones. I wish, therefore...never to see all offices transferred to Washington, where, further withdrawn from the eyes of the people, they may more secretly be bought and sold at market." ~ Thomas Jefferson (letter to Judge William Johnson, 12 June 1823)

Monday, April 14, 2008

City pools are NOT necessities

The City of Toledo will spend about a half a million dollars this year to operate city pools. But that amount doesn't include the capital improvement costs that are also budgeted in order to open the various pool locations.

According to today's Blade, the city thinks the benefits outweigh the costs.

Kattie Bond, director of Toledo's department of neighborhoods, said the benefit of operating city pools outweighs the cost.

"It is important to provide recreational opportunities for citizens," Ms. Bond said. "We live in a city where we do get hot weather, so it's important we provide a place for kids to at least get wet and cool off

Kids already have a place to get wet and cool off. It's called a yard. All that is needed is a hose, since I'm pretty sure that most homes have some sort of water available.

Last year, the pools served 25,151 entrants. The city did not keep track of how many of those 'entrants' were the same individual. They also charged $1 for entry.

In 2007, there were six pools open (one was a splash pad) compared to the 12 facilities opened in 2006. Despite the increased attendance at two of the pools, overall attendance at the six facilities declined 18.5% from 30,841 to 25,151. This clearly indicates that individuals who had access to a pool in 2006 did not travel to other locations in 2007 in order to "get wet and cool off." (I just can't imagine how they survived!)

As these numbers are visits and not visitors, it's hard to estimate just how important this cost is to the general public. For sake of argument, let's estimate that individuals likely to use the pool facilities will do so five times during the season. This seems a reasonable estimate considering the number of days the pools are open.

Using this assumption, the pools had about 5,000 unique visitors. The 2006 Census data shows that there are 74,896 children (under 18 years of age) in Toledo. Even if every visitor to the pools was a child, we would be serving less than 7% of the kids in the city. If we consider total population, those estimated 5,000 unique visitors represent less than 2% of the population.

Yet the city is planning to spend about $600,000 for this - which is about $120 per person served. It would be cheaper to buy every kid in the city a membership to the Boys and Girls Club ($5 per year for 16-18 year olds, but only $3 for 7-15 year olds) which would give them access to ALL activities, not just the pools.

District 5 Councilman Tom Waniewski, who voted against this spending, believes the city has other, more important, items to fund in the budget. "In terms of what the [city] charter dictates, [pools] are not a necessity, but the quality-of-life argument will always be made."

Yes, whenever our government wants to justify funding items not mandated in the city's charter, they use the 'quality of life' argument. But they conveniently forget that they are lowering the standard of living for the majority of residents when they spend limited tax dollars to provide such 'quality of life' amenities for less than 2% of the population.

If they were really interested in improving the quality of life in Toledo, they'd reduce the size of government, thus reducing the cost, and give all of us some of our money back to spend as WE want on OUR OWN definition of 'quality of life.'

I won't hold my breath.

p.s. An afterthought...Remember when the city of Toledo passed their balanced budget? City Council members scrounged around eliminating dollars from various funds in order to add a police class ... in December. Think maybe the $500,000 for pools could have been put to better use in getting our police class several months sooner???

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Accurate numbers or political spin?

Fellow Samsphere blogger, Skip, of Granite Grok, has an intriguing post about the economy. He takes a look at the status of the economy in 1996, when many were claiming things were good, and compares it to today, when many are claiming we're in a recession.

He references this article:

Democrats on the Economy in 1996:
“Our economy is the healthiest it has been in three decades.” (President Bill Clinton, State of the Union Address, January 23, 1996)

Democrats on the Economy in 2008:
“The bottom line is that this administration is the owner of the worst jobs record since Herbert Hoover." (Senator Charles Schumer, Press Release, March 7, 2008)

The numbers in March 1996 were slightly worse than today. But in 1996, these figures were being hailed as good. Granted, the housing market is in a much-needed correction and the credit crunch has some people concerned. But when it comes to the labor market, I think I'd take today's numbers over those from 1996.

So is it the economy? Or is it the politics?

Friday, April 11, 2008

FOIA Friday - April 11th

Another in a series of Friday posts on your Freedom of Information (Act) - the best way to gather data on what government is doing, and then hold it accountable. Remember - they work for you, not the other way around!

Ohio's revised public records law (ORC 149.43) took effect in September of 2007. Part of the new rules for government was that each government entity had to develop and post their public records policy. Such policy had to be conspicuously posted in all offices where members of the public might come for access to public documents.

Last January, I stopped in various public offices in Government Center and found that all the county offices had their policy readily available and easy to access and read. The city, however, did not. I've not checked back to see if they've since complied with the law, but their public records policy is available here.

When deciding to make a request for public records, it's best to read the jurisdiction's policy so you know what to expect.

Also remember, many jurisdictions ask you to fill out a form when making a public records request. Even though the form may ask for your name and/or contact information, you do not have to give it and may, under the law, leave those areas blank. You also do not have to explain why you want the information. The government entity cannot refuse your request if you fail to provide that information.

Finally, you have the right to inspect records during normal business hours. I would recommend that you ask to inspect the public records you are seeking, rather than ask for copies, first. This way, you can see the details of the records and then request copies of the ones most pertinent to your request. Sometimes, if you leave the decision of what to copy up to the government, they'll copy everything in an attempt to be thorough and then present you with a huge pile of papers - and a huge bill.

If there's something about a government entity that you've always wanted to know, now is the time to ask. And you can post about your experience here, so all of us can help hold our government accountable.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Quote of the Day

From The Patriot Post:

"Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint." ~ Alexander Hamilton (Federalist No. 15)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A matter of priorities in government spending

Today's Blade editorial on the pending foreclosure of the Hillcrest Hotel makes some good points, but misses the major one.

For background, the city of Toledo issued bonds to back the redevelopment of the 'historic' building. Yes, many famous people stayed in this hotel and the building does have architectural and historical value, but was/is it worth the $6.7 million for which the city may be on the hook?

Since 2001, the owners have had trouble making their payments. I guess this point stands out because if you've had trouble making payments for seven years, don't you think someone would have paid attention to the problem long before now???

The major point missed by the editorial board isn't the 'what' but the 'who.' The 'what' is the esoteric value of a historical building. The 'who' is who should pay for it. In the editorial board's collective minds, the 'who' is you and me.

It's funny, but they never even consider that someone other than the taxpayer should assume the responsibility for this structure. They seem to think it is okay for city elected officials to 'risk' our tax dollars in the hopes of success. If they and their publisher are so intent on saving old buildings, why don't they form a non-profit, fund it, and do just that? If the rewards are worth the risk, why don't they risk their own dollars? And just how much is that Block Foundation worth these days?

Just like government, it's much easier for them to tell others how to spend money that doesn't belong to them - namely, tax dollars that you and I pay that should, instead, be spent on essential city services. Doesn't The Blade even wonder about how many roads could have been repaved or police cars bought with that money? Or even how much better off the city would be if those funds had been used, instead, for a new financial computer system???

I guess not.

Frivolous government spending is part of the reason Toledo is losing businesses and population. It's not because we don't have enough historic buildings in the downtown area. It's because we spend limited tax dollars for these kinds of things instead of for the essentials that government should provide.

For years, The Blade has insisted upon public spending for various projects that they think are important...and I'm tired of it. Stop telling us how to spend our money and start spending your own.

Raiding funds for Strickland's nebulus 'stimulus'

Legislators in Columbus proved they CAN act quickly when they want to. Yesterday they voted to move tobacco funds out of the foundation which administers them so that the foundation couldn't transfer the money to non-profits out of the reach of state government.

And now it begins...the bickering, scrambling and maybe even court battles over who gets to decide how to spend the money.

Perhaps I'm really off-base, but I thought the whole purpose of the lawsuit against the tobacco companies by the states was to ensure that future medical costs from this 'addiction' would be paid for by the companies and not the state - hence the huge settlement.

But the money has been diverted to other general fund purposes and spent on huge anti-smoking campaigns with little notice of how much of it is actually going toward medical bills.

And how much money does the state really need for anti-smoking campaigns? Do they really need $270 million for this??? That's the amount that was in the account prior to the state's action yesterday.

The point isn't really the original intent of the funds. It's all about who gets to decide - and, as yesterday's vote shows, those in Columbus think they know best. Never mind that this so-called 'stimulus' will do little to stimulate the economy.

In my WSPD interview with Jon Husted, he explains that other states are doing these kinds of 'stimulus' projects, so Ohio has to follow their lead.

If elected officials in Columbus really want to stimulate the economy, they'd reduce government spending, reduce government taxation, reduce government regulation and make Ohio a 'right-to-work' state. If they're really interested in duplicating what other states do, they should at least follow in the steps of the ones that are successful!

On Gen. Petraeus and Congress

"Last September Democrats were frothing at the mouth as they looked for reasons to declare "The Surge" in Iraq an abject failure.

Unfortunately for the wing of the Democratic Party, General Petraeus proved to be the military equivalent of Chief Justice John Roberts - intellectually honest and factually powerful.

Democratic Senators - whose staffs had labored for weeks to develop the "killer question" which would embarrass Petraeus - only served to expose the Senators to be the self-promoting, ill-prepared, unproductive academic pygmies they are.


The Democrats in Congress must take care that they are not seen as rooting for failure in Iraq.

Americans are, by our nature, optimists. We may be exhausted by this war, but we will never be so weary that we want our military personnel to lose.

General Petraeus is representative of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have answered the call to duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Given that, it is politically very dangerous for Democrats to try and paint Petraeus as anything other than a patriot."

~ Rich Galen, Mullings

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Quote of the Day

Well, two actually, from one of my favorite columnists, Thomas Sowell:

"Most of the problems of this country are not nearly as bad as the "solutions" -- especially the solutions that politicians come up with during election years.

Some people actually think that televising Congress gives us information. What it really does is give politicians millions of dollars worth of free advertising, while they play charades on camera to fool the rest of us."

City of Toledo gets computer parts on eBay

Yes, they do ... really. But that's only because the system that serves the city is so old that most parts aren't even made anymore.

They did have money in the budget to replace it ... but they took that money out of the Capital Improvements Budget so they could balance the General Fund - and spend money on the Willis Boyer Freighter 'tourist attraction,' a shower for the mayor's office, flowers, and other frivolous items.

Councilwoman Betty Shultz has spent years arguing, pleading, begging, demanding that the city upgrade the financial computers so council members could have accurate and current information about the city's budget and spending. Finally, they've set aside another amount in the CIP for doing so.

But in making the decision, fellow council members were 'shocked' to learn that many parts necessary to keep the current system functioning are only available on eBay. You'd think they would have listened to Betty years ago...

Better late than never, though.

(And our elected leaders wonder why people leave this town!)

Monday, April 07, 2008

UPDATED: Dogs and cats and Toledo spending - Oh My!

Included in the proposed 2008 Capital Improvements Budget for the City of Toledo is a dog park in the south end. The cost of the project is $45,000.

UPDATED: City council took $40,000 out of this line item (along with money from the planned mountain bike course) and put it into fixing more roads. Good for them!

However, they left $5,000 in the budget with the hope of leveraging that with private donations to create the planned dog park. Can't they just back off from the idea entirely and let some entrepreneur create one if it's actually needed and can be profitable?

When you consider the financial situation of the city - and the serious needs in terms of our roads, other infrastructures and such essentials as police vehicles, spending ANY money on such "quality of life" projects (the general description for something that is not necessary or would otherwise be described as 'pork') is ridiculous. But that's another story.

My point of contention is the continual catering to dogs and dog owners while ignoring the issues of cats.

In Ohio, counties have dog wardens to handle dogs and certain other types of creatures - but not cats. Because the law is silent on the issue of cats, counties and their dog wardens have no authority when it comes to cats (a quirk of the state law). But that doesn't mean that municipalities can't institute their own laws regarding such felines. And Toledo did.

In 1992, Toledo created a cat law in TMC Chapter 505 which states:

505.16. Registration and identification required.
(a) No person, within the City shall own a cat over six months of age without procuring registration for such cat as provided in this chapter and keeping secured to such cat a cat tag bearing the registration number.

(b) No person, who is the owner of any cat, shall permit or allow such cat to wear any cat tag issued for another cat or a cat tag which has expired.

(c) Except as otherwise provided in this section, application for such registration shall be made annually to the Commissioner and the following information, including presentation of a valid, current rabies certificate showing that the cat has been vaccinated for rabies in accordance with Section 1705.09, shall be furnished:

(1 ) Name, address and work and home phone numbers of the owner or keeper of such cat and the approximate date of ownership or residency, whichever is earlier;

(2) Such description of the cat as may be required for the purpose of identification; and

(3) If applicable, a veterinarian's statement that the cat has been spayed or neutered;

(4) If applicable, information the Commissioner deems necessary to support the nonexpiration provisions of subsection (h) hereof.

(d) The Commissioner shall furnish to the owner, upon payment of the registration fees as hereinafter required, a receipt showing thereon the information described in subsection (c) hereof and a cat tag bearing the registration number which shall be secured to the cat.

(e) No person shall remove or cause to be removed, the unexpired cat tag from any registered cat.

(f) Subject to subsection (h) hereof, fees shall be as follows:

Annual Registration Fee

Each cat that is not spayed or neutered $ 45.00

A cattery permit 100.00

Each cat that is spayed or neutered 10.00

Each replacement for lost unexpired cat tags 1.00 each

(g) The cat registration and cat tag shall remain valid through December 31 of the calendar year in which it is issued, except as provided for in subsection (h) hereof. A five dollar ($5.00) fee for late registrations shall be assessed.

(h) A registration issued for a cat owned by an elderly person or a disabled person shall remain valid throughout the lifetime of the cat or until such elderly or disabled person ceases to own the cat, whichever period ends first. The elderly or disabled person owning such cat shall be responsible to have and keep such cat vaccinated in accordance with Section 1705.09 and shall inform the Commissioner of any change in the information provided to the Commissioner in accordance with subsection (c) hereof.

(i) Whoever violates any provision of this section is guilty of a fourth degree misdemeanor.

(Ord. 558-92. Passed 8-4-92)

505.17. Prohibitions.
(a) Any cat not bearing a valid cat tag, or observed injuring or destroying the real or personal property of someone other than the owner or keeper of the cat, or known to create excessive noise or odor, or observed creating a danger to public health in the opinion of the Commissioner of the Division of Health, is declared to be a public nuisance and shall be impounded by the Animal Control Officer as provided in this chapter, in addition to any penalties which may be imposed upon the appropriate person under Section 505.09(c).

(b) The parent or guardian of any minor claiming ownership of or owning or keeping any cat shall be deemed to be the owner of such cat and shall be charged for all penalties and fees imposed by this chapter.

(c) Whoever violates any provision of this section is guilty of a fourth degree misdemeanor.

(Ord. 558-92. Passed 8-4-92.)

The problem is, this law is not enforced.

Having neighbors who believe that cats should be able to roam free (which really isn't safe for them) clearly contributes to my frustration as their cats dig in my garden, use our horseshoe pits as litter boxes, climb our trees and then meow incessantly because they can't figure how to get down, etc...

Phone calls to police with such complaints result in hilarious laughter - okay, that's an exaggeration, but not by much. Police don't come out to take reports when items are stolen because they instruct you to go to a district office and fill out such reports yourself. To expect them to come out because someone else's cat is in your yard - well, you can imagine...

So, Toledo created a law requiring a license for cats, requiring a fee for such licenses and making cats which do damage a public nuisance subject to impoundment. And then they don't enforce the law.

But they can find $45,000 to build a dog park in the south end which is where, coincidentally, the mayor lives.

Perhaps that $45,000 would be better spent enforcing the existing laws before they create something new to be paid for and maintained.

Quote of the Day

From The Patriot Post:

"If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send 150 lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour? That 150 lawyers should do business together ought not to be expected." ~ Thomas Jefferson (Autobiography, 1821)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Faulty logic???

It should come as no surprise that government and elected representatives use faulty logic when it comes to justify intrusive, onerous laws. But when the people mimic the same comments, I begin to worry.

Many have said that red-light and speed cameras at intersections are not a problem. If you're not breaking the law, you shouldn't have anything to worry about. And if you are running a red light or speeding, you ARE breaking the law and the government should use any means to penalize you when you do.

While both these positions may be true, it masks the underlying question of whether or not the government should use cameras - instead of police officers - to enforce criminal violation via a civil penalty strictly as a means of revenue enhancement. (Background on the Toledo red-light/speed cameras is available here in several pod casts starting January 8th.)

Further, the concept of 'slippery slope' becomes a point of discussion as communities begin to explore the use of cameras in parks. A simple Google search for 'cameras in parks' will generate enough stories to fill your day with reading. And again, the logic is that if you're not doing anything wrong, you shouldn't mind that cameras are watching you.

We can certainly debate the laws, 'Big Brother' and the numerous indications this has for privacy and even more intrusive coverage of the behavior and actions of citizens. But the logic that we should allow such laws if we aren't planning to break them completely escapes me.

Now, that same logic is being applied to a new license requirement in Toledo - and not to the idea of the camera. I've written several times about the new convenience store licensing law and, most recently, about the lawsuit to overturn it. Today's Blade has an article about the lawsuit (four days after the fact) in which Council President Mark Sobczak uses this faulty logic as an excuse for the law.

"Council President Mark Sobczak yesterday declined to comment specifically on the complaint. He said the ordinance was modeled heavily after a similar law in Minneapolis.

"They had problems with carryout owners not running very good businesses. They were selling stuff that led to crimes, and they weren't responsible," Mr. Sobczak said.

"I think most of the reputable operators have no problems with the [new] restrictions since the vast majority were already doing all that we're asking."

See? If you're not doing anything wrong - or if you've already got cameras in store - you shouldn't object to the creation of a new and costly regulation. Never mind that they can close you down if you don't comply with these new rules, if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about. Yeah...right!

I'm not a convenience store owner and the ones in my neighborhood are good for our community. But it's not MY neighborhood stores they're targeting...even though they are still subject to the laws, fees and fines.

And I do object to these efforts to create new ways of generating revenue for the government, new rules and regulations which drive up the cost of business and subsequently the cost of the products they produce or sell, and a more intrusive government. And so should you. Numerous examples exist where a supposedly simply, common sense rule has become a method for government control of the behavior of citizens (no smoking in planes led to no smoking within the jurisdiction of a city, red light cameras led to speed cameras and now cameras in parks and other places in cities).

If Toledo can impose a license requirement for convenience stores in order to control the behavior of people shopping there, what area or industry is next? Malls? Grocery stores? Because you can rest assured that if they get away with this one, they will look to duplicate it somewhere else, using a lack of objection - and faulty logic - to assume that since no one objected, the citizens must approve.

Friday, April 04, 2008

FOIA Friday

FOIA - the Freedom of Information Act - applies to the federal government, but many states have corresponding public records laws under which citizens can gather information about the activities of their governments - and then hold them accountable.

Today starts a new feature where each Friday I will blog about public records, how to obtain them or people struggling to gain access to information.

We'll start with this post on Toledo Talk from GraphicsGuy, who wants to know exactly what evidence the City of Toledo has to indicate that complying with the new convenience store licensing law is not very expensive. (see next post for more details on this obnoxious law and the lawsuit filed yesterday)

Here's a tip, GraphicsGuy, under Ohio's revised public records law ORC 149.43, you might want to make the request in writing and hand-deliver it to the 22nd floor. Why? Because if the city doesn't respond, that's the only way you'll be entitled to statutory damages should you be forced to file mandamus action against them:

"If a requestor transmits a written request by hand delivery or certified mail to inspect or receive copies of any public record in a manner that fairly describes the public record or class of public records to the public office or person responsible for the requested public records, except as otherwise provided in this section, the requestor shall be entitled to recover the amount of statutory damages set forth in this division if a court determines that the public office or the person responsible for public records failed to comply with an obligation in accordance with division (B) of this section.

The amount of statutory damages shall be fixed at one hundred dollars for each business day during which the public office or person responsible for the requested public records failed to comply with an obligation in accordance with division (B) of this section, beginning with the day on which the requester files a mandamus action to recover statutory damages, up to a maximum of one thousand dollars. The award of statutory damages shall not be construed as a penalty, but as compensation for injury arising from lost use of the requested information. The existence of this injury shall be conclusively presumed. The award of statutory damages shall be in addition to all other remedies authorized by this section."

You can also send your request via certified mail to qualify for the damages. Personally, I think the requirement for delivery of the request is meant to further restrict the public's easy access. In today's world of email and 'receipts' for email messages, there's no reason the public should be required to go to the extra effort of hand-delivering a request - or the extra cost of sending a request via certified mail. But that's another post for a later date.

Tomorrow morning, I'll be discussing my personal battle to obtain information from the city with Meet The New Press, a radio show on WEMJ 1490 in Laconia, NH. This show is about bloggers and hosted my one of my fellow Samsphere bloggers, GraniteGrok.

Following the budget hearing in my district, we were told we could email additional questions if we had any, which I did. The reaction from the city was that my questions as a citizen would go unanswered because of my employment as an 'entertainer,' despite the fact that I sent them as a citizen and via my personal email. However, I do know that another citizen at this meeting did email the same person with several questions - and received a response.

Now, I'm not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure you can't discriminate against your citizens because of where they work. If you'd like more details, you can listen live tomorrow beginning at 9 a.m.

Convenience stores fight licensing law (thank goodness!)

It's official. In a lawsuit filed yesterday in Federal Court, the Midwest Retailers Association, Ltd. is seeking to overturn a convenience store licensing law passed in December by Toledo City Council.

The attorney for the case, Scott Ciolek, has set up a website to track the case events and includes a .pdf of the actual complaint. My on-air discussions of this law are available on the WSPD pod cast page (December 4, 6, 7, and 12). You can also search this blog for 'convenience store licensing fees' for the many posts I made on the issue.

For quick background, our council gets a lot of complaints about illegal activity around convenience stores. Because the laws are not enforced by the police department (due to lack of staff or low priority), the elected officials decided to make the owners of such property responsible for the activity. Of course, the only way to do so would be to create a license for them and then threaten them with revocation of their license if other people do bad things on or near their property. It originally went so far as to require these owners to clean up litter within a one-block radius, even though that specific requirement was not included in the final version.

This is one of the most anti-business pieces of legislation Toledo has considered in ages. While the elected officials said they had several meetings on the issue, the final draft of the law wasn't circulated to store owners and many onerous and costly requirements were never shared with the majority of convenience stores.

As a result of the coverage of this by me and WSPD, there were some changes to the law made at the last minute. But even those were not shared with the public nor the owners prior to the actual vote on the law.

Now that the law is scheduled to take effect next month and store owners are learning all the details, they have joined together to fight it - and, it appears, with a very strong case.

One of the many points of contention, from the web page on the case:

Section 722.11 part 2:

Once a reasonable opportunity to cure the problems has been afforded to the licensee without substantial success, a license should be revoked even though the license holder has taken all reasonable measures to achieve compliance.

“Problems” specifically listed for which the business owner is now held accountable include gambling, prostitution, drug dealing, weapons possession, disorderly conduct, loitering, public nuisance, and obstructing legal process. (721.15)

A business owner doesn’t have the authority to take action to personally stop any of these activities. Unless the city of Toledo intends to force business owners to take up arms and dispense vigilante justice, then the most responsible action business owners could take to curb illegal activities on their property would be to notify the police of the activity. If a business owner has contacted the Toledo P.D. and criminal activity continues on the premises, isn’t that a reflection on the police department? Why are we punishing the business owner because the police are incapable of eliminating crime? Basically, the business owner is being held accountable for the failures of the police department.

Perhaps the section should read:

Once a reasonable opportunity to cure the problems has been afforded to the Toledo Police Department without substantial success, all officers and administrators will be terminated, even though the department has taken all reasonable measures to achieve compliance.

Obviously that would be ridiculous, too, but at least you’d be holding the people who are actually responsible for reducing crime accountable, as opposed to just transferring responsibility to private citizens. If police—who legally carry weapons, arrest and detain citizens, and are authorized to use deadly force,—can’t eliminate crime at these locations, why would anyone think a convenience store owner can do it?

I'll be talking with Scott Ciolek today at 4:30, so tune in as I sub for Brian Wilson and the Afternoon Drive 3-6 p.m. And check back for updates on the case!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Can government really 'stimulate' the economy?

Gov. Ted Strickland, in his state of the state address, called for $1.7 billion in state spending to 'stimulate' the economy. Yesterday, along with House Speaker Jon Husted and Senate President Bill Harris (Republicans), he announced a revised plan for $1.57 billion - but with less reliance upon borrowing as a source of the funds.

SIDEBAR: Of course, most local elected officials are extremely supportive of this proposal because they see more state money flowing to their jurisdictions to cover the costs of roads, sewers and other infrastructure projects. That their constituents are the source of the funding for these projects seems to be missed, however.

One of the sources of funding for this new spending is 'excess Ohio Turnpike revenue.' In my on-air discussion with Husted yesterday on NewsTalk 1370 WSPD, I asked him why any 'excess revenue' isn't going toward reducing the tolls. I really didn't get an answer, other than it was a great question and one that would have to be debated as the proposal goes forward.

The tolls for the Ohio Turnpike, which runs across the northern portion of the state from Pennsylvania to Indiana, have been a source of contention for those who live along the roadway for a long time. Failed promises to remove the tolls once the road was paid for, raising tolls in order to keep up with expansion and maintenance, truck traffic on local roads from those avoiding the cost, and other issues all combine to make the northern portion of the state feel animosity over just about any discussion of this thoroughfare. And then there is the state law which limits Turnpike revenue usage to projects within one mile of the toll road.

Politicians in Columbus may get more than an earful over this portion of the funding, in addition others. They're already seeing opposition from the anti-smoking groups over another source: using $230 million from the state’s anti-smoking efforts, leaving $40 million in what was expected to be a $1 billion endowment. Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation Executive Director Mike Renner has questioned the legality of the state taking this money.

Additional sources of funding to avoid borrowing include liquor sale profits and future general tax revenue transfers. Husted's explanation was that this is not a 'perfect' agreement, but it is better than borrowing. And he's right on that point, but he misses the bigger picture.

The overall business climate of the state is not a result of a lack of government spending.

Ohio has, for several decades, tried to 'stimulate' the economy (though elected officials didn't use that term) through targeted subsidies to politically popular industries, more infrastructure spending and other various programs designed to keep people and businesses in the state. Such efforts have not been anywhere near as successful as hoped. In fact, during all these efforts, the state's standing compared to others has fallen - except in the tax burden. Recent changes in the tax structure have helped somewhat, but not enough. And that's because government is continuing to spend.

Despite the fact that government spending hasn't worked, this stimulus package is just more more of the same, even if it's based upon borrowing only $400 million (instead of the original $1.4 million) to do so. As Dr. Samuel Staley of The Buckeye Institute said of the original proposal:

"Restoring Ohio's economic vitality will be difficult. ... the key will be in creating a policy environment where broad-based entrepreneurship and business investment is welcomed and nurtured.

Ohioans already spend nearly four months working off the cost of local, state, and federal government services. With the new debt the governor wants to heap on, taxpayers are destined to add another month working for the government. This leaves fewer and fewer dollars to fuel economic growth in the private economy. That's a recipe for driving away entrepreneurship and private investment, not keeping or nurturing it."

Husted has indicated that this new plan will allow the state to spend money more quickly than the original one would have permitted. Perhaps that's part of the problem: elected officials looking at government spending to 'quickly' do something, even if those 'somethings' will not have the desired effect of actually changing the economic environment in the state. Quick fixes might be 'quick' but are rarely a true 'fix' to the problem.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Foreclosures and your tax dollars

Lucas County Commissioners yesterday approved a contract for $200,000 to help up to 60 families who are facing foreclosure on their homes. That's $3,333.34 each.

According to Comm. Pete Gerken, "This is darn good public policy and don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

Um...right. It's good public policy to take money from everyone in order to give it to a few who've made bad decisions with their finances over a period of time.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul is NEVER good public policy. It's only good for Paul or the person who wants Paul's vote!

NewsTalk 1370 WSPD has a sound clip of Gerken on the subject (link will be added when clip is available) in which he addresses the criticism some would level on such a policy. His reasoning is that he "makes no apology" for spending tax money to help people stay in their homes.

Of course, he's not helping them - you and I are. And in taking our tax dollars for this purpose, he's saying that government needs this money to help people more than you need it for making sure you don't end up in the group they're trying to help!

Missed in all the hoopla over helping people is that the money isn't even going to the families in such need. Nope - the money is going to pay for services and classes being put on by the contracted agencies. Eligible families will participate in counselling, budget classes and training on interest rates ... a bit after the fact, if you ask me.

Perhaps the loss of a home would be a good enough lesson in those subjects. Don't misunderstand me - I'm not being an evil, heartless conservative. I don't want families to lose their homes.

I just believe that, often, the best-learned lessons are the hardest ones. Sometimes the only way people truly learn is when they are allowed to suffer the consequences of a bad decision. It happens as we grow up and it continues into our adulthood. When government steps in to try and save people from the consequences of bad decisions, the cycle - and precedent - becomes never ending. And the result is less freedom for everyone.

As it is, our commissioners are more interested in the few (60 families) than they are the many (the other 400,000 residents in the county). They're perfectly willing to expend $200,000 of your tax dollars to 'save' up to 60 families.

Now, this is only available to families - at least one parent/guardian with a minor child in the house. That's because they're using TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) dollars.

For at least four years, the commissioners have found new uses for these funds, adding new programs that can be paid for with these dollars. That's because we get more money than we actually need - and because we spend it all each year (by adding new services), we continue to get more. Lucas County has also increased the eligibility levels for many of these programs, most up to 250% of poverty level and some have been as high as 300% of poverty level.

(Remember: 300% of poverty level for a family of four is about $62,000. According to 2005 IRS data, that income puts you into the top 25% of wage earners in the United States. That's hardly 'poverty.')

As a commissioner debating a similar issue, Gerken once accused me of hating social service agencies and of not wanting to 'help' people. I replied - rather forcibly - that it wasn't that I didn't want to help people, I just believed in doing so with my own money rather than by spending other people's money that had been entrusted to me. There was no retort.

If every Ohio county spends $400,000 on foreclosure programs (the total amount that our commissioners have set aside), the cost of such help adds up to $35.2 million. If every state copies this, that's $1.76 billion - and now you're getting into 'real' money. Money that has been taken from each taxpayer who would probably have a better use for it.

“I’m sure everyone feels sorry for the individual who has fallen by the wayside or who can’t keep up in our competitive society, but my own compassion goes beyond that to the millions of unsung men and women who get up every morning, send the kids to school, go to work, try and keep up the payments on their house, pay exorbitant taxes to make possible compassion for the less fortunate, and as a result have to sacrifice many of their own desires and dreams and hopes. Government owes them something better than always finding a new way to make them share the fruit of their toils with others.” ~ Ronald Reagan

If you have an opinion about the decisions the commissioners made - or their logic in making it - let them know. They'll think they're doing the right thing unless we tell them otherwise:

Tina Skeldon Wozniak:
Pete Gerken:
Ben Konop:
Phone number: 419-213-4500

For another perspective on foreclosures, try this article which says foreclosures are good for some...



"There simply was no such thing as a developed Subprime mortgage industry until the US congress created it by ordering banks to issue loans to people who were not credit worthy."

- Columnist Jerry Bowyer

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Congrats to Jill!

Ohio's own Jill Miller Zimon, who blogs at Writes Like She Talks, made the list of 10 most nominated female bloggers in Women Voices Women Votes "Women making history" contest.

In addition to her blog, she's also one of the coordinators for the Carnival of Ohio Politics. You can see the other nominees and vote for Jill here.

Congratulations and good luck, Jill!

The Blade and I agree

Yes - it does happen...And in this case, I'm glad they've finally joined me in recognizing that the money matters.

Last August, I blogged about the Concord Coalition and their Fiscal Wake-Up Tour. Today, The Blade's editorial board does the same thing. We agree that the fiscal issues are critical and that the candidates aren't talking about the serious problems we face in that regard.

While the editors don't say this, I will: Too many times, the candidates are promising more spending and more government expansion while ignoring the pending financial crises in the entitlement programs and in the entire federal budget. Already, Medicare and Medicaid consume 42% of our federal budget, but Senators Clinton and Obama want the government to pay for universal health care.

Since The Blade is supporting the questions and issues being raised by the Concord Coalition, I certainly hope they will insist that their reporters ask such questions of all federal candidates (especially our representatives, including Marcy Kaptur) - and then print the answers for all of us to read.

(p.s. Do you think they asked Obama these kinds of questions when he was here?)

Chris Hackett (Why can't we find a candidate like him?)

In roaming around the internet, I came across an endorsement for Chris Hackett on

Chris is running for Congress in Pennsylvania's 10th Congressional District primary for the Republican nomination.

He's a fiscal (and social) conservative, an entrepreneur, a businessman and a CPA. And he's not afraid to take on the issues - challenging the sitting representative who votes for 'fruit fly research in France.'

The thing I like about Chris is that he's willing to stand for what he believes in, offering Republicans in Pennsylvania a candidate who represents the core values of our party ... something that seems to be lacking in many who currently hold office in D.C.

I know there are people like this in the Toledo, Lucas County, and Ohio area who would be willing to run for public office. I just don't know if our local and state parties are ready for them - yet.
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