Saturday, May 31, 2008

County used CIP tax dollars for arena

Not that I got the information through my public record requests, but I did find where the extra money in the arena budget came from.

On June 5, 2007, in Resolution #07-737, the County Commissioners voted to transfer funds out of the unappropriated balance in the Capital Improvements Fund for the arena. The amount? $20 million!

I missed this in my previous searches through the resolutions because it did not contain the arena account number. But it explains why there were so few CIP projects approved in 2007.

As I speculated, they took taxpayer dollars out of existing County funds with the 'plan' to repay them later. In a non-answer to my public records request (didn't tell me WHERE the appropriated funds came from), David Mann, public affairs liaison for the Commissioners, wrote:

"... like any project of this nature financed by debt, the County has appropriated funds to meet our expenses until the bond issuance which is scheduled for later this summer."

So, the Commissioners 'borrowed' $20 million from the county's CIP and 'borrowed' $18.5 million by having the County Treasurer issue bonds, for a total of $38.5 million in up-front money that needs to be repaid.

When the long-term bonds for the arena are issued, they can repay these borrowed funds, but they must still be capable of paying the principle and interest on the final bonds out of the various revenue funds for the arena, including future profits, naming rights and suite sales and the hotel/motel tax.

Based on the original financing plan, they were short of funds to cover the $80 million estimated cost. Now that the cost is closer to $108 million, and considering that they're short (so far) $4.55 million from the state, they're even further behind.

I'm really looking forward to the final financing plan being made public and I'll be watching to see if, considering the financial situation, they make any changes in the scope of the project to bring the costs more in line. Or if they'll break their promise that the arena has to "pay for itself" by deciding to 'forgive' these loans in order to make the project a success...

Convenience stores get injunction

Because of my schedule yesterday, I'm a bit late in posting the outcome of the injunction requested by the Midwest Retailers Association over the convenience store licensing law.

But they were successful, as Federal Court Judge James Carr ruled that the City of Toledo could not begin enforcing the law until July 1.

Uniformed Toledo police officers began delivering letters to convenience stores earlier this week. According to today's paper, Police Chief Mike Navarre said the letters were because only about 25% of required stores had applied for the license by the May 1 start date.

A hearing for the injunction will be June 20th.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Emergency injunction requested on Convenience Store Licensing Law

Yesterday, the Midwest Retailers Association (MWRA) filed a motion asking Federal District Court Judge Carr for an Emergency Injunction against the City of Toledo to prevent the city from enforcing the new 'convenience store' licensing law.

From Scott Ciolek, the attorney for the group:

If Judge Carr decides in favor of the MWRA the City of Toledo will not be able to enforce any aspect of the Convenience Store Licensing Ordinance. It is anticipated that Judge Carr will make a ruling on the Emergency Motion sometime today.

Over the past 3 days uniformed Toledo Police officers have been delivering letters from the Toledo Chief of Police to the owners and operators of Toledo convenience stores. The letter states, among other things, that if the stores fail to submit the applications for the license the store owners will be subject to 30 days in jail.

The motion for the Emergency Injunction is a response to this letter.

According to the temporary restraining motion, the city agreed to not to begin enforcement of the law on May 1 as planned, but to delay the enforcement in the hopes of settling the lawsuit. However, on May 27, uniformed Toledo police officers began delivering letters to convenience stores that detailed the criminal penalties for non-compliance with the law, and the administrative fines for not having camera monitoring systems.

By engaging in the conduct described above, Defendant has manifested clear intent to end settlement negotiations, and proceed with the enforcement of Ordinance 797-07. At the same time, Defendant has requested an extension for more time to respond to MWRA’s motion for preliminary injunction.

The letter does not explain the the law is currently the subject of a lawsuit, nor does it provide a deadline for making the required license application, indicating that failure of immediate compliance will result in criminal prosecution and imposition of substantial administrative fines.

Stay tuned - this is definitely going to get more interesting...

FOIA Friday - May 30, 2008

The struggle continues to get information about the financing for the new Lucas County ice arena.

Earlier this week I made another request for public information to identify where, exactly, the county is getting the money to pay for the contracts they've approved.

As I wrote in my FOIA Friday post of May 9,

So far, the Commissioners have approved (although not all the money has been expended) $31,750,000 in spending for the arena. However, the only source of revenue they've voted upon is the $18,500,000 in bonds issued by the County Treasurer to provide 'seed money' for the project. Even this amount really can't count as 'revenue' because the money was borrowed and will need to be repaid. This means they are currently about $13,250,000 in the hole.

Even if they transfer the money collected from the additional 2% hotel-motel tax, that's only about $1 million from 2007, so they're still in the hole.

As I learned through other public records requests, the arena account has about $32 million in it. Obviously, that account contains the $18.5 million that the commissioners borrowed. It might include the roughly $1 million from the last year's collection of the hotel/motel tax. So where did the balance of about $12.5 million come from????

That's what I want to know - but it's apparent that the people on the 8th floor of Government Center don't want to tell me, since I still don't have an answer to my request for public information.

According to the Auditor's office, the money in the account was part of the budget the commissioners passed. But what, exactly, that meant, the staff member wasn't sure.

Since the Commissioners have not approved the receipt of any other funds, nor have they approved any other bonds for the project, their only sources of income are county accounts: general fund, capital improvement fund, economic development fund. It is possible for them to 'loan' money from these funds to the arena account with the expectation that other sources of arena revenue (grants, naming rights, suite sales) will be used for reimbursement. But if they did this, I cannot find any vote on it.

So, again, where did they get the money to put into the arena account? Inquiring minds...

I'd also like to know what other sources of revenue they've identified to cover the $25 million increase in construction costs. But until they are required to submit such information to the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission in order to get their earmark from the state's capital improvement program, it appears that question will remain unanswered.

I again predict that public monies will have to be tapped before the end of construction because there is not enough private sector participation or future profit in the project.

The biggest problem I have will this is that, as a former Commissioner, I know the ins and outs of county government and I know what information should be available and from where. Imagine a citizen trying to make these requests and trying to figure out where to go to information.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ohio to kill all pit bulls?

On May 19th, Ohio House Representative Tyrone Yates (D - District 33 in Cincinnati) introduced House Bill 568 to:

amend section 955.11 and to enact section 955.111 of the Revised Code to prohibit the owning, keeping, or harboring of pit bull dogs beginning ninety days after the effective date of the act and to require specified officers to seize all pit bull dogs after that date.

It includes this change to Ohio law:

Sec. 955.111.
(A) Beginning ninety days after the effective date of this section, no person shall own, keep, or harbor a dog that belongs to a breed that is commonly known as a pit bull dog.

(B) Not later than ninety days after the effective date of this section, a person who owns, keeps, or harbors a pit bull dog on the effective date of this section shall surrender the dog to the dog warden. Not later than ten days after receiving the dog, the dog warden shall euthanize the dog.

(C)(1) Beginning ninety days after the effective date of this section, if an officer has probable cause to believe that a dog is a pit bull dog, the officer may apply to a court of competent jurisdiction for a search warrant. The court shall issue a search warrant for the purposes requested if there is probable cause to believe that a dog is a pit bull dog.

(2) After obtaining a search warrant, an officer shall seize the pit bull dog and surrender the dog to the dog warden. Not later than ten days after receiving the dog, the dog warden shall euthanize the dog.

(D) As used in this section, "officer" has the same meaning as in section 959.132 of the Revised Code.

The bill has been referred to the State Government & Elections committee. It does not currently have any other sponsors.

Rep. Yates proposed the bill after a 12-year-old was bitten numerous times by a pit bull. Unfortunately, banning and killing a particular breed is not going to eliminate the possibility of dogs biting kids. Yes, pit bulls, because of their physical characteristics and generations of breeding, can cause more damage with their bites than other types of dogs, but that is not a reason to confiscate private property and destroy it.

And that's what this bill does - it takes something that belongs to you and destroys it under the guise of 'keeping the community safe.' But how this bill with solve the problem of dog bites, even the sponsor doesn't know.

"How it's going to work out in the end, no one knows because when you talk about basically destroying a breed or euthanizing a breed that raises all kinds of moral challenges," said Yates.

Yates says he will reintroduce the bill next year if it doesn't pass during this House session. Considering the opposition that is already present (with on-line petitions and PETA involved), I don't think his bill will be passed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Carbon Belch Day

After my post on Czech President Klaus and his willingness to debate Al Gore on global warming, I just couldn't resist this article in Information Week:

Global Warming Skeptics Plot 'Carbon Belch Day'

By Paul McDougall

Conservative grassroots group wants people to waste as much energy as possible on June 12 by "hosting a barbecue, going for a drive, watching television, leaving a few lights on, or even smoking a few cigars."

The point: the group wants to "help Americans break free from the 'carbon footprint guilt' being imposed by Climate Alarmists." says it's skeptical over claims that man-made sources of carbon dioxide emissions -- from automobile exhausts to manufacturing plants -- are raising the Earth's temperature at a dangerous rate. Theories about global warming were highlighted by former Vice President Al Gore's 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth. president Steve Elliott, in a statement, said such theories are off the mark. "It's time for Americans to purge ourselves of the false guilt that Al Gore and the Climate Alarmists have placed on us," Elliott said. said it chose June 12 as the day it wants Americans to rev up their SUVs because it coincides with expected debate in Congress over a $1.2 billion carbon tax rebate program. "Carbon Belch Day will have at least as much impact on the so-called 'planetary emergency' of man-made global warming as the goofy save the earth mandates telling us to turn our lights off for an hour," said Elliott.

Cities around the world went dark for an hour on March 31 to mark "Earth Hour," an event created by the World Wide Fund for Nature to inspire people to find ways to use less energy. is the latest group to question whether global warming is a real phenomenon, or whether it's as severe as portrayed in Gore's film. London's Daily Telegraph this week called environmentalism "the new secular faith."

The paper said the United Kingdom's carbon credits program for industry is "just like the medieval trade in indulgences, where remission for sins was granted by the Church once the sinner confessed and received absolution."

Noted physicist Frederick Seitz, a former president of the National Academy of Sciences, has also questioned the accuracy of global warming theories, as have a number of other academics.

Despite such skepticism, many U.S. companies -- including IT vendors like Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft -- are developing new lines of energy-saving products billed as Earth friendly. IBM (NYSE: IBM), for instance, recently launched Project Big Green, a $1 billion investment to increase the energy efficiency of the company's offerings.

For buyers of such systems, whether or not global warming is real is beside the point. Skyrocketing fuel costs are forcing businesses to cut down on energy consumption in as many ways as possible. As a result, it's unlikely many will decide to "belch" away hard-earned dollars on June 12.

Quote of the Day

From The Patriot Post

"The proposed Constitution, so far from implying an abolition of the State governments, makes them constituent parts of the national sovereignty, by allowing them a direct representation in the Senate, and leaves in their possession certain exclusive and very important portions of sovereign power. This fully corresponds, in every rational import of the terms, with the idea of a federal government."

-- Alexander Hamilton (Federalist No. 9, 1787)

Tim Higgins always finds a complimentary quote to add to my quote of the day and this one, I thought, needed to be moved to the post instead of just as a comment...Thanks, Tim!

"The 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

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I really like Czeck President Vaclav Klaus

From The Earth Times:

Czech President Vaclav Klaus said Tuesday he is ready to debate Al Gore about global warming, as he presented the English version of his latest book that argues environmentalism poses a threat to basic human freedoms. "I many times tried to talk to have a public exchange of views with him, and he's not too much willing to make such a conversation," Klaus said. "So I'm ready to do it."

Klaus was speaking a the National Press Building in Washington to present his new book, Blue Planet in Green Shackles - What Is Endangered: Climate or Freedom?, before meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney Wednesday.

"My answer is it is our freedom and, I might add, and our prosperity," he said.
Klaus, an economist, said he opposed the "climate alarmism" perpetuated by environmentalism trying to impose their ideals, comparing it to the decades of communist rule he experienced growing up in Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia.

"Like their (communist) predecessors, they will be certain that they have the right to sacrifice man and his freedom to make their idea reality," he said.

"In the past, it was in the name of the Marxists or of the proletariat - this time, in the name of the planet," he added.

Klaus said a free market should be used to address environmental concerns and said he oppposed as unrealistic regulations or greenhouse gas capping systems designed to reduce the impact of climate change.

"It could be even true that we are now at a stage where mere facts, reason and truths are powerless in the face of the global warming propaganda," he said.

Klaus alleged that the global warming was being championed by scientists and other environmentalists whose careers and funding requires selling the public on global warming.

"It is in the hands of climatologists and other related scientists who are highly motivated to look in one direction only," Klaus said.

Was 2006 promise to stop the war just a campaign ploy?

Did the Democrats lie when they promised to 'stop the war' as part of their 2006 campaign? At least one Dem says that's what happened.

Blogger Warner Todd Huston has the full story of Rep. Paul Kanjorski (Dem., PA) "telling an audience at a town meeting that the Democrat Party was basically lying when they said they’d stop the war if they were elected as the majority during the 2006 midterms."

Back on the radio!

Yep - I'm going back to doing radio!

A couple of weeks ago, I announced that I was giving up my host duties for WSPD's Eye On Toledo radio show so that I could devote more attention to the business my husband and I have. Following that decision, WSPD asked if I would be able to do Eye On Toledo on a part-time basis and, after looking at the schedule, it appears that such an arrangement would work well for both me and WSPD.

So, starting today, I'll be co-hosting Eye On Toledo with Larry Bertok. I'll do the show Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Larry will be the host Thursdays and Fridays.

I do hope you'll continue to join us for lively discussion on the issues of the day!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Some Friday humor courtesy of the DNC

Face the State (Colorado) has a bit of humor I wanted to share with y'all about the upcoming Democratic National Convention. If you're looking for something on the light side for your Friday reading, this interview with a potential DNC caterer is it.

In case you're wondering, this is not a fiction piece. The complete catering RFP includes such terms as:

The criteria to be used for the proposal evaluation include but are not limited to:
4) Participation of Minorities, Women, and People with Disabilities is a goal in all Planning Committee related contracts. The Planning Committee will look to award 15% to minority business enterprises and no less than 15% to womenowned business enterprises. If you are not a minority and /or women-owned business, please describe how you will incorporate minority and women owned business in Section B.

5) How products and/or services provided minimize resource consumption and negative impacts on the environment.
No weighing or relative importance is intended or implied by this list. However, the Planning Committee encourages the submission of responses by firms who contract with persons who belong to an organized labor union as well as those firms owned by minorities, women and people with disabilities. Accordingly, please include any information regarding certification as or collaboration with minority business enterprises, women business enterprises, and/or persons with disabilities, as well as any union designations.
In support of the DNC’s “green” mission to Planning an environmentally responsible convention, preference will be given to Vendors that have a proven commitment to “green” practices and that consider and minimize the life-cycle environmental impacts of catering.

The Vendor must demonstrate experience with greening events and/or willingness to support the Green priorities of the Planning Committee and Mayor’s Office by making very effort to accomplish the following:

1) Offer, highlight and promote food that meets with the Greening Initiative’s Lean and Green Criteria:

2) Lean
a) Half of the meal (or 50%) of the plate is made up of fruits and/or vegetables
b) A colorful meal - include at least three of the following five colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white. (Garnishes not included)
c) No items are to be fried

3) Green
a) 70% or more of ingredients by precooked weight are certified organic
i) and/or grown/raised in Colorado
b) 70% or more of ingredients by pre-cooked weight are fresh and (not preprocessed)

4) Use re-usable service ware such as china, porcelain, glassware, and metal flatware. Use cloth napkins and tablecloths instead of paper.

5) When absolutely necessary to use a disposable product, make sure that it is either made out of recycled and recyclable plastic or that it is compostable bioware. Be consistent in your selection so that the waste stream is easier to manage after the event.

6) Recycle or compost all trash that can be recycled or composted.

7) Donate all food waste to local food banks that can be donated. Compost all food that cannot be donated.

8) Do not serve plastic bottled water. Serve tap water in large dispensers or in pitchers to be served upon request.

9) Encourage work staff to take alternative transportation such as walking, riding a bike, carpooling, or taking public transportation. Discourage all single occupancy vehicles.

10) After your event, calculate and offset its carbon footprint using the online mechanism provided by the Planning Committee. For the purpose of this modest investment, you should factor in a line item of about to your budget

11) Communicate your green activities to your attendees creatively while generating the least amount of waste. Be sure that any necessary documents, signage or banners are made of highest content possible post-consumer recycled content are able to be re-used or re-purposed.

12) Work with the Planning Committee greening staff to document and measure your efforts.

As with any RFP, there are questions that arise, and the answers are posted on-line:

For the purpose of the RFP and until we have more specific answers, please keep in mind that the Host Committee of the Democratic National Convention is committed to making this the greenest convention possible.
Our goals are the following:
• To minimize any potentially negative environmental impacts of the 2008 Convention on our community;
• To create a new green standard for all conventions that can be reproduced in the future, here in Denver and elsewhere;
• To demonstrate the economic and community benefits of greening;
• To educate our own citizens and our guests about green and healthy choices they make in their own lives; and
• To build an enduring positive environmental legacy that will echo here and around the country long after the last delegate arrives back home.

We recognize that this initiative is the first of its kind and there are no precedents. We are asking all partners to make best efforts and explain ways/methods/business practices that you will endeavor to help us achieve our goals. Once you are selected, a member of our Greening team will specifically work with you to achieve green-oriented goals.

I have no idea if the RNC has anything similar.

FOIA Friday - May 23, 2008

I've been tracking the spending on the new Lucas County arena project and have written about the money the project will get from the state's capital budget. That money is administered by the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission (OCFC).

Currently, there is about $5 million reserved for the project, but it has not yet been distributed to the county. The new capital budget includes another $2.2 million. The combined amount is considerably less than the $12.25 million the original arena budget called for, leaving the project over budget (due to increased costs) and underfunded.

I've been able to do this tracking because of Ohio's public records law - the state equivalent to the federal Freedom of Information Act.

But it isn't just the money. Through requests for public records, I've been able to learn about the process the state uses for actually disbursing the funds and it appears there are many hoops for the county to jump through before the money will be released.

According to what I've learned about the arena project from OCFC staff:

After a successful review of the project and the determination that the project meets all of the various requirements, laws and guidelines, Commission staff would recommend that the project be placed on a Commission meeting agenda for the Commission’s consideration.

At this time, the arena project is tentatively planned to appear on the Commission’s July meeting agenda for consideration to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This is, in essence, only a preliminary, partial approval from the Commission. It would not be a full approval, and no expenditure of funds would result from entering into a Memorandum of Understanding.

The Commission utilizes Memorandum of Understanding agreements to provide preliminary approval of projects in instances where the Commission is able to make one or more, but not all, of the required determinations that result in a project’s full approval. The MOU agreement for the Ice Arena project would confirm the Commission’s preliminary approval by determining that there is a need for the project in the community, and the MOU would document the specific additional steps needed for final Commission approval for release of the state bond funds. The agreement is used to provide assurances to the parties involved and establish clarity regarding expectations on both the Commission’s and the local sponsor’s part.

Upon completion of the steps outlined in the MOU, the project would be in a position to receive final approval from the Commission.

Once the MOU is scheduled for a vote of the OCFC, it is a public record and will be available for viewing. I'll continue to check on this and will share with you the information I receive. We'll then be able to track the steps they've identified to see if and when those steps are completed. We'll also be able to see a completed financial plan and will know if the County Commissioners are keeping their word that the arena will 'pay for itself' and not use any public monies other than the hotel/motel tax.

Stay tuned....

Other FOIA posts from around the 'net:

Real Debate Wisconsin follows up on the leased cars for Congress to see if Wisconsin reps are letting taxpayers cover the cost of their vehicles.

Friday FOIA Fun: Intelligence

Jim Thompson's expense report

Wisconsin Sunbeam - should be a regular read for anyone interested in open records.

Sunshine Review and WikiFOIA - great web resources for public information.

Robert Mullins: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week from State Sunshine and Open Records blog which also does a Tuesday Open Records links round-up

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A discussion on race

I was invited to join a panel for a discussion on race. That discussion is scheduled for tonight from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at The University of Toledo Ingman Room in the Student Union. Unfortunately, I had another commitment so I was not able to participate.

However, there are a couple of questions I think should be asked when it comes to race and 'race issues' and I hope they will be part of tonight's discussion.

For instance, does the way that people identify themselves impact others' perceptions of them? If a person says "I'm a Latina" as their first personal descriptor, does that suggest (or do people perceive) that the racial/ethnic descriptor is the most important - and therefore, the primary basis of how a person wants to be viewed?

Contrast that with "I'm a Toledoan" or "I'm a doctor" as the first descriptor, which focuses others on city or profession - eliminating the emphasis on race. Would changing such self-descriptors help or hurt race relations? Would it focus people more on the 'content of character' rather than the 'color of skin'? Does this diminish the heritage people are so proud of?

Another question I would like discussed and examined is this: If it's racist to discriminate against a person because of the color of their skin, isn't it also racist to discriminate in favor of a person because of the color of their skin? This question can also be applied to gender and is used in many instances, such as employment and voting.

Some of the draft questions being considered for the panel include:

1. Affirmative action/Reverse discrimination – Of what value is affirmative action today? Do the values of affirmative action outweigh the damaging effects of reverse discrimination?

2. Racial profiling – Recently in Philadelphia, about 20 white police officers pulled three black males from a car and severely beat them in full view of cameras. Such incidents of racial profiling occur typically to young men of color be they black or brown, or should they happen to look black or brown. Is racial profiling an endemic problem within this society or a rare occurrence highlighted by the cameras? Is racial profiling a necessary law enforcement technique?

3. Are we too sensitive – Last year shock jock Don Imus called a college women’s basketball team – all but two players on the team were black – “nappy headed hoes.” His resignation was demanded from a variety of quarters. Are we too sensitive to stupid comments? Or do we simply make too many stupid comments? What are the limits with respect to how we can refer to other ethnic groups?

4. News reporting double standards – During the Katrina debacle, a national news outlet captioned two white residents carrying goods liberated from a store as survivors. A news outlet captioned a similar photo of two black residents as looters? Is this double standard typical?

5. Black/Brown competition and tensions – Latinos recently surpassed African-Americans as the most populous minority group in the nation and reports of racial incidents and lack of cooperation are mounting. On a small scale, what will it take to foster cooperation here in Toledo?

6. There is a new Toledo ordinance requiring convenience stores to be licensed and install security cameras – to be enforced starting at the end of this month. Is this ordinance directed at Middle Eastern store owners? Would such an ordinance exist if convenience stores were primarily owned by racial or ethnic groups in whose neighborhoods such places were located?

7. Let’s talk a bit about racial and ethnic identification – Do we need more education as a people about racial, ethnic and religious labels? Or, are such conversations counterproductive?

8. White privilege – In Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, author Beverly David Tatum defines racism as “a system of advantage based on race.” Do you agree with this description? Why or Why not?

9. The system of advantage is costly for everyone including white people. Agree?

The real question we should be addressing is how to get to the point where we treat everyone equally, without regard to race, in a society that focuses on our differences - our diversity - instead of our commonalities.

Perhaps the panelists should read 'Historical Overview of Race Preference and Affirmative Action Policy in America' from the American Civil Rights Institute before beginning the discussion. As what normally happens when government gets involved, in an effort to 'solve' a problem, they just make things worse. Instead of a color-blind society, we have decisions based upon color of skin in order to comply with government laws.

I wish I had been able to participate, especially because it appears the panel is in need of more 'conservative' perspectives, but I am glad that the discussion is beginning.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Proselytizing Mayor

Yesterday, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner urged health care professionals to do a 'better job' of promoting healthy lifestyles for Toledoans.

Yes, according to our mayor, this is part of his job. Who knew??

From today's paper,

Considering the number of hospitals and health centers in Toledo, Mr. Finkbeiner said "it is shameful for this city, year in and year out, to be ranked near the bottom in terms of healthy living."

Mr. Finkbeiner challenged doctors locally to spend as much time and energy promoting exercise and healthy living as they do treating and curing the conditions that result from an unhealthy lifestyle - particularly heart disease.

It seems Carty doesn't realize that doctors already do this, which is why they need to be 'challenged.'

Of course, it isn't that doctors don't promote healthy living, it's that Toledoans choose to do things which may or may not negatively impact them. We know smoking is bad for us and, despite the occasional story of someone who smoked their entire life and died at a ripe old age with no consequences, many people ignore the health consequences and choose to smoke. The same goes for the food we eat and the amount of exercise we do - or don't do.

Dr. David Grossman, Toledo-Lucas County health commissioner, seemed to be a voice of reason when he said, "It's really up to the individual." As a doctor, he knows that he can only give advice - not force the change. (Too bad he didn't have the same perspective when he pushed the smoking ban - using government to 'force' a change in behavior that he wanted to see...)

Why this emphasis? It's because several years ago, our mayor had bypass surgery and it 'opened his eyes' to the way he was living. And, like any convert, he's now sharing his newly-found devotion ... except he's using the office of mayor to proselytize.

It's one thing to support a healthy lifestyle. It's another entirely to chastise health care professionals and the citizens because they choose behaviors he does not condone.

Now if only we could get him this interested in providing water to the area around the airport so it can be developed....

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ohio taxpayers to help fund Lucas County's arena

The plan for funding the now $108 million cost of the new downtown arena got a boost with the announcement of Ohio's capital budget.

The Blade article still has the 'old' price of $105.9 million, despite the county's draft budget submitted to the Ohio Cultural Facility Commission which shows the higher amount.

There is already $5.5 million at the OCFC from previous capital budgets and the new budget includes another $2.2 million. However, the original financing plan for the arena, when the cost was only $80 million, called for $12,250,000 from the state through the OCFC.

The price of the arena has increased $28 million and one of the available funding sources is short $4.55 million - so there is $32.55 million of funding which has yet to be identified.

The commissioners have said the arena has to pay for itself. However, they haven't said where they're getting this extra money - and they're continuing to build it. In fact, on June 4th, the commissioners will "host a major design roll-out" for the public. As they've said they need the final designs in order to complete the financing plan, perhaps after June 4th when the 'final design' is public, they'll explain exactly how the project will be paid for, keeping in mind their promise that the only tax dollars to be used are from the hotel/motel tax.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Armed Forces Day

My apologies as my tile project distracted me, but Saturday was Armed Forces Day.

On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days. The single-day celebration stemmed from the unification of the Armed Forces under one department -- the Department of Defense. Each of the military leagues and orders was asked to drop sponsorship of its specific service day in order to celebrate the newly announced Armed Forces Day. The Army, Navy and Air Force leagues adopted the newly formed day. The Marine Corps League declined to drop support for Marine Corps Day but supports Armed Forces Day, too.

In a speech announcing the formation of the day, President Truman "praised the work of the military services at home and across the seas" and said, "it is vital to the security of the nation and to the establishment of a desirable peace." In an excerpt from the Presidential Proclamation of Feb. 27, 1950, Mr. Truman stated:

Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration by America's defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, towards the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense.

The theme of the first Armed Forces Day was "Teamed for Defense." It was chosen as a means of expressing the unification of all the military forces under a single department of the government. Although this was the theme for the day, there were several other purposes for holding Armed Forces Day. It was a type of "educational program for civilians," one in which there would be an increased awareness of the Armed Forces. It was designed to expand public understanding of what type of job is performed and the role of the military in civilian life. It was a day for the military to show "state-of-the-art" equipment to the civilian population they were protecting. And it was a day to honor and acknowledge the people of the Armed Forces of the United States.

According to a New York Times article published on May 17, 1952: "This is the day on which we have the welcome opportunity to pay special tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces ... to all the individuals who are in the service of their country all over the world. Armed Forces Day won't be a matter of parades and receptions for a good many of them. They will all be in line of duty and some of them may give their lives in that duty."

The first Armed Forces Day was celebrated by parades, open houses, receptions, and air shows. In Washington D.C., 10,000 troops of all branches of the military, cadets, and veterans marched pass the President and his party. In Berlin, 1,000 U.S. troops paraded for the German citizens at Templehof Airfield. In New York City, an estimated 33,000 participants initiated Armed Forces Day "under an air cover of 250 military planes of all types." In the harbors across the country were the famed mothballed "battlewagons" of World War II, the Missouri, the New Jersey, the North Carolina, and the Iowa, all open for public inspection. Precision flying teams dominated the skies as tracking radar were exhibited on the ground. All across the country, the American people joined together to honor the Armed Forces.

Armed Forces Day is celebrated annually on the third Saturday of May. Armed Forces Week begins on the second Saturday of May and ends on the third Sunday of May, the day after Armed Forces Day. Because of their unique training schedules, National Guard and Reserve units may celebrate Armed Forces Day/Week over any period in May.

(From DefenseLink, "A Tradition of Heroes")

In Toledo, we gathered to dedicate a new Purple Hearth Memorial in the Civic Center Mall.

My thanks and appreciation to our military, our veterans and their families.

The joys (ha!) of home improvement

I haven't posted since Friday morning because I've been busy with tile. Bathroom, tile, to be specific. Bathroom tile mounted not in regular mortar like we use today - but in concrete and wire mesh on top of cement board on top of the subfloor.

For those of you not familiar with such activities, it means that the best way to remove such tile is with a sledge hammer and a crowbar...if you're lucky.

The house we are in is extremely well-built and we love the fact that the bathroom tile has survived pretty well for over 50 years. But it is an ugly peachy and brown color that makes everything look sallow. And I just couldn't take it anymore.

So out it comes to be replaced by a soothing neutral beige color that will compliment the white toilet and sink.

But it's not as easy to actually do, as it is to write about. And it is very dusty.

So, for the past couple of days, we've been pounding, ripping, and shoveling - since the debris is easier to shovel up than it is to pick up. And despite our best efforts to keep the dust in the bathroom, there appears to be a thin layer covering just about everything in the house. It's amazing how much dust a simple redecorating project generates.

But that portion is now done - thank goodness! Over the next couple of days, we'll paint the room a nice creamy color and lay the new tile. And then we'll have beautiful, spa-like colors in our bathroom!

These kinds of things are good for people to do - if they know how. When we first started with home renovations on our first house, I didn't know anything about mudding and taping, grout, or setting a toilet. But HGTV was somewhat new at the time and PBS had a terrific show called Hometime that taught me a lot. The shows and videos, combined with instructions on the corresponding internet sites and 'how-to' books from the library, showed me step-by-step instructions and gave me the confidence I needed to try little things, to start with, and more complicated ones after gaining some experience.

Now, the idea replacing tile in a bathroom seems like a simple weekend project, even though I know that it will take a bit longer than that. Of course, my back isn't as young as it once was and Aleve seems to be as critical a component as safety glasses and gloves.

I will, of course, do my best to catch up with the news over the next couple of days and provide my usual, logical commentary...

Friday, May 16, 2008

FOIA Friday - May 16, 2008

We've been following the efforts of Graphics Guy to get some public records relating to red light/speed cameras and aerial speed enforcement as part of the FOIA Friday posts.

He has gotten some of the information requested, but the majority of the data either isn't recorded or just hasn't been provided, and he is still considering a mandamus action to compel the city of Toledo to provide the data.

It appears that the city may be in violation of it's own public records policy which states: "Any denial of public records requested must include an explanation, including legal authority." So far, he hasn't gotten any explanation of why the other requested information hasn't been provided.

But it is surprising what you find when you ask. As Graphics Guy was interested in the calibration of the various traffic control cameras, he asked for the records regarding maintenance and calibration. The information, below, shows that the city had been calibrating their cameras between two and four times a year, but hasn't done so in over a year for most of them.

When I interviewed the appeals hearing officer about the red light/speed camera violations on Eye On Toledo (NewsTalk 1370 WSPD), he said that individuals appearing at the hearing often question the calibration of the cameras, but most don't know they need to subpoena such records ahead of time. He also said the Toledo Police Officer present at such hearings always indicates the cameras pass their calibration tests.

But if they haven't been checked in over a year, how can they be sure?

If you've gotten one of these tickets and want to appeal the violation, you can use these dates as part of your discussion. And since this information is current as of this week, if they claim they've suddenly managed to calibrate the cameras between now and your hearing, you should ask them to prove it.

Next Friday, I'll share with you some additional information I got through a public records request about the financing of the Lucas County Arena.

Calibration Dates and Camera Locations:








Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ridiculous commercials, lack of propriety and loss of manners

As I was watching TV last night, I was struck by two things regarding the commercials: the ridiculousness of some of the legal requirements for prescription drugs and the complete lack of decorum or propriety for some items.

Between ads for erectile dysfunction (a term that just about every child has heard) and post-menopausal symptoms, I couldn't help but wonder why an advertiser needs to provide disclaimer information for people already taking a drug they are advertising.

Most of the e.d. drugs include some statement about contacting your doctor if you experience certain symptoms when taking the drug. The one I saw last night for osteoporosis geared toward post-menopausal women included a disclaimer that you shouldn't take the drug if you're pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant. Huh??

If you're advertising to try and get people to consider taking a particular prescription, aren't such disclaimers relevant only to those already consuming the drug? And wouldn't it be reasonable to presume that your doctor has already told you about possible side effects relevant to you before actually prescribing any medicine?

Normally, I tune out when such ads come on, but last night they seemed constant, intermixed with ads for feminine, sexual and incontinence products. When I was younger, I could never imagine ads on TV for tampons, condoms, sexual lubricants or adult diapers.

It wasn't that I didn't know about those things - it was just that there were some things you 'didn't discuss in polite company' as my grandmother and mother used to say. There were times and places to discuss such things, but it wasn't through an advertisement on television that invades an otherwise enjoyable evening of favorite shows.

To be quite honest, I still believe some things should remain personal or private. I would like to maintain some sense of propriety - when it is or isn't appropriate to discuss certain topics, issues or products - and I don't want to forgo the limited number of TV shows I like or be forced to invest in a Tivo in order to do so.

Sadly, I see these ads as an indicator of a bigger problem: the loss of manners in society. The proliferation of cell phones results in me knowing more about other peoples' issues, schedules and work than I would prefer. And it makes me extremely uncomfortable to be in a public restroom when someone in the next stall is on the phone carrying on, of all things, a work discussion while toilets flush around them.

At the grocery store the other day, I was standing in front of the milk refrigerators. A child - perhaps six or seven years old - squeezed between my cart and the door, opened it, and got out a milk. Seeing him, I moved my cart to make it easier, but he never said 'excuse me' or any other such comment - nor did he even acknowledge that I was in his way, except to push my cart. If he was being taught manners at home, he wasn't practicing them. And if he wasn't being taught such things, his parents are contributing to the decline of civil society.

Today, many substitute political correctness for manners. But if people were using manners, I don't think we'd have a need for 'politically correct' language or behavior.

Sadly, I appear to be in the minority when it comes to such perspectives, and I think our society is in decline as a result.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

'Not business friendly' Post #9 - convenience stores, again

I just don't understand what the members of Toledo City Council have against convenience stores. They've already passed a licensing law for these types of stores (though the effective date has been postponed due to a lawsuit filed), and now they want to cut down on the 'proliferation' of such stores.

According to today's paper,

Councilman Joe McNamara has proposed an ordinance prohibiting a convenience store from operating within 2,000 feet of another convenience store, or within 1,000 feet of a school, public library, or other places established for minors.

Establishments that do not sell tobacco or tobacco products would not be affected, Mr. McNamara said.

"In 1993, spacing requirements were added to the Toledo Municipal Code and, in 2004, it was taken out as a comprehensive rewrite of the zoning code," he said.

"We are just going back to what we originally had since there has been a proliferation of convenience stores in the central city since 2004."

Yes - you read that correctly. We've got businesses starting in the city and now that's a bad thing that must be addressed through zoning restrictions to prevent it from happening. And they think the problem is in the central city, but the law will affect all areas of the city, equally.

It seems to me that there must be a need for such stores or they wouldn't be opening. And, with gas prices the way they are, it should come as no surprise to council members that individuals might choose to walk to a neighborhood store rather than drive elsewhere.

The supporters of such regulation are using the same arguments they used to support the licensing law:

"Supporters of stricter regulations argue that convenience stores have saturated Toledo and are attracting crime, alcoholism, prostitution, drug use, and other unsavory elements.

Critics say some Toledo stores stock drug paraphernalia, such as disguised crack pipes and small plastic bags for powder drugs."

Note that it's not the behavior they're trying to stop, nor are they calling for more police officers and better enforcement of laws against prostitution, drug use or loitering. No, they're trying to drive job providers out of the city.

Just because some drug addict finds a drug-related use for a normal grocery item like small bags does not mean the seller of the small bags is stocking drug paraphernalia. I use those small bags quite often and NOT for drugs!

Council members need to stop catering to the anti-business demands of these neighborhood groups and start looking at the real problem. If crime in these areas is the problem, the solution is not to drive business owners away - it's to increase police patrols, enforcement and prosecution.

Shutting down a business will not change the behavior of the people who patronize such establishments, but it might be an easier decision for politicians because then they can say they 'did' something - even if what they 'did' doesn't solve the problem.

Toledo can't afford more anti-business decisions, and calling the city a 'business friendly city of the future' doesn't make it so.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Another law to protect us from our own ignorance

Toledo's new land contract law takes effect today. And it's another example of government deciding to create a law to protect us from our own ignorance.

You see, our government officials believe that individuals who purchase a home under land contract are stupid, so they really don't know what they're doing when they make such a decision.

Councilman Joe McNamara, who sponsored the ordinance, said the law would protect unsuspecting buyers.

"It's a very bad situation when unscrupulous businesses take advantage of people, take advantage of poor people," Mr. McNamara said.

How condescending! According to this quote, McNamara thinks that only poor people get taken advantage of...

Any home buyer in Ohio can pay for a home to be inspected. But that's not good enough for Toledo politicians. Since some buyers don't take advantage of the ability to have a home inspected, that responsibility now falls the seller of the property, under penalty of law. Additionally, if an inspection shows problems, all the problems must be fixed prior to the closing.

While there is a provision for 'fixer-uppers,' there are only six months to make improvements, which might not be feasible especially in this economy. And you know how many home sales this applies to? Last year, it was 311 or 1.6% of all homes sold in Toledo.

As is usual in Toledo, the city doesn't have the required list of inspectors ready to go...

This is certainly not business friendly. At a time when home sales are in a slump, the City of Toledo just made it more difficult and more costly to sell a home - all to 'protect' its citizens from their own failure to make an informed decision about a major purchase.

I guess in today's nanny state, caveat emptor is no longer applicable and the government will protect us from ever making a mistake - and then will bail us out if we do.

Monday, May 12, 2008

$108 million for new arena

According to a draft document filed with the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission, the projected cost of the new Lucas County arena is $108 million.

The OCFC is holding about $5 million in state dollars for the project, but does not release their funds until final financing plans are filed with the agency and approved by their board.

Estimated costs include:

$ 74,202,369.00 for design and development
$ 19,835,400.00 for General conditions

Total of above construction costs: $ 94,037,769.00

$ 5,650,000.00 for Architect fees

$ 385,000.00 for Demolition and Remediation of Buildings

$ 363,877.00 for Testing

$ 2,187,000.00 for Lucas County general conditions like waste, utility, legal notices, etc...

$ 1,554,100.00 for Professional Services including legal, consultants

$ 4,000,000.00 for project/owner contingency of 5%

with Total Expenditures estimated to be $108,177,746.00.

Still no word on where the county will get another $28 million to cover the extra costs ....

'Not business friendly' - Post #8 - Payday Lending

My last guest on Eye On Toledo was Jamie Frauenberg, Executive Vice President of Checksmart Financial and President of the Ohio Association of Financial Service Centers. (Pod cast should be available here.) We discussed HB 545, a new Ohio law regulating payday lending.

Among the various provisions of the law, which was passed by the House and is under consideration in the Senate, are a limit on Annual Percentage Rate (APR) of 28%, restricting borrowers to no more than four loans per year, and a requirement for borrowers to participate in a state-mandated financial education class prior to a third loan.

Accordingly, in order to keep track of how many loans people take out and whether or not you need to be financially educated, there is a requirement for a state-wide data base to track such activity - and the state must develop and provide such financial education classes.

Opponents of the law have some very valid points:

* APR is only applicable to long-term loans which payday lenders don't offer. If our state legislators are so worried about usury, then maybe they should look at other types of fees that have higher APRs - like bad check fees (as high as 1400% APR) or even the late payment requirements for government utility/water bills (as high as 1200% APR). Both of these costs are equivalent to the $15 fee charged for borrowing $100 - an APR of about 391%.

* In both North Carolina and Georgia, the number of bad checks written went up after payday loans were similarly regulated.

* Using payday lending is a choice. For some people, it is a good financial choice that is cheaper, easier, more convenient and more logical than other options. There are some individuals who abuse the choice, but such individual action should not be the reason to limit the choice for everyone in the state.

Proponents make points which are based upon, imho, emotion and the idea that individuals who make poor choices need to be prevented from doing so and held harmless from any consequences:

* They routinely trot out a small number of individuals who have serious financial difficulties and have not used the option of a payday loan responsibly. They imply that most - if not all - payday loan customers are the same.

* They say that individuals are going into debt and that the state must break the cycle of debt by prohibiting these types of choices that they believe contribute to the cycle of debt. (note: eliminating one option that may contribute to some people's debt does not mean that those individuals change their spending habits nor that they stop borrowing.)

* They claim it is morally wrong to charge so much for a loan and, as a result, such companies are predatory and need to be prohibited from doing so.

Not Business Friendly

The payday lenders say this new law will put them out of business, resulting in the loss of about 6,000 jobs in Ohio. Elected officials (Rs and Ds) say they need to act in order to 'help' the citizens of Ohio and to 'protect' them from making such a financial mistake.

Even the Toledo Blade got into the act with their editorial calling these job providers 'legal loan sharks.' Of course, the editors there truly believe that government needs to take care of us and prevent us from having a choice we could abuse (smoking, mortgages, payday lending) - after all, they certainly know what's good for us, even if we don't.

"Payday industry backers claim the interest-rate cap would put Ohio's 1,600 stores out of business and 6,000 Ohioans out of work. To that we say good riddance. The state, as well as the people suckered into using their services, will be better off."

Yes, you see, The Blade thinks that running companies - employers - out of the state is a good thing!

But that's not the only anti-business comment they make.

"As we noted a year ago, the watchdog groups Policy Matters Ohio and Housing Research and Advocacy Center reported that check-cashing and payday-loan outlets have been growing like a plague in Ohio for a decade..."

This industry is growing - obviously because they are meeting multiple needs of the people who utilize them. And not every customer can be as portrayed by the proponents of the law because, if they were, these companies would be bankrupt themselves.

National Campaign

But note the description of Policy Matters Ohio? It's not described as the liberal, union-backed think tank that it is. (Seven of the 12 board members of Policy Matters Ohio are current or former members of unions - or represent unions in their jobs. State Sen. C.J. Prentiss, D-Cleveland, is a founding member.) It's called a 'watchdog group.' What they don't tell you is that Amy Hanauer, the founding Executive Director of Policy Matters Ohio, is on the board of Demos another liberal think tank whose latest focus/issue is debt.

"Demos is a national, non-partisan (and nonprofit) public policy, research and advocacy organization. Based in New York City, Demos publishes research reports and books, hosts public forums, and works with advocates and policymakers around the country in pursuit of three overarching goals: a more equitable economy; a vibrant and inclusive democracy; and a public sector capable of addressing shared challenges and working for the common good."

(Sounds like the other socialist, anti-capitalistic groups with whom they affiliate.)

They, along with several other organizations, want increased government regulation on credit cards, pawn shops, payday lenders and just about any other company that provides various choices for individuals.

They don't believe that such debt is the consequence of frivolous spending or irresponsible finances, but because there is too much 'inequality' in the world and poor and middle class 'families' (they never use the term 'people') are being preyed upon by such industries.

Accordingly, these national organizations are reaching out to like-minded state groups to promote laws that conform to their opinions of what financial options should be available to citizens. They've even included the National Council of Churches, which is why so many ministers have joined the debate.

Their quiz on their "new thrift" website that claims the 'most valuable current pro-thrift idea' is 'alternatives to payday lenders.'

Of course, if one industry is under attack, it's very likely that another will benefit. So, it should come as no surprise that the credit unions will be the 'vehicle of choice' for the state's new lending programs and that they, too, are intricately involved in the 'new thrift' initiative (through the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions - a CDCU is a credit union with a specialized mission of serving low- and moderate-income people and communities).

Interestingly, credit unions are not subject to the same truth in lending laws that payday lenders and banks must follow. And credit unions also charge 'fees' which have high APRs - but since they're part of the 'solution,' such issues are being overlooked by the proponents and the legislators.

Political Wrangling

From a state perspective, the Republicans were afraid that the Democrats might own this issue during a critical state/national election cycle. So, despite significant opposition to the proposed regulations, in light of a forced vote on the issue, the GOP leadership decided to lower the targeted APR from 36% to 28% and then get behind the bill. So the bill passed with significant GOP support.

From a national perspective, this is more about controlling the economy and limiting individual choice to 'approved' industries, ones that are community-owned rather than 'for profit.' And Ohio's state-wide groups are more than willing to be a part of the effort.

Bottom Line

Ohio is losing population and businesses. We certainly don't need to pass more laws that force particular industries out of the state.

The goal - of 'saving' citizens from these 'evil predators' so they 'break the cycle of debt' - will not be met. Removing an option that serves many responsible individuals does not mean that irresponsible individuals suddenly change their behavior.

The government should not create a state-wide data base of individuals utilizing a specific lending service. Furthermore, the state should not be mandating financial classes in order to obtain a loan. Nor should the state spend taxpayer dollars to do these things.

It is the height of arrogance to believe that the state can make a better decision than the individual when it comes to what type of loan best serves a person. And with all the criticisms of government tracking coming from the left side of the political spectrum, I find it highly contradictory and hypocritical that these same left-leaning groups are supporting a state-wide data base of people who borrow money.

This is a bad law whose intent is to eliminate payday lending in Ohio and will not accomplish the goal of 'helping' people who are financially irresponsible in the first place. The Senate should reject this and, especially, the emotional appeal being presented by the proponents.

If you agree, you can share your thoughts with our elected officials here.

Other perspectives:

* interest rates reflect risk and by limiting possible returns to a set interest rate, you effectively forbid legal loans to any group of people whose collective risk rate exceeds that rate.

* Testimony to Ohio General Assembly - Senate Finance and Financial Institutions Committee on May 7, 2008, by Tom Lehman, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Economics in Marion, Indiana

* In defense of payday loans

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to my mom, my sister and my aunt ... and to every mother!

My mom is a neverending song in my heart of comfort, happiness, and being. I may sometimes forget the words but I always remember the tune. ~ Graycie Harmon

I love my mother as the trees love water and sunshine - she helps me grow, prosper, and reach great heights. ~ Adabella Radici

[A] mother is one to whom you hurry when you are troubled. ~ Emily Dickinson

A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie. ~ Tenneva Jordan

The phrase "working mother" is redundant. ~ Jane Sellman

Being a full-time mother is one of the highest salaried jobs in my field, since the payment is pure love. ~ Mildred B. Vermont

Sweater, n.: garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly. ~ Ambrose Bierce

The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness. ~ Honoré de Balzac

The real religion of the world comes from women much more than from men - from mothers most of all, who carry the key of our souls in their bosoms. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child. ~ Sophia Loren, Women and Beauty

A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts. ~ Washington Irving

A little girl, asked where her home was, replied, "where mother is." ~ Keith L. Brooks

All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother. ~ Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A new job

Several years ago, my husband and I formed a company to provide consulting engineering services. Despite the lack of opportunity within the Toledo area, we found that many areas of the country are growing and expanding - and so did the business.

It is now to the point that it requires the full-time attention of both us. As a result, I have decided to leave my radio job as host of Eye On Toledo. I could do both jobs, but would not be able to do either of them well - and both of them deserve someone who gives them their full attention.

I am tremendously grateful to Brian Wilson and WSPD for giving me the opportunity, and for the advice and guidance which helped me do it well. I also appreciate the freedom to do as I wanted with the show, focusing on topics that interested me and allowing me to speak my mind even if it didn't quite agree with the other hosts.

All the people at WSPD and Clear Channel were great to work with - providing help, support and constructive criticism. This area is fortunate to have the voice they provide - and that's true even if you don't agree with the positions the talk shows take.

I have been asked to fill-in during vacations or other occasions and have agreed to do so when I can arrange my schedule accordingly. Right now, it looks like I'll be subbing for Fred LeFebvre when he goes on vacation around the Fourth of July time frame.

I will continue my column in the Toledo Free Press - and my blog, of course - as those can be done at any time, day or night.

I appreciate all who listened and participated in Eye On Toledo and I hope their participation will continue. Thank you!

Friday, May 09, 2008

FOIA Friday - May 9, 2008

For quite some time, I've been tracking the spending and financial plan for the new arena being built by the Lucas County Commissioners.

The first (and, so far, only) public document on the financing of the arena was a part of the 'study' done in 2006 when I was still on the Board of County Commissioners. I analyzed the financial plan and shared my observations and concerns. I've done numerous follow-ups on the subject as bits and pieces of information were released by the commissioners.

The County Commissioners have a good website and Jody Balogh, Clerk of the Board, is extremely timely in updating the agendas and meeting reports of the Commission. I used the search function and located all resolutions relating to the arena project. I then created a spreadsheet of all the spending that's been authorized for the project.

So far, the Commissioners have approved (although not all the money has been expended) $31,750,000 in spending for the arena. However, the only source of revenue they've voted upon is the $18,500,000 in bonds issued by the County Treasurer to provide 'seed money' for the project. Even this amount really can't count as 'revenue' because the money was borrowed and will need to be repaid. This means they are currently about $13,250,000 in the hole.

Even if they transfer the money collected from the additional 2% hotel-motel tax, that's only about $1 million from 2007, so they're still in the hole.

Taking advantage of Ohio's public records law and the excellent service the public gets from the County Auditor's office, I requested information on all monies into and out of the arena account. This was easy to do as the account number for expenditures is listed on the County Commissioner's resolution.

The information from the Auditor's office shows that there is a budget of $33,206,455.66. So I asked where that $33 million came from if the only revenue has been the borrowed $18.5 million from the bonds. The answer? That additional money was from the Commissioner's budget.

So I'm now in the process of tracking down the source of the additional $14.5 million, especially in light of the public statements that the arena must pay for itself and no tax dollars (other than the hotel-motel tax) were going to be used for funding.

I've been working on this for about a week already and will keep you posted on what I find.

Other FOIA Friday posts from around the blogosphere:

Skip Murphy's efforts to get his local school board to put data on their website. I guess Chris Myers isn't the only person fighting this good fight.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Ohio's medical buy-in program for kids

This comes from the "things I learned en route to other destinations" category....

Ohio has a medical buy-in program for kids in families earning more than 300% of the Federal Poverty Level, or more than $42,000 for a single parent and one child.

This program is funded entirely by state General Revenue Fund dollars (no Medicaid monies) and is managed by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Monies for the program were appropriated in the last biennial budget bill.

According to the JFS website,

"Ohio’s Children’s Buy-In (CBI) program is a state-funded health care program for certain uninsured children in families with income over 300 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). Applications for CBI are now being accepted, with enrollment beginning June 1, 2008. The program was created as part of Governor Strickland’s plan to “Turnaround Ohio,” to provide more uninsured Ohioans with access to affordable health care. It is expected that 5,000 children will be enrolled in this program by June 30, 2009."

In order to be eligible, children must be younger than 19, must be a U.S. citizen and an Ohio resident, the family’s household income must be more than 300% FPL and the child must have been uninsured for the previous six months.

Additionally, the child must meet at least one of the following criteria:
* Unable to obtain insurance coverage due to a preexisting condition
* Lost the only available insurance coverage because of a lifetime benefit limitation
* Cost of the only available insurance is more than twice the premium for CBI
* Child participates in the Ohio Department of Health’s Program for Medically Handicapped Children (also known as “BCMH”)

This program requires the family to pay a monthly premium for the insurance that ranges from $250 - $500, depending on income.

Thoughts: I'm concerned about this, as my tax dollars are being used to provide health insurance for families with kids who might be able to obtian their own insurance. Not all participants are in this particular category - but some must be - otherwise they wouldn't include the criteria that the 'cost of the only available insurance is more than twice what the state charges.'

So if you can get insurance for your child, but it's expensive, the state will subsidize this for you - using my tax dollars.

I guess I go back to the issue that if I want to donate my money to people who need help with such things, I'll do so on my own. I don't need the state to take my money through taxation in order to provide charity to others.

And no, I'm not being a heartless, evil conservative. I do want to help my fellow Ohioans. I just want to do so in a different way: giving as I choose, where I choose and how I choose - rather than having my limited funds taken from me and given as politicians in Columbus choose.

Sidebar: I could not find the cost of this specific program. But I did find this analysis:

Ohio’s FY 2008-2009 budget, signed by Governor Strickland on June 30, 2007, includes several provisions that will extend access to health care to more children, including:

* Raise the Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women from 150% of the federal poverty level (FPL) to 200% FPL.
* Raise the Medicaid/SCHIP eligibility for Ohio children from 200% FPL to 300% FPL.
* Allow Ohio children aging out of the foster care system to keep Medicaid coverage until age 21.
* Create a new program that allows uninsured children living in families with incomes over 300% FPL to buy public health coverage on a sliding fee scale.

Approximately 32,000 uninsured Ohio children could benefit from this expansion; the Administration estimates that 19,695 children will enroll during the biennium. Estimated cost is $5.6 million (all funds) in FY 2008 and $38.6 million (all funds) in FY 2009.

Ohio school levies suffer worst primary election beating in 25 years

From the County Commissioners Association of Ohio:

As reported by the Ohio Department of Education, just 46.1% of the school tax issues on the March 4 primary ballot passed. That passage rate is the lowest for a primary election in the last 25 years, according to the Education Tax Policy Institute. The approval rate in the last two primaries was 54.3% in 2007 and 58.8% in 2006.

But will school boards learn anything from this other than that they must 'scare' people more in order to gain passage???

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Are you really a Republican if you support tax funded universal health insurance?

Last night, this resolution was passed unanimously at the Toledo City Council meeting:

RES. 256-08

Recognizing Cover The Uninsured Week 2008.

WHEREAS, Cover The Uninsured Week 2008 will be April 27- May 3, 2008; and

WHEREAS, 1.3 million Ohioans, including 43,700 adults and 6,200 children in Lucas County do not have health care coverage; and

WHEREAS, eight of 10 people who are uninsured are in working families and Ohio no longer offers medical assistance to low-income non-elderly adults without children at home, unless they are totally and severely disabled; and

WHEREAS, viable solutions to these problems are within our reach; and

WHEREAS, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid are successful programs that provide cost-effective coverage that saves both lives and taxpayer dollars through preventative care and early treatment; and

WHEREAS, insured children are twice as likely as uninsured children to get the medical care they need, when they need it; and

WHEREAS, as costs continue to rise, Ohio’s individuals, working families, and small businesses need help paying for coverage; and

WHEREAS, Ohio is poised to make historic progress in children’s health coverage through expansions passed in the FY2008-2009 budget; and

WHEREAS, Ohio’s leaders are on the verge of taking meaningful action to find common ground between providers, consumers, businesses, and insurers to create a sustainable plan that will assure affordable, accessible, high quality coverage to hundreds of thousands of Ohioans; NOW, THEREFORE,

Be it resolved by the Council of the City of Toledo:

SECTION 1. That Toledo City Council urges Governor Strickland and Ohio’s legislative and administrative leadership to take all necessary steps to reach affordable, accessible, and adequate health coverage for all Ohioans, and hereby declare April 27-May 3, 2008 as COVER THE UNINSURED WEEK in TOLEDO, OHIO.

SECTION 2. That this Resolution shall take effect and be in force from and after the earliest period allowed by law.

Such a resolution isn't unusual in the liberal/Democrat-dominated Toledo City Council, but what is unusual is that this resolution passed with the support of the three Republicans.

I have no idea why Republicans would vote to urge state government to provide health insurance, considering that a core Republican principle is LESS government involvement in our daily lives, not to mention the idea of LESS taxation...

What's more puzzling is the lack of discussion about this 'whereas': "...the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid are successful programs that provide cost-effective coverage that saves both lives and taxpayer dollars..."

Taxpayers would save MORE if these programs didn't exist, but I guess that's beside the point.

And how anyone can claim that these bloated bureaucracies, which are about to go bankrupt, are 'successful programs' is just beyond my (apparently) limited understanding.

Perhaps our GOP representatives will say that they voted to name the week - a meaningless action in which all governmental bodies partake (and I've done so myself when a County Commissioner). But if they were just voting to name it "covered the uninsured week," they could have asked for the policy issues to be excluded from the resolution. That's what I've done.

As it stands now, George Sarantou, Betty Shultz, and Tom Waniewski are on the record as supporting state-provided (read taxpayer funded) universal health insurance coverage. It's no wonder many Republicans believe they have no representation on Toledo City Council.

See what happens when you get in the way of government spending?

State legislators have voted to dismantle the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation, and Gov. Ted Strickland is expected to sign the bill. This isn't about reducing the size of government, though. This is payback for daring to challenge the State on how the monies would be spent.

Never mind that the state was supposed to use tobacco settlement funds for future medical costs...

Never mind that government really can't stimulate the economy by spending more...

Now that the agency doesn't exist, it can't sue the legislature. As reported in today's Blade,

"Once the agency ceases to exist, it will have a difficult time being able to sue us,'' Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati) said shortly before the Senate voted 29-3 to kill the quasigovernmental body. The House overwhelmingly passed the bill last week.

I'm not in favor of the agency continuing, but that's because I didn't think it should have been created in the first place. My issue was with the original lawsuit and the settlement agreement. However, as a result of that suit and settlement, this agency was created and many of the legislators voting to dismantle it are also the same ones who voted to create it in the first place.

I also question why Ohio needs to spend $40 million every year in tobacco prevention education. We have laws about the sale of tobacco to minors which means that only adults should be using the product - and they're capable of making up their own mind about their actions. Even when minors illegally engage in such activity, there are laws to address it - and parents, too.

There is no doubt that smoking causes health problems - and every package contains various warnings about how bad it is for you. I really don't think there is anyone in the country who doesn't acknowledge this fact, even if they know of one or two people who've suffered no ill effects from this habit.

Further, the $40 million per year obviously isn't having an impact on the number of smokers if, according to the CDC, the percentage of smokers in Ohio has actually increased from 22.3% in 2005 to 23.1% in 2007.

Of course, this battle with the OTPF isn't about the purpose of the funds, it's about the umbrage state elected officials took at one of their creations challenging them on how to spend the funds.

"The wellness of the people of Ohio is a jobs issue, an economic issue. They are not separate,'' said Sen. Kevin Coughlin (R., Cuyahoga Falls), one of the three negative votes. He argued that the state had reneged on the commitment it made to Ohioans to use part of its national settlement with tobacco companies to fight smoking.

Sen. Jeff Jacobson (R., Vandalia), however, challenged Mr. Coughlin's suggestion that a government bureaucracy will not be able to fight smoking better than the quasigovernmental foundation.

"If I had hundreds of millions to spend, I could manage to spend some of that money effectively…,'' he said. "The money still belonged to the people. They treated it callously as their own property."

Um...isn't that what state legislators are doing ... treating our tax dollars and these settlement funds as their own property to be spent as they want, regardless of the promises made???

The lesson here is bigger than the use of the monies. Had our Republicans in Columbus actually stood by their (supposed) limited-government principles, we never would have entered the lawsuit, or created the agency. And we would then be spared from having the discussion of how government was going to spend all the money it has at its disposal. Starve the beast, because if you don't, it will spend everything it can.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

What good is council if they can't do their job?

Among the myriad of agenda items for tonight's Toledo City Council meeting is consideration of a purchase agreement between the City and Tetra Tech, a local company who wants to develop the Swan Creek Area.

It really isn't a purchase agreement, but a 'hold in place' contract whereby the City will agree to hold on to various properties in the area - for $5,000 - for up to 18 months while Tetra Tech does their due diligence on the idea.

This is a terrific agreement for Tetra Tech and I certainly do not fault them one bit for working out a contract that is all to their benefit.

Toledo City Council rightly has questions on the contract and the potential financial obligations. So one council member, Joe McNamara, has suggested that council hire an outside attorney to review the contract on behalf of the council members.

First of all, that's what a city law department is for - but making this suggestions will fit nicely with the perspective some on council are trying to promote that the law department is working for the 'mayor' and not the 'city as a whole,' including 'council.'

Aside from the political strategy, Joe McNamara is an attorney, so I fail to see why he feels it necessary to have someone with legal expertise examine the contract. Can't he do that himself???

And other council members seem to be warming to the idea.

If our council members are so lacking in ability to read, examine and evaluate an agreement as so simple as this particular contract, it scares me to death to think they also vote on bond issues, budgets, grants, etc.

I read the proposed contract and saw several things which weren't spelled out. One example is the environmental issue. The actual purchase is dependent upon several items as part of a feasibility analysis. One of those is the stipulation that the properties have no environmental issues - or the issues are addressed. This particular clause does NOT say WHO is responsible for addressing the issues - the buyer or the seller. Even though the city's attorney assured council during their agenda meeting last week that it was the buyer, I would have asked that such clarification be incorporated into the language of the agreement. And, if it's already understood that the buyer is responsible, including such written documentation of that understanding shouldn't be a problem.

See how easy such things are? And I'm not even an attorney. So why would members of council not be capable of reading the document, asking such questions and then informing the law department what additions/subtractions they'd like included in the contract? Granted, the law department will have to take the recommendations back to Tetra Tech, but I'm sure Tetra Tech is expecting such actions.

What bothers me most is the implication that members of council are not qualified to read, evaluate and then make recommendations on such a simple, straightforward contract. If they can't do that, what else are they incapable of doing - and why are they still in office if they can't perform such basic functions?

Pilot program for automated garbage pickup

I'm in the pilot area for the automated garbage pickup. I like the container that's been provided and think it will be fine for us, even when we have larger gatherings.

Yesterday was the first day of pickup and photos of the truck and process are below. The driver was a bit slow, but he said he expects to get faster as he gets used to the truck and the process. Since these trucks have arms only on one side, he has to take two trips down the street to get the garbage on both sides. This is expected to change if the pilot is expanded to the city as a whole.

Of the 17 cans on my side of the street, only three of them ended up with open lids after being emptied. If you'd like to hear yesterday's conversation about the program, you can listen to a pod cast of Eye on Toledo here. Conversation about the trash program starts at 6:15.

Monday, May 05, 2008

UPDATED: Tobacco settlement was for health-related expenses

Well, I thought so!

Earlier I posted about the state's idea to take tobacco settlement money as part of the funding for a supposed 'economic stimulus' plan. And I questioned why we'd be taking money out of a fund that was supposed to pay for future medical-related expenses.

Today's Blade has an article about the tobacco companies making their yearly payment for the funds and it reiterates that these funds are for health-related expenses.

So if the state wins their lawsuit and raids these funds for a nebulous economic stimulus, where will they get the money to pay for all these health-related expenses that they sued over?

Inquiring minds....

Apparently, Tennessee has the same problem with their tobacco funds, as Blue Collar Muse reports. What a surprise that government spends everything it gets for its own purposes, even when money is supposed to be earmarked?

Still no answers on arena financing plan

At the end of March, it was reported that hotel/motel occupancy rates declined in 2007 in Lucas County, and I blogged about the impact that would have on the financing of the new arena.

Of course, according to this report from WSPD News, the final cost of the arena won't be known until the final design is complete and the last bids are awarded later this year.

Now, let's take a look at this...

The hotel/motel tax is generating about $1 million per year. They plan to issue 30-year bonds and use this revenue to cover the costs of the bonds. However, $1 million/year only adds up to $30 million - not the $43-50 million that the tax was projected to generate to meet the budgeted cost of the arena. And we've not even begun to talk about the interest on the bonds. Even if the hotel/motel tax collects the projected $1.2 million per year, that's only $36 million - still far short of what is needed.

So where is the difference going to be made up????

WSPD has some other sound clips from this story today and I'll link to them as soon as they're available on the website. They include Joe Napoli saying that three companies are 'interested' in naming rights. Originally, naming rights were projected to bring in $14 million. As I wrote here,

According to, getting $14 million for our new arena - even if combined with naming rights for the convention center - would put us third highest in the country. While I'd LOVE to have someone walk in and plop down a check for $14 million to name the arena, prudence tells us that such a company would do their research and know what naming rights are going for and make an appropriate offer.

Napoli explains that there is 'support' for the arena project. That's a good thing. However, until 'support' transforms into 'financial participation,' all we're doing is gauging interest - not intensity. While there is a lot of 'support' in the community for a new arena, the intensity of that support, especially when your own money is on the line, hasn't yet been demonstrated and the economic conditions in the county may mean that original projections must be revised.

The biggest problem is the design of the arena. I'm at a loss for how you can build a structure without having the final design. The numbers being used lately for the cost of the arena have increased with the project now estimated at around $105 million, even though no one (except me) has held the Commissioners accountable for where they're going to get the $25 million increase ...

I can understand that estimates of costs are just that - estimates - and that actual costs would depend upon the returned bids for the various components. But the final design needs to be done PRIOR to the bids being offered, otherwise, the bidders have no idea what they are supposed to be doing. Based upon the final design, there should be an estimate of costs and, prior to bids ever being offered, there should be a new financing plan that identifies the sources for all funds for the arena costs.

And without a sound and sufficient financing plan, the bids should NOT be offered.

If you agree, tell the Commissioners:

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

My prediction in March was that sometime between now and the opening of the arena, the Board of County Commissioners will announce that they need more money in order to finish what they've started. I also predicted the logic will be that "we can't stop now when we're halfway through the construction, so you need to support a tax or levy or some other source of additional public financing."

I, too, would like a new arena. I'm supportive of the project - but my support is dependent upon the ability of the Commissioners to keep their promises that no tax monies except the hotel/motel tax will go toward the project. And having been in elective office, I'm skeptical - and rightly so.
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