However, any update on where a city stands must also account for the promises made by a mayor for the direction he told us he would lead the city in.
So, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's campaign promises need to be compared to the content of his state of the city address if we are to get a full and complete picture.
Unfortunately, his state of the city address touts lots of successes in the private sector and very little about the overall state of our community. He does praise the increased bond rating, but doesn't address the $10 million budget deficit we faced in 2008 or the $21 million or so deficit projected for 2009.
He praises the lowered crime rates, but fails to mention the cancellation of both police and fire classes that had been budgeted for the end of 2008.
He claims credit for every job that got tax incentives, but doesn't mention the businesses that closed and the jobs lost as a result of the taxes in the city. He also didn't mention the increase in unemployment rate to double digits.
He promised to work on a 'technology corridor' with the University of Toledo and Owens Community College, but his role in that process has been limited. He did say he's working on a new 'corridor' between Cleveland and Toledo that focuses on the solar area. Of course, no one has the temerity to point out that we focused on the auto industry years ago in the same way politicians are focusing on the solar industry today. Will the outcome be the same? Will we devote our efforts to a single field and find ourselves with a lack of diversity in jobs in the future? No one is considering that perspective.
He again promotes the Marina District, but much of the promises regarding that property fall on deaf ears. It's been promised since 2001 and the only money that's actually been spent there is public. With the status of the economy, there isn't much demand for the housing and retail that are supposed to fill that space, and the named developer has already said financing for the deal is gone. While Carty promises 'vertical development' of the Marina District by this spring, he doesn't say what that development will be. Is it the road that's funded with our tax dollars?
His promise #3 was to seek private developers to build a new sports arena. While the arena is being built, it's being done so with predominately public dollars by the County Commissioners. The city turned the project over to the Commissioners several years ago, primarily because of difficulties with Section 79 of the city charter, that restricts public funding of such projects.
Carty promised a revitalized Southwyck mall within 365 days of taking office. Well, this is the last year of his four-year term and the city doesn't own the property, the owners are only going to demolish the buildings if they get public funds to do so and the area is deteriorating. However, there are new flowers and lights along Reynolds Road, though what that does for revitalizing the mall is beyond the thinking of most people.
Carty also wanted to redevelop the Westgate/Cricket West retail area. Of course, he did more to hamper what the private owner wanted to do with her property than he did to help, and almost cost us the entire project. He, and two of the County Commissioners, threatened all kinds of things to stop the redesign of the property. Fortunately, these three elected officials came up against a formidable and smart property owner and the area looks better now than the politicians could imagine. But don't expect this to send a positive message to other developers. The fiasco gave a black eye to Toledo and sent up huge red warning flags that our mayor was not 'business-friendly.' Carty didn't mention this goal during his speech.
Carty also didn't mention his business advisory group. He established a committee that was supposed to help with promoting businesses and easing government obstacles. They were also supposed to review laws passed over the past 25 years and rescind any that hamper business development. As far as I can tell, not a single law has been repealed and, if the committee actually recommended any, it's not documented anywhere.
Carty pledged to raise $250,000 annually from the private sector to fund the urban beautification program on streets, parks and in neighborhoods. Again, as far as I can tell, this goal has never been met and appears to have fallen by the wayside.
His promise #14: Commit to hiring more police officers, so Toledo will no longer have the fewest police per 1,000 residents of any major city in Ohio. I don't know where the city stands in terms of officers per residents, but I think that number is less important than the area of the city our officers need to patrol. And the fact that money was spent frivolously to the point where the police class had to be cancelled due to a lack of funds failed to get a mention in his speech.
He's got some other promises, like returning every phone call within 24 hours and holding monthly 'meet the mayor' meetings throughout the city. I have no idea if he's managed to return phone calls within 24 hours, but I do know citizens go weeks without issues being resolved. They might get a letter, but it's as likely to be a scathing attack on the person as much as it is to be the solution to the problem. Carty is famous for his 'you, sir...' missives. As for the monthly meetings, he did get off to a good start, but those, like the business advisory council, have fallen by the wayside. Of course, when you're getting beat up over your decisions each month, it's not hard to understand why he doesn't hold them anymore.
Then there is this promise: Pursue further discussions on establishing a regional water/sewer authority to serve our area while ensuring Toledo residents a reasonable return on their infrastructure investments. While a good idea that has had support in the past, Carty has determined that water is the only thing the city has to offer the suburban areas. Instead of helping to promote growth with our water, Carty uses it as a club to extort payroll taxes from those areas. As a result, he generates animosity and distrust between Toledo and its neighbors.
Since it's getting cold, it's about time for all politicians to start in on our gas rates. Carty's promise to "establish a courageous and bold committee to define how utility rates can be reduced in Northwest Ohio" got a lot of attention during his campaign, but nothing has been done. Yes, citizens and politicians provide testimony during rate hearings, but there has been nothing defined and I'm not sure if Carty even got his committee together.
One of Carty's goals that I thought had potential was this one: Seek “loaned leaders” from the business and union sectors to seek ways to reduce city costs and implement modern systems to promote increased productivity. Sadly, if Carty approached such leaders and if ideas were generated, they were not publicized and, as far as I can tell, never implemented. To say that our mayor's relationship with the city unions is 'strained,' would be kind, and most don't hold out hope that it will improve over the last 12 months of his term.
What Carty's state of the city speech did do was highlight good news from the private sector. The good things our private businesses are doing needs to be celebrated, it's just that we don't have enough of them. Our tax structure, property taxes and basic city services are not conducive to growth in every business sector. While some areas are doing well, it's almost in spite of what we've done as a city, not because of it.
And citizens, while grateful for those business successes, still need to know that their garbage will be picked up, their streets will be plowed and salted, and that we will be safe in our homes and person. Sadly, the city isn't doing too well in those areas, at least, not from the perspective of the people who live here. And Carty, while given a golden opportunity to address such basic concerns, spent his time trying to make us feel good about the positives while ignoring the daily issues, like potholes, that erode away at the good things we know our city holds.
As Tim Higgins commented in an earlier post,
"Expect these one act plays to be performed with spirit, with enthusiasm, and with volume; as the city's cheerleader attempts to rally a crowd that has already left the stadium."