Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Blade is wrong about charter county government

There are times when I just shake my head over some of the things I read. I did so today after seeing the latest Blade editorial on changing the form of county government.

It starts off with the headline "Don't run from reform." So far, I've not seen anyone run from reform, though plenty of people are being cautious about such a momentous restructuring and are still waiting for various questions to be answered before taking a position.

That's obviously not good enough for the editors who, in their 16th writing, think everyone should be jumping on board because they say so. (The politicians do, after all....)

They state that the campaign has just begun and already people are opposing it, trying to cast those opposed as "entrenched political interests that benefit handsomely from the status quo, at the expense of the county's taxpayers and prospects for economic development and job creation."

Hm...I'm opposed and I don't fit that description - I wonder who they could mean? In fact, most of the comments I've seen on the issue were cautious - committing to looking at the issue, examining ways to achieve more efficiency, etc.

The second paragraph of the editorial is a call to arms - telling everyone that if the effort is to succeed (and it's not yet been determined by anyone other than The Blade that this is actually a good idea - or even the right one for Lucas County), it will need a "determined coalition of interests working together for meaningful change." They are correct in this statement, because wishy-washy coalitions rarely accomplish anything at all.

But then comes the warning:

"Should county voters perceive reform as nothing more than a power grab by business lobbies or suburbanites or Republicans - and that is how its enemies will portray it - it will surely fail."

Nothing like handing your opponents a successful strategy right up front!

But this gives the reader insight into what is actually going on. So far, the only proponents of the idea are the paper and a couple of politicians who are too anxious to do the paper's bidding. The currently elected officials whose positions are at risk of elimination in a charter form of government (auditor, coroner, recorder, sheriff, treasurer) are all Democrats. They rely upon strong support from Toledoans in order to get elected - and only the sheriff and the coroner didn't serve in Toledo government before their county jobs. They are the only ones who might possibly try to depict the structural change as a 'power grab' by 'suburbanites or Republicans.' But only a fool would believe that depiction, considering that it's The Blade and two Democrats on the Board of County Commissioners who are pushing this.

Then they come up with this:

If, however, these groups are joined by local civic and academic leaders who want a more-efficient county government, Toledoans who seek a more-diverse government, and independent Democrats who place community interests ahead of partisan ones, reform just might have a fighting chance.

Yes, it's a call to local leaders to join the effort, but note how they phrase the next part, referring only to Toledoans: "...Toledoans who seek a more-diverse government..."

Why just Toledoans? Don't they care about county residents outside Toledo who might want a more diverse government? In fact, it's traditionally been those non-Toledoans who strongly support this concept. But representation in terms of geography does not assure that any of the goals outlined (more efficient county government) will be achieved. As I've said repeatedly on this blog and on the radio when I was hosting Eye On Toledo: it's not the form of government and it's not the difference in faces that give us real reform - it's a change in philosophy. But we won't get that until voters, themselves, make a change.

The editorial then tries to make this a crisis issue ("Time is of the essence" they write), saying that if we don't bow to their wishes now, the idea might be dead "for good." Since they're such supporters of the idea, that would probably bother them immensely. But for so many of us, that would actually be a good thing.

But the problem with this approach is that most Lucas County residents don't see any emergency in the issue. Other than a couple of politicians and prior proponents of uni-gov, there is no grass-roots movement to change the structure of county government because there is no grass-roots frustration with the existing form.

I'd wager all county residents would agree that government should be more efficient and less costly, but many will balk at cutting programs or spending that benefits them personally. We've seen this in every government entity. And while there are general rumblings about the dominance of Toledo politicians in the Commissioners Office, they mostly understand that the commissioners' ability to implement the same failed policies Toledo has is limited by the Ohio Revised Code which grants only limited power to them to administer county government. They are somewhat comforted by the fact that so many onerous and 'not business friendly' policies these same politicians supported when they were in Toledo government cannot be implemented on a county-wide level because the commissioners have no authority to enact laws.

However, that all changes in The Blade's proposed charter form of county government which gives the new county council the ability to pass laws. That very point, so rarely mentioned, is the actual 'crisis' of the issue and one that will doom the idea among the suburban municipalities - and probably among Toledoans who are suffering under Toledo laws.

As I said in my post yesterday - could you imagine how 'not business friendly' Lucas County will become if the newly chartered county council passed laws like Toledo's living wage, or extended the existing county Project Labor Agreements requirement to all county municipalities?

Side Note:
if the paper was so adamant about cutting the costs of county government and making it more efficient, why didn't they do more to highlight the PLA requirement that the commissioners passed and oppose it as they did in the 1990s when it was first introduced? Contradiction? Absolutely!

The Blade then goes back to their article on San Fransciso as a reason for why we should change our form of county government. They cite such positives as "more efficient administration and budget making ... more checks and balances among the branches of government, more responsive and transparent representation, greater public accountability and access, cost savings, and a better credit rating."

While those might be outcomes achieved in San Francisco, those are not outcomes unique only to a charter form of government. Many communities across the nation accomplish these exact same things by making better decisions without ever changing their governmental structure. It's a fallacious argument known as questionable cause - confusing cause and effect.

Of course, one of the things not emphasized about San Francisco is their budget deficit which "...still stands at almost $483 million and it's projected to balloon to $787 million two years later, according to an annual joint report by budget analysts for the mayor, Board of Supervisors and City Controller." Not sure how much of that type of policy we'd want to adopt.

But the fact is that, despite a change in their county government structure, they're still facing a huge deficit. So how, exactly, does that result in cost savings and better credit ratings? (I know, I know ... that's a good question.)

The editors then, fallaciously, promote the idea that a change in our county government could deliver many of the same benefits seen in San Francisco - but that, again, confuses cause and effect.

They look at what happened in Cuyahoga County - how proponents are using the structural change there "as an engine of economic development, promising specific programs to promote business growth and new jobs." But there is nothing currently stopping our elected officials from implementing business-friendly policies right now. In fact, many of the not-business-friendly decisions made by the commissioners have been supported by The Blade. So we end up with the statement I made above: it's the decisions of politicians, not the structure of government, that determines whether a community sees economic development, business growth and new jobs.

The Blade then attacks the very constituency they need to help them in their goal: the business community.

The reform effort in Lucas County, patterned on Cuyahoga County's new charter, will need similar business support. So far, though, many executives here are refusing to commit to reform, taking a wait-and-see, someone-else-go-first stance instead of displaying leadership.

Such temporizing will kill the impetus for reform as surely as the proposal for a commission to "study" changes in county government, which is primarily a stalling tactic devoted to incumbent protection.

They deride business leaders they've spoken to who say they want more information and accuse them of not 'displaying leadership.' Perhaps the editors need to take a better look at the definition of 'leadership' because what they're demanding of the business community is that they follow the paper.

Analyzing and identifying the problem to be solved, asking good questions, thoroughly evaluating ideas, looking at other options to achieve the same goal, examining the short-term and long-term costs and determining the best path is what leadership is all about. Our business leaders know this, as they do it on a regular basis in their daily occupations. The Blade hasn't done any of these things - or if they have internally, they've not published it.

Instead, The Blade has decided what is good for us and they are bullying people into following along. And then they have the unmitigated gall to accuse the very people whose support is vital to their efforts of failing to be leaders.

No wonder their subscriptions and ad sales are in such decline!

The paper has failed to demonstrate a need, failed to identify and analyze various methods to meet the need and failed to document why their preferred option is the best. They have just decided and are expecting everyone else (just like the politicians) to fall in line.

But their tactic is too well known and individuals in Lucas County should reject The Blade's belief that they know what's best for us.

Side Note:
And how, exactly, is this the job of a newspaper? They are reporting specific stories that promote their own agenda. They are not reporting negatives associated with their agenda. So that means they are biased in the 'news' portion of their publication. Their opinion properly belongs on the editorial page, but it is clear that the opinion was decided PRIOR to the writing of the news articles and all the news articles have been designed to promote that opinion. It is this type of agenda-driven news stories so blatantly pushed on the front pages that further erodes any credibility the news department once had.

Please attend the public meeting at 6:30 p.m. on June 8 in the Downtown Public Library and be sure to insist that answers to the right questions be provided before going forward.


Mad Jack said...

Excellent article, Maggie. I'll be at the meeting and plan to ask an embarrassing question or two.

This business reminds me of the Sylvania merger. The politicos didn't want to answer any questions then, either.

navyvet said...

Awesome Maggie...thank you. (Along with your prior post!!)

Hope to make it to the meeting....

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