Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Deconstructing The Blade's drug-pusher mentality on changing county government

Like a drug pusher trying to get you to get you hooked, The Blade is out with another editorial touting the benefits of bigger government and their 'revised' version of uni-gov. They've already sewn up the Toledo market (strong-mayor form of government they pushed) so now they want to expand into the county as a whole.

Like this effort, they pushed a strong-mayor form of government for Toledo telling us, in numerous 'news' articles and editorials, that a bigger city council with both district and at-large members along with a strong mayor who would appoint professionals to run Toledo would be a good thing.

Along with help from the Lucas County Democratic Party (who saw the inevitable outcome being more elected Democrats), they convinced a majority of Toledo voters and we were rewarded with the same 'stuck-on-stupid' thinking we've always had, except now from a larger, more costly government.

Oh - and we also had to suffer through two terms of Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, one term of Mayor Jack Ford, and another term of Mayor Carty Finkbeiner before getting a reasonable person, current Mayor Mike Bell, to hold that office. In case you're mathematically challenged, that's 16 years of two politicians from the same party with a council also dominated by Democrats, despite districts being drawn to supposedly provide for 'balanced' representation.

And how did all that work out? Well, they don't call us 'little Detroit' for nothing....

But if that's not enough to make your want to run screaming away from the county charter petitioners, let's take a look at what the unsigned editorial says about this proposal:

If you haven't yet endorsed the petition, you have every reason to do so.

Reform proponents need at least 14,500 signatures of registered voters, approved by the county board of elections, to advance their proposal for a new home-rule charter. Late last week, the grass-roots campaign said it had collected about 20,000 signatures. It seeks as many as 22,000 to fend off inevitable challenges by champions of business as usual.

Actually, no - you don't have 'every' reason to do so. In fact, the outcome from pushing for a similar structure for the city of Toledo should give you every reason NOT to.

Note the way they characterize people opposed to the idea: "champions of business as usual." Just because people like me - for valid reasons - do not support the proposal, it does not necessarily infer that we support the status quo. This is a logical fallacy - and someone who manages to make their way to the editorial board so as to write such attempts at persuasion ought to know that. Perhaps the author does, but expects readers not to know. What does that say about what they think of their readers?

I do want change in county governance - but I have yet to see any evidence that changing the form of the structure of our county government will give us anything different in terms of the policies, positions and actual governance of the county.

In fact, the study done by the self-appointed group that is recommending the change admits that, even under their structure, it boils down to who you elect - not the office you elect someone to. Given that admission from the study group, why are we going any further?

The reform plan would enable voters to exchange their 18th-century county government for a more-efficient structure. The new charter envisions a government that saves tax dollars, makes elected officials more accountable, and promotes economic growth and job creation.

This is the standard line from the limited supporters and it's what they've told their petitioners to tell people when they ask them to sign the petition.

But there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the new structure will save tax dollars. They've not done a financial analysis; they've not shared fiscal comparisons of the two structures; they've only used a total spending comparison between Lucas County and one of the counties that has gone to a charter form of government and concluded that Lucas spends more per person than Summit County does,

This may be true - but they didn't compare Lucas County to the other 86 counties that don't have a charter form of government to see if we spend more per person than any of them. Is it likely that successful counties, like our neighbor Wood County, have a more efficient government than Lucas does without changing their form of government?

I don't know - but I question (and so should you) that if per person costs of government are the standard, why didn't the group compare Lucas to all counties to see where we stack up? The answer is that doing so might have shown that other counties have a less-costly government without going through such a change and that wouldn't fit with the goal of the paper to achieve the uni-gov dream they've had for decades.

They claim the new structure will "make elected officials more accountable." How, they don't say. Right now, specific elected officials are accountable for the actions of their office and we get a chance, every four years, to judge them on their actions and either re-hire them (elect them) or fire them (elect someone new).

Just like with a city council - how are we to hold individual members of council accountable for the failed action of a particular department - such as the Department of Neighborhoods? We can't. We can make one or more of their votes an issue in an election, but that will not change what a bureaucratic department is doing.

Some may say we can hold the mayor accountable for a department's action and, in the case of a charter form of county government, we would hold the county executive accountable. But even that's not a good enough answer (can you say three terms of Carty Finkbeiner?) as people will often overlook one or more issues because they agree with the elected official on so many others.

Additionally, with the majority of the proposed county districts incorporating the city of Toledo, how will a suburban community like Waterville hold the body accountable when they decide to do something that benefits Toledo to their detriment?

It's much easier to hold three county commissioners accountable than it is to hold six county council members and a county executive accountable. And having the ability to judge the individual performance of people elected to the offices of treasurer, auditor, recorder and sheriff means those individuals are directly accountable for the functions of their office to the citizens - not to some other group of elected officials who can escape blame in various ways.

The Blade also claims changing our form of government "promotes economic growth and job creation." Again, they provide absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support this claim - but it sure sounds good, doesn't it? After all, job growth is what the area needs.

The hypocrisy, however, is something that cannot be overlooked. Economic development is not a function of the structure of government - it is a function of the policies the government puts in place. Elected individuals can implement policies that encourage or discourage economic development.

Sadly, too few elected individuals in Toledo and county government have any experience whatsoever in the business world so they make decisions that feel good (recreation levy) or that benefit a certain constituency (government unions and other groups that rely upon government funding for their existence) to the detriment of the business community which hurts their ability to grow, prosper and provide jobs.

The Blade did not oppose Toledo's living wage ordinance. While supporters claimed this was a good policy, it was - in effect - a mandate on employers and unnecessarily drove up the cost of contracts the taxpayer ended up paying. That's not-business-friendly and it hurt job providers. No doubt the paper will push for such a policy county-wide.

The Blade did not oppose the county's most recent plan to mandate Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on all county contracts, despite having done so when the matter was first brought up. In case you're not familiar with that, it's when the county mandates that you must have a union agreement with your workers - whether you are a union shop or not - for the project you do for the county and the county will negotiate that contract for you to be sure it's consistent with what other contracts say. But it goes further and also mandates the same thing on any sub-contractors you may use. (Background and more details are available here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

Talk about increasing the cost per person of county government! Bet the committee didn't look at that aspect before concluding that our government costs more than Summit. But I digress....

In fact, many of the numerous 'not-business-friendly' policies and votes that work to the detriment of economic development and job growth have been supported by The Blade. I've heard our local daily referred to as the "single most destructive force in the county" because of its many stances in favor of things that have hurt economic development and job growth in the area.

So how, exactly, will changing the form of government help? Are we to assume that a new county council (made up of a majority of Toledo elected officials who are term-limited, I predict) will repeal such anti-business policies in order to free our job providers from unnecessary costs and mandates? (That sound in your head is called hysterical laughter.)

Here's where one of the supposed 'champions of business as usual' believes change for the better could be made - and it doesn't require a change in structure. Just repeal all these anti-business rules, quit saying yes to every tax increase that comes along, lower property taxes and sales taxes and get out of the way of the people who are actually providing jobs in the county. See???

Like the authors of the study admit, it depends upon electing the right people.

The proposal would abolish the three-member Board of County Commissioners and seven of the county's eight elected -- but largely invisible -- row offices. The current government structure encourages wasteful fragmentation and redundancy, and leaves taxpayers wondering who's responsible for what.

Again, the editor clearly thinks people in the area are stupid if we don't know who is responsible for what. As for 'encourages wasteful fragmentation and redundancy,' this is incorrect. As a former county commissioner I can tell you that any redundancy in county government is a factor of governance - not of structure. And having been in the office, there is not as much redundancy as some claim and the ability of the commissioners to control the budgets of the other elected officials means that the commissioners can insist upon elimination of duplication - if they have the will to do so. Again, it comes back to the people - not the structure.

The ballot plan calls for an elected, nonpartisan county executive who would appoint professional administrators rather than politicians to head county offices. It also would create a county council whose nine members would mostly be elected by districts rather than at large. Those elections would occur in November 2013, and the new officials would take office the following January.

"Nonpartisan county executive who would appoint professional administrators rather than politicians" ... Yeah - because that's worked out so well with Toledo and the county already. Just take a look at who the elected officials surround themselves with - partisan individuals who support the partisan or electoral efforts of the people who appointed them.

Lucas County had one of the most respected and admired county administrators in John Alexander. But when Pete Gerken was elected to the board of county commissioners, he and Tina Skeldon-Wozniak told Alexander they didn't want him anymore. Alexander graciously went away and is now benefiting Perrysburg. The county got Michael Beazley - a former Democratic Party officer - and when he left for an even higher paying position in Oregon, they hired Peter Ujvagi, former Toledo city council member and former state representative who was termed out and had, in his background, the bankruptcy of his family business. So much for 'professional administrators' - I can't wait to see who they hire next!

So do you really think that if someone like Pete Gerken gets elected the county executive that he's going to hire all professionals? Again, that sound you're hearing in your head is hysterical laughter.

A similar structure in Cuyahoga and Summit counties has cut costs of county government. It also has encouraged central cities and suburbs in these counties to cooperate in providing regional public services, thus reducing duplication, and discouraged them from raiding each other for businesses and jobs.

There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that costs in Summit and Cuyahoga have been cut as a result of the change in government structure. As for cooperation in providing regional public services, The Blade forgets the cooperation and collaboration that already exists.

When Mayor Jack Ford decided to push The Blade agenda of uni-gov, then-County Administrator John Alexander made a list of everything the county and its jurisdictions cooperated on. The list was two pages long! It included everything from joint purchasing of items like office supplies and road salt, to the first-in-the-nation completely integrated criminal justice computer system. The paper isn't going to tell you about the ways the municipalities do work cooperatively because that might make you question their premise that a change in government structure is needed.

But the real kicker is this: "discouraged them from raiding each other for businesses and jobs." The Blade has long opposed what it perceives as suburban communities raiding Toledo for businesses and job - even residents. They believe Toledo needs to dominate the area and be the focus of the region.

There is a lot to be said for strong cities, but in today's world and with the technology now available to us, that concept is as antiquated as they claim our structure of county government is.

It also presumes that businesses should have no other choice but to be inside the city limits, despite the more business-friendly policies of surrounding communities and whether or not surrounding communities would better meet the needs of the business.

Since Toledo is showing it really can't compete with the surrounding communities because of the bad decisions Toledo has made (usually with the strong backing of the paper's editorial board and publisher) The Blade's solution is to make the entire county like Toledo. And note that they have no problem with Toledo raiding other communities for businesses and jobs - just the other way around.

But here's the rub: businesses who found refuge from bad Toledo policies by moving to the suburban communities can also move to Wood, Fulton or Ottawa county if those bad business policies are exported, as I expect they will be, into county government.

The businesses, if they are to survive, will find the place that provides them with the tax, fee and regulatory structure necessary to support their legitimate goals of growth and profit. The Blade will then start complaining about how the surrounding counties need to support Lucas instead of 'raiding' them. Do you see where that is going?

The reform plan would make the Lucas County executive a focused, high-profile agent of economic development in northwest Ohio.

Oh my - where to start on this one? The structure of government will not make any person a focused, high-profile agent of economic development. The only way to get someone like that, as the study authors reluctantly admit, is to elect someone who is already like that. Duh! And what if we elect someone like Carty Finkbeiner or Jack Ford? Or like the new Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald who, in his first term under a brand-new governmental structure, is already "sending strong signals" that he's interested in running for governor in 2014. I'll bet his attention is fully focused on economic development.

Advocates argue plausibly that it also would make county government more diverse and bipartisan.

"Plausibly"??? Really??? Take a look at this proposed district map and tell me how in the world we'd get a more bipartisan body.

It may be true that we'd get one Republican county council member out of six - but I'm living proof that a Republican can be elected Commissioner - one of three. So to say we'd get 'more' bipartisan representation is false. One of three is greater than one of six, so just electing a Republican in the current structure would actually be better if numbers of R's and D's are all we're looking at.

The problem is that party affiliation and skin color are immaterial to what we really need, which is a diversity of ideas and perspectives. What we'd get with proposed districts like these is Toledo-centric domination - and Toledo doesn't have a very good track record of saving tax dollars, making elected officials more accountable, and promoting economic growth and job creation.

The four months until Election Day will provide ample time for a thorough public debate on the merits of county reform. But that can't occur unless county voters give themselves the opportunity now to opt for positive change and modernized government in November. That means adding your signature to the petition drive.

Somehow I can't help but think of Rep. Nancy Pelosi's statement that "we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it."

The fallacy - again - is thinking that we should have a measure on the ballot before we have a "thorough public debate" on the merits and that such debate "can't occur" unless we sign the petitions.

What they really mean is that if the measure makes it on the ballot, they can use the 'support' of the signers as 'proof' that people want the change. They've done that before, when it suited them. If The Blade really wanted debate on the issue, they'd seek out and publish the valid arguments against the proposal and allow the people to decide, rather than demonizing those of us who oppose it.

But tell me - what news article have you seen (out of the dozens they've published on the subject), that 'focused' on any argument against this proposal? What news article have you seen that provides for any 'public debate' on the issue? I'd wait while you search, but you won't find it, so you might as well keep reading.

The problem is that what they're putting on the ballot is flawed - in original premise and, thus, in conclusions. They write:

“Simply put, we believe government must lead.”

They don't say why, they don't explain any other option, but with this as their premise, the study group obviously had no other choice but to conclude that:

Lucas County needs a single unifying leader. The absence of such an office and such a person makes reversing our condition more difficult and perpetuates a fragmented decision-making environment.

So rather than look at the decisions - or the people who make those decisions - that make our current condition a bad one, they conclude we must change our form of government so we can elect a perfect person to lead us to salvation.

So sign those petitions so ignorant people can be swayed by fallacious arguments like these to do The Blade's bidding and achieve uni-gov once and for all!

Okay - back to the facts...

The Blade and the study have 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 to just fall in line.

But fortunately, this tactic of theirs is too well known and, hopefully individuals in Lucas County will reject The Blade's belief that they know what's best for us and refuse to sign the petition.

1 comment:

James said...

Great work, Maggie. You not only deconstructed the Blade's editorial, you destroyed it.

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