Tuesday, January 25, 2005

A Call To Arms

Mayor Jack Ford gave the best speech that I've ever heard from him tonight at the Valentine Theatre in Downtown Toledo. He showed guts, flashes of humor, an understanding of what his supporters wanted to hear, and addressed citizens in an adult, professional way. I've attended State of the City Addresses every year since 1997. This was the best, in substance and style. And I don't remember another SOTC address that had as much political effect as this one will.

Yet, the night wasnt about partisanship - it was about fellowship. Jack has made some tough calls as Mayor. The economy hasn't made it easy. But he has treated people with respect and dignity, he has been very cautious with the public purse, and tonight he rallied the city to his vision. I will work as hard for his re-election as I will my own - I simply feel that's what's best for Toledo's future.

Tonight's speech was interrupted by applause at least 15 times. Here are some early key points:

"Crime has gone down in Toledo for three consecutive years."
"We have 144 active Block Watches, up from 59 when I took office."
"Our police and fire departments are nationally accredited. Only 3 major cities in America can make that claim."
"We have cut sick time and overtime."
"And now you can go to Toledo restaurants, enjoy a meal, and not ingest second hand smoke."
He gets to jobs and economic development later in the speech.

This section led to the first crescendo: "I am proud of our record and 2005 will be even better. I hope you will join with me as I seek re-election as Mayor of the City of Toledo."

Believe it or not, I've had more than one credible person come up to me and say they've heard Jack's not running.

After citing some state and national statistics on the economy, he delivers this:

"bad investment deals from the past continue to haunt Toledo to the tune of $1.2 million dollars in debt payments each and every year for decades to come. These include Museum Place, the Hillcrest and the Commodore Perry projects, and the ill advised PICO deal. Even now, we are fighting the federal government over $900,000 that was improperly spent on the Northcross deal. That $900,000 has been held in escrow for 3 years - we could really use it right now. $2.7 million in bad business loans were made in the previous administration. The day I took office I was greeted with a $16 million budget deficit."

As a Councilman who lost sleep over laying off Toledo Police, Fire and Rescue, overturning our trash collection, and axing vacant public service positions, that last litany of lost, mismanaged, and fumbled tax dollars really frosts me.

And yet, we made lemonade: "We reduced health care and workers comp claims...reduced overtime 22% saving $1.2 million. reduced sick time abuse saving $420,000"

And then he really got going on economic development, in my opinion the key issue Toledo faces in 2005:

The $450 million Jeep expansion..that will secure 3900 jobs. An award from Pres. Bush for our Small Business Initiatives - 34 businesses have opened or expanded in Toledo. A city investment of $900,000 has leveraged $12 million, creating 344 jobs that pay well. He chimed off Metzger Printing, 63 jobs, a new medical facility, 74 jobs, OI, Westfield, the Marina District, $200 mil ProMedica expansion, and more. he discussed his plans for cooperation with Lucas County - a very welcome approach, and highlighted Bill Carrol, a very successful, very respected former Dana exective who joined the Mayor last year as ED Director. He gave appropriate props to Susan Reams, with whom he leveraged a modest $20 thousand something salary into $600,000 in donations to city arts - which is part & parcel to successful ED.

A great moment: Jon Richardson was in the front row - he leads the Art Tatum jazz Festival held the past 4 years at International Park. The Mayor announced a $100,000 contribution from DaimlerChrysler for the event. Jon jumped in the air and pumped his fist. So did I.

The Mayor then talked about safety, neighborhood, housing and infrastructure projects.

Another great moment: Anyone whose ever traveled under that long dark tunnel on Hawley, just north of Libbey High School - can you imagine sending your kids through there, day or night? The Mayor said the problem had been ignored for a generation, but on his watch, lights were installed. This is a detail that will mean much for another generation.

He announced an aggresive recycling plan, and said he wanted to be known as the "environmental Mayor"

He mentioned various park and road projects - and then touched on CareNet, the city inspired health care plan serving those without health care access. This is a very big deal, for kids, parents, seniors. 5,000 are now enrolled. You dont have to ask anyone of those 5,000 how this Mayoral promise has changed their lives for the better - just think about how you'd feel if you didnt have health care.

He announced the name of the new riverside amphitheatre: Paul Block, Jr. - who endowed the city with millions for park improvements and particularly cared about the riverfront and downtown. A very nice gesture.

Lost in the speech I think was the import of his endorsement of a new parking garage adjacent to 5/3 bank on Madison. This move will keep over 200 jobs downtown! and he didnt even mention that fact!

He asked Council to pass the Special Improvement District (We in fact passed it 12-0 at the councilmeeting just before the speech)

This is a long post - but his closing was excellent:

"I have been criticized for what one pundit recently called my lumbering style. that I seem to be in perpetual hibernation, that nothing ever gets done or will get done.

"Fellow citizens, my style has been to work hard, work quietly and have the work I've done speak for me. Now that pundit claimed I must have been President of the Chess Club. That's true. But I was also captain of my undefeated high school football team - the Springfield Wildcats! the same style served me well when I was on City Council and rose to its presidency. It was the style I used to start SASI, Adelante and build the Frank troy Center. It was the same style that saw me elected to the Ohio State legislature and ultimately elected Democratic Leader for the whole state of Ohio.

As you know, I ran on the stated platform of serious leadership for serious times. You will never see me substitute frantic ravings in place of thoughtful planned out action." (a major applause line)

And he closes by urging citizens in Toledo pray, to practice KOINONHA type fellowship (for background on this reference, I found http://www.koinoniapartners.org/History/index.html

This was a great note to end on - nice work Mayor - I'm proud to serve with you.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Responding to Northtowne

Driving up to Northtowne this morning, on news of its closure next month. Would like to see if the city could offer some business relocation or other retention services to tenants and business owners.

Here are some links for other questions:
Potential redevelopment strategy - a case study from Columbus, Ohio
http://northlandalliance.net
Northland's Executive Director, David Hull, is a friend of mine.
(hmm... http://deadmalls.com)
And an opinion about why market forces take their toll on malls like Northtown:
http://reclaimdemocracy.org/independent_business/dead_malls.html

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Inauguration

Why Toledo should be concerned with "4 more years."

1. Counterinsurgent war in Iraq that will continue to cost American lives. Already 1371 brave and honored Americans too many.

2. Already announced cuts to CDBG funding, and transfer of the funding from Housing and Urban Development to the Dept of Commerce. Community Development Block Grants are used to reinvigorate Toledo neighborhoods by people who love Toledo. These cuts hurt the efforts of River East, Lagrange Development, ONYX, and other Toledo community development corporations.

2. 40% cut in Social Security benefits, with payroll taxes being deposited in private accounts. The 2nd terms highest domestic priority.

Downtown Special

Council is divided against itself again. Last month we held a committee meeting where most people said good things about the proposed Downtown Special Improvement District. Today the knives were out. Our municipal employees union, AFSCME Local 7 sent a letter strongly objecting to the SID. The services the SID would provide sound too similar to the services already provided or what should be provided by municipal workers, they think.

There's no question we need to keep downtown clean and inviting. That private businesses want to tax themselves to deliver "enhanced" services is seemingly generous - especially because their employees already pay city income taxes and the businesses themselves pay city assessments for certain services.

Its off the next council agenda and certainly back on the front page.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Put Money in Your Pocket

People who work for a living in Toledo can feel it. As wages have stagnated, the tax burden for lower and middle income folks has risen. Our progressive tax system in Ohio erodes yearly as corporations and wealthy citizens see their tax burden shrink - shifting it to the rest of us.

And the rub...too many lower and middle income taxpayers are not getting the full credit and tax refunds we legally deserve. Robbing our local economy of an influx of money.

As the 2005 tax season gets underway, the City of Toledo and the Economic Opportunity Coalition are teaming up once again for VITA - the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program. The cornerstone goal is to offer free, fast and electronic income tax filing - insuring people who qualify take the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Even if you don't owe income tax, you can get the credit and cash.

Does your family earn up to $31,338 with one child? You may get up to $2,604 back.

Does your family earn up to $35,458 with more than one child? You could get as much as $4,300 back.

If your between ages 25 and 64, without children, and earning up to $12,490, you could get up to $390 back.

The IRS and City of Toledo Board of Community Relations, led by Juanita Green, are the catalysts for reaching out to Toledoans.

It is especially important that folks steer clear of RAL's - "return anticipation loans" - as the service fees and interest can easily consume much of lower income tax payers return. Check cashing places and some national and locally based tax preparation firms offer them.

This morning I attended a forum at the Levin College of Urban Affairs, in Cleveland, "The Earned Income Tax Credit: Connecting Working Families with Tax Benefits." One of the nation's leading scholar's on the EITC spoke first, Alan Berube, a Fellow at The Brookings Institution. The EITC matters, he presented, because: It rewards work and reduces poverty. It is a large Federal investment in cities economies. And outreach efforts like VITA are often the springboard to related policy and human and financial services.

Amy Hanouer, from Policy Matters Ohio, argued that the EITC is equally relevant to both urban and rural Ohio communities.

Moving Forward Together

This is an experiment. Public service should be about listening and leading - and I am interested in exploring new ways to reach out to people in order to help.

The past year saw furious new use of "blogs" to cover public debates coast-to-coast. I'm hoping Toledo will benefit from equally spirited debate now and in the future. This medium, I hope, will provide candid, reasonable commentary on issues facing Toledo and NW Ohio. It will also allow me to get back into a habit that served me well from childhood through college (and which I've neglected in the push and pull of political action the past several years) - reflective and opinionated writing.

What scares me a bit is that words and thoughts could come back to haunt me in some future campaign or debate. Joseph Kennedy instilled in his sons the habit of never writing important decisions down - lest they be used against them later. I believe we live in an age of information where politicians who refuse to engage publicly are less attractive than those do. We'll see. Here goes.